Mikki Collier

Couture-at-Law: How To Dress for Success on an Interview

Ed. note:  Couture-at-law appears as part of Ms. JD's Writers in Residence publications. Every day we will be featuring content from our WIR's monthly columns. More information about the WIR and the 2010 WIR posts is available here

We have all heard the warning: "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." No where is this statement more applicable than when interviewing for a job.  Regardless of how stellar your credentials are, the first judgment a potential employer makes is going to be based on the image you present.  Therefore, you want to wear an outfit that is polished and professional, thus shifting the focus of the interviewer away from your appearance and back to where it belongs - your stellar credentials and accomplishments. With that said, I suggest observing the guidelines below when choosing interview attire.  

  • Suit on Mute. The legal profession is, at its core, extremely conservative. With this in mind, choose classic interview suits in solid, muted colors, such as dark greys, navys, or blacks. The suit should also be well tailored, fit comfortably, and be an appropriate length.
  • Pant Suit vs. Skirt Suit.  There is still debate as to whether or not a pant suit is the most appropriate choice for an interview. Because the legal profession is so conservative, the best option is still a skirt suit. That’s right, I said it! Sexism, feminism, and all other ‘isms’ temporarily aside, the general rule is that skirt suits convey a more professional, conservative image than do pant suits. While I don’t necessarily agree, I do say that if you want the job, stick to convention and wear the skirt suit. The skirt should be knee-length or slightly above the knee and should drape over the body. If you experience difficulty sitting, walking, or breathing while wearing the skirt, it doesn’t fit.
  • The Top Spot. A crisp, white, button-down business shirt is a powerful and sophisticated choice. If you prefer a more feminine silhouette, an appropriate alternative is a solid cami worn underneath the blazer. Regardless of the top you choose, be mindful of the fit- tight, gaping, or revealing tops should be avoided at all costs.
  • Shoes Matter. Next, and equally as important to creating a polished and professional overall look, are the shoes!  Choose closed-toe shoes with a moderately high heel, again, in muted colors. Be sure to have your shoes polished or shined prior to the interview.  A potential employer will not be impressed with scuffed, shabby shoes.
  • Accessorize Wisely. Go for nondescript, modest jewelry, such as small pearl or diamond earrings, a simple understated necklace, and one ring. You want to grab the interviewer’s attention with your words, not blind her with your bling.

6 Comments

Jennifer Hendricks

The truly conservative, though, would shun diamonds in the daytime (engagement and wedding rings excepted).

Vado Porro

I wore a pantsuit to my last two interviews and I’m not sure if it’s why I didn’t get the job but I’ll probably always wonder. It was so cold out though, I’m not sure I would have survived in a skirt suit.  
Last Tuesday I had a hearing and I wore my taller heals because it’s snowed recently and I didn’t want my pants dragging in the ground (and I had tripped and fallen the day before, so I had a huge bruise below my knee).  Unfortunately, they are patent leather and my client complimented my shoes and it made me feel extremely odd.  I probably won’t wear anything that stands out that much again.  I thought I’d be okay because the pantsuit covered the shoes mostly, and it’s not a big deal, but it felt weird .   

jessie

I agree that on interviews it’s best not to choose any outfit that distracts from your qualifications, etc. But dressing for work (again not your first day) is sort of another matter. At one point I was in an office populated mostly with women and we were definitely dressing for each other. Patent leather shoes were definitely in the mix, along with somewhat frilly skirt suits and other girly details. I was in court all the time and probably stood out from other lawyers as a result. But I think all the positive support I was getting back at the office prevented me from feeling uncomfortable about it.

Impey Biggs

The skirt fit is a great point for interviews. Making sure I am comfortable while sitting - and not gaping or pulling in odd ways- is really important. I put a chair in front of a mirror and sit down, to see how the outfit looks. Sometimes an outfit that I think is fine looks inappropriate sitting down. Of course, in court you may be mostly on your feet, but it’s still good to make sure sitting is not a problem.

legallyfabulous

Do you have any suggestions as far as how much to spend on the suit? Will you be judged if it isn’t designer? Could I buy something from Express?

Peg

I do not think you need to be worried about a suit being “designer”. However, I would NOT buy one from Express.  The clothes there, while cute and sexy for the weekend, are not designed or cut to be professional.  I would consider Ann Taylor as a good non-designer alternative, especially if you can find a suit at an Ann Taylor outlet store.  I have AT suit pants that have lasted 5+ years of regular wear and… it shouldn’t break the bank. You might also consider the store brands of Nordstroms and Macy’s as decent choices for interview suits although neither will likely last as long as an AT suit.
 

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