Dress The Part

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

May 1, 2009 5 min read


Clothes make the man (or woman) leave a lasting impression

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

Skip the clunky jewelry, flip flops, nose rings, heavy perfume and strong aftershave lotion -- if you want a job, that is. They're part of a long list of no-nos experts say will cut your interview extremely short.

"In the first ten seconds of meeting a candidate, the interviewer makes a mental decision on whether you look right for the job," said veteran career counselor Robin Ryan, best-selling author of "60 Seconds & You're Hired!" ($13, Penguin). Ryan, one of the nation's top career coaches, believes that too many people "have lost touch with what is appropriate business dress." If your personal presentation is inappropriate, "you've lost that position without saying a word."

You can never go wrong with dressing in classic, conservative, stylish, well-made clothes, contended Judi Perkins, a Connecticut-based job coach, author and former recruiter. Budget-conscious women should go to high-end stores to study fabrics and quality, she said, followed by regular visits to consignment stores, Goodwill or the Salvation Army. "You can find some excellent items that look like you spent hundreds of dollars when you've spent $15."

Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, devotes part of her Professional Development Training Program to appropriate corporate dress. The advice she dispenses applies to anyone hunting for an executive post. For example, no matter where the interview is, "the right shoe can make even the smallest woman feel powerful, tall and confident." A shoe wardrobe that contains everything from flats to three-inch heels will serve you well, she said, but "avoid strappy sandals and stiletto heels."

Men eyeing an executive career should own and carefully maintain a pair of good quality brown leather shoes and black lace up shoes with a leather sole. "You can tell a great deal about a person by looking at the condition of his shoes," she said.

If you do you're homework, you'll be dressed right for that interview. "In today's business environment, appropriate dress varies greatly from company to company and 'business casual' is open to a variety of interpretations," noted Sandra Naiman, a Denver career consultant and author.

Before that job interview takes place, sit in the company's employee parking lot before or after business hours, taking note of what people are wearing. "Be careful not to go on 'casual Friday,' when jeans might be appropriate on that day only," she said.

There's no stigma to asking about a dress code when setting up the interview, Naiman added. "Given that there is no longer consistency across companies, this is not a na?ve question, but rather demonstrates savvy." Flashy jewelry, perfume or aftershave and provocative clothing of any kind will hurt, not help. "As a good general rule, you don't want to be remembered for what you wore, rather than how you conducted yourself," she added.

It is a view echoed by several experts including Jeff Landis, owner of Montopoli Custom Clothiers in Chicago. "If they're all wearing white shirts and a red ties and you show up with a purple shirt and orange tie, you're going to stand out, and not in a good way," he said.

If you can't find out the dress code, it's better to be a little more conservative than over-stylized, suggested Danielle Fuhrman, founder of Reflections of You, a San Diego image consultant. Color is extremely important, she added. Black clothes can "put a distance between you and the interviewer." But if you wear something that matches your eye color, "you'll create trustability and credibility. The person interviewing you won't always know why they feel comfortable. They just do."

Don't wear a print, she warned. "Wearing prints can be a distraction and so busy that your print is getting the attention, not you."`

"You have to know where you are going and understand the culture of the company before you select clothing and accessories that will be suitable and set you apart from the competition," said employment expert Kimberly Bishop, vice-chairman of Slayton Search Partners, a New York City executive search firm. "You have to know your audience and dress to suit them."

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