What not to wear (on a job interview)

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The other day, I had a job interview. Oh, keep your hose on; it was for a possible side gig doing guest lectures or some such at a journalism school in the area.

Speaking of hose, I can’t remember when I last wore a pair. Do they still exist? I hear women raving about something called Spanx, but those seem to involve elastic and shallow breathing. I think I threw out my last pair of nylons in the late 1990s. Is that TMI? I can’t tell these days. I seem also to have misplaced my sense of appropriate conversation in polite company.

Anyway, as you all know, I’m preggers. My wardrobe of decent business attire is dwindling as my waistline expands. I wound up choosing an all-black ensemble—black tights, black boots, tenty black dress—under a pretty gray cardigan that kind of covers my girth. It’s illegal for interviewers to ask if a candidate is pregnant, but I’d decided that if she did, I wouldn’t lie. She didn’t. I don’t blame her; who wants to experience this?

It occurred to me in the two minutes I spent mulling what to wear (this has a Play-Doh crust; this is covered with dog hair…etc.) that it’s been so long since I interviewed for a job that I had absolutely no clue what was considered appropriate anymore. Turns out a lot of current interviewees have no clue, either. But it’s not as though we can all breathe easy because the rules have relaxed. It matters more than ever, according to an entertaining article about this on Wall Street Journal Online titled “Tassels, Pantsuits and Other Interview Fashion Faux-Pas” by Christina Binkley.

Whether it’s skirts vs. pants, dark suits vs. light, or cuff links vs. none — and don’t even mention shoe tassels — many hiring managers have firm opinions on what their ideal candidate will wear, down to the color of his socks.

In an earlier article titled “Aspire to Become a CEO? You Have to Dress the Part,” Binkley reported,

Women sometimes don’t realize how often a tight shirt or a low neckline comes across as seductive. People who meet them are likely to assume the sexual innuendo is intentional. It’s harder for men to goof, but they do — for instance, by being sloppy with untucked or wrinkled shirts or wearing beeping sports watches to staid business events. Sagging socks, dangling earrings and obvious designer logos all send messages that register with the people on the other side of the table.

Ouch. What’s more, the rules may not have relaxed for some, but they’ve shifted for others.

To complicate matters, things aren’t as cut-and-dried as they were in the days of strict blue-collar and white-collar work uniforms. Following the old dress-for-success rules, with ties and starched white shirts, would create suspicion and awkwardness at Google’s dressed-down headquarters today. Executive job seekers have to study more than the balance sheet these days — they have to suss out a company’s fashion ethos. Candidates may want to call the hiring manager’s assistant or ask a recruiter about the appropriate look before they show up for the interview.

What are you wearing to job interviews these days? Better yet: you managers and HR wenches, what do you consider interview inappropriate?

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