When it comes to preparing for job interviews, I can’t help but notice that the initial concern of many (if not most) women is “what do I wear?”
This apparent concern with appearances often baffles men. I can recall asking a group of men what their advice on the matter might be - and they seemed concerned with my priorities and advised me to worry about the interview questions and other matters relating to the “substance” of the interview. While this is, or at least it should be what matters in an interview, I challenge you to show me someone (who isn’t blind) that is immune from the human instinct of making judgments or assumptions about a person based on appearances.
Some resources will tell you that people tend to form very strong opinions of others within two minutes of first meeting them - often in an interview context the first two minutes passes before any relevant conversation has even begun. If we accept that appearances matter (whether we like it or not) - then why is this still so tough for us? “Wear a dark colored suit” we are told. If only it were that simple. The most common debate is the choice between wearing a skirt suit or a pant suit - and this is not surprising. We women are receiving a number of different opinions on the matter leading to more confusion rather than less. One primary source of information for law students is their office of career services - these people must have the answer - right?
Well, not necessarily.
As the case may be, there are a number of schools that advise their female students to wear a skirt - they note that this is “more formal”, “more conservative”, and some even say it is “expected”. Some of the resources don’t even mention the debate and imply that there is no choice in the matter by proceeding straight to the advice pertaining to skirt length (no shorter than two inches above the knee) and nylons (wear them).
This preference for skirts is by no means universal, however. A number of schools simply state that “either is fine” and move on without further addendum. My school fits in this latter category, and until speaking with women from other schools and looking up the interviewing handbooks of as many law schools as I could find online I wasn’t even aware that this choice could be anything but a matter of personal preference. I understood that a certain manner of dress and appearance was expected of me, but the type of suit I chose - how could this possibly matter?
If you are looking for a satisfying answer - I have none. In fact, the best explanation I can come up with is that the custom or tradition of women wearing skirt suits has persisted in the minds of some people, perhaps on a regional/geographic basis. Though I could discern no clear pattern on the basis of a law school’s location and the particular advice given, this does not mean one doesn’t exist. Or perhaps there is another explanation altogether.
Though some may disagree with me, and certainly they can point to my lack of knowledge regarding the expectations of different geographic markets, I very strongly believe that a woman’s choice of business suit is a personal choice and that neither choice reflects a higher degree of professionalism or formality than the other. I believe that we do a disservice to women in the profession and that continuing to advise law students that “skirts are best” perpetuates the problem.
Although we as individuals may not be able to change the perception entrenched in some minds, I think there are important reasons for our offices of career services to advise their law students that either choice is appropriate and then leaving it at that. No caveats, no inferences, no suggestions.
I say this not only because I think that this is how it should be - but because I think that personal choice and preference is incredibly important in an interview. Why? Because confidence and comfort are invaluable in such a setting - and most women (I don’t know if this is true for men as well, but it might be) who feel uncomfortable also feel unattractive - and this deals a serious blow to a woman’s confidence and thus her performance in an interview. A woman who isn’t worrying about her panty hose or thinking about how much she hates wearing skirts or whether she will make it through the rest of the day freezing her butt off because it is the middle of winter and nylons do not equal long johns.
I do not think it is enough to leave the choice open while also implying that a skirt may be better - this introduces the same type of anxiety that should not be added to the list of concerns that any law student faces when it comes to interviewing. I think that in many cases, the harm that may come from an interviewer taking notice of a woman’s choice to wear pants instead of a skirt is often less than the harm that results from the discomfort a woman feels when she feels forced to wear a skirt despite her personal preference.
If we can’t end the debate, I hope that we can at least see the value of personal choice and the detriment caused by telling our future lawyers that something so arbitrary and ridiculous is more important her comfort and choice. So to all of the women out there who wonder which is better - I encourage you to listen to your instincts and ask yourself what suit you feel good in - because this will shine through in an interview with more brilliance than donning a skirt for the skirt’s sake ever could.
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