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I always wear a suit on the first day of class. It makes me feel authoritative and powerful.

Sometimes I wear a suit for the fun of it.

I firmly believe everyone should own two suits — one for the first interview and a backup for the second interview.

As a university educator, seniors frequently ask me how to dress appropriately for a professional setting. Can I wear a pants suit to an interview? How much makeup is too much? Does the jacket have to match the skirt?

I have four rules for suits:

  • It must not look cheap (looks new after repeated dry cleaning, looks tailored).
  • It must fit properly (sleeves to mid-hand, not riding up, doesn’t cut into underarms when lifting your arms, jacket should button).
  • It must have a flattering cut (accentuate the silhouette, not boxy or overly loose).
  • It must be breathable and allow movement (most of this is related to fit).

The rest is negotiable depending on your industry or organizational culture.

Suits are investment pieces. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money, but you should spend some money. Cheap suits are ill-fitting and rarely last a good laundering or dry cleaning. They never retain their shape or luster. Resist the urge to grab any old jacket the day before an interview. Preplanning and building your wardrobe several semesters before graduation is wise. You don’t do yourself a service by investing in your education but not investing in your career.

Lecture over. Promise.

Here are a few suit ideas. Keep in mind, not all suits work for all industries or all situations. Use the ideas as templates and adjust accordingly.

**To save money on a professional wardrobe, buy well-made neutral-colored suit pieces that can mix and match with dresses, skirts, jeans, and other suit pieces. Supplement with less expensive tops, blouses, accessories, and shoes.

Business Casual Chic/Cool Girl in the Office Look (Interview Appropriate)

Comfort and confidence are musts for interviews. We shouldn’t agonize over clothes, but we do.

This is a take on the classic black suit with a few modern modifications to make it fashion forward. I know many people who are afraid to give up self-expression. Trust me, I understand. Higher education has a reputation for wholly eschewing the aesthetic (tweed patchwork jackets, anyone). It’s an occupation focused on the life of the mind. So I get you completely.

Personally, I think brains and beauty are not opposing ideas.

I should mention that my outfit choices for this blog are, um, a little low key colorwise. I’m currently navigating a black and grey phase. Feel free to add color.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

What makes this suit fashion forward are the little details. I chose a cuffed cropped pant made from a fabric with sheen. I added a metallic belt. If you tuck in your shirt, add a belt. I wore a simple cotton v-neck tee. The jewelry is simple. We don’t want to overdo things. The pattern is in the shoe, which also has a little sheen. The makeup is minimal with a bold red lip — very fashionable and Parisian.

Business Presentation/Creative and Confident Business Woman Look (Interview Appropriate)

This look uses the same style philosophy as the previous suit. If black seems too dark or too harsh, opt for dark grey or navy. You don’t have to always wear a black suit.

This suit has a small dot pattern you can see close up. It’s not a true solid.

This look is also about balance.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

I love an ankle pant. Instead of cuffing the pant, the sleeves of the jacket are cuffed. The sleeves do roll down. I really like the striped pattern of the jacket lining. Rolling or pushing up your sleeves can give a fashion forward element to the look.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

Again, feel free to add color. I wore a white tank, but it has a silky sheen to it to avoid looking blah. That’s the problem with some neutrals like navy or tan. It can look flat and blah if paired with other neutrals. Creating interest with the choice of fabric breaks it up without looking overdone.

The necklace and hoop earrings are simple and non-distracting. I love pairing navy with a nude shoe. This is a peep-toe wedge. It’s a myth that you must wear heels.

Minimal makeup again. This time I wore a long-wearing brown color.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

Nontraditional Suit/Taking Names and Making Deals Look (Interview Appropriate)

We had a career day event at work. Students bombarded me with fashion questions in the week before the event. I decided to show them how it’s done.

I wore my black jacket with a fitted cotton A-line dress. The black is not the same color. Similar. But not exact.

The hemline is a little shorter than I would wear for business occasions. For that reason, I wore black hose. Well, that and the venue was freezing. Hosiery camouflages the length of the dress (as long as it’s not more than three or four inches above the knee). The days of wearing hosiery with dresses for business are long gone. You have to use discretion with this look. If you go too traditional, the hose will age you greatly.

This look relies on accessories. I love the chain statement necklace. You should balance your statement piece with an understated piece of jewelry.

Let’s talk about the heels, shall we? This heel has a pattern. It’s also known as a kitten heel, another alternative to pumps. A kitten heel is general very small. This shoe is lower than the wedges in the previous look. The shoe has a pattern similar to gator or snakeskin.

The shoe is burgundy, a blue-hued red. My lipstick is an orange-hued red. Yes, you can do that. It adds a fashion-forward contrast. In the end, it’s still red.

One last detail — my nails are indeed black. I love black nail polish. It’s my favorite. I would wear black nails to an interview. Black is a neutral after all. How many of you actually noticed? The truth be told, as long as you look polished (so to speak), and your manicure is fresh, no one will notice or will care.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

Modern Casual/Pushing the Boundaries Look (May Be Interview Appropriate for Creative or Fashion Industries But Not for Most Companies)

This look takes quite a bit of effort.

I also noticed I wore the same earrings for three of the looks. I’m glad I’m getting mileage out of them. Let this be a lesson to you all. You can wear the same thing many different ways.

Like the jacket.

See how versatile a nice tailored jacket can be? I paid maybe $60 for it on sale seven years ago. Still rockin’ it. I think I’m down to 25 cents CPW (cost per wear) at this point.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

Another cropped pant. Seriously. I own four pairs of these things. #shortgirlprobs

The tee is high/low. I wore a cami underneath. The girls do not need to make an appearance at work.

Shoestring chokers are on trend right now. Not gonna lie. I spent 20 minutes trying to tie it. I wanted to tie it tight without strangling myself. It takes skill and practice.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

I’m not entirely sure what I was doing for makeup. My glasses obscure the eye makeup.

I’m fairly certain I was wearing a navy eye with my pink glittery lip gloss. I wore bronzer but avoided blush:

Photo Credit: Heather Leigh Stanley. © 2016 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Heather Leigh Stanley. © 2016 Stanley. Frugal Fashionista Mag. All rights reserved.

If you are a little daring, you can wear heeled booties with the cropped pant (or cuffed jean). The side view below shows how the silhouette makes my legs look longer.

Overall, the response to my outfit was positive. It’s very business rocker chic. Again, this won’t go over well in conservative offices.

You can replicate this look with nice jeans for a casual Friday look easily.

Oh! The clutch! It has tassels and rhinestones. It’s fairly roomy too. Visit my Boho Betty page, find something you like, and use the code FRUGALFASHIONISTA at checkout for 20% off. Happy holidays!

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.

Remember, this is my style and my ideas. Take what you like. Disregard the rest.

As always, search thrift stores and consignment shops for deals. Half of my business wardrobe is consignment.

Happy shopping!

Oh, and happy interviewing!

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Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Boho Betty. I may receive compensation. The opinions are my own, and I only work with brands and companies that follow my personal ethical standards. For more information on my sponsorship policy, click here.