So important is what you wear to the state of your professional life that international designer Rachel Roy dedicated an entire book to classic pieces like the trench dress and ‘goes with everything blazer.’ She called it, Design Your Life: Creating success through personal style.
Pair this with the fact that a poor dress sense implicitly tells your interviewer that you, as a candidate for a job, are unlikely to pay attention to the details.
But it’s not just about risk mitigation — it’s also about scoring points. Dressing well and professionally helps give you a bit of insurance in that your interviewer will be more prone to see you in a positive light and forgive any minor mistakes that make occur.
According to Frank Bernieri, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, this is a common phenomenon known as the ‘halo effect’.
‘We would like to think that we’d make decisions based on rational evidence…The truth is, it’s about how well they dress.’
So, if the idea is to ‘give the interviewer the impression that you are already part of their company,’ here are 5 wardrobe staples that can help any woman win her interview.
1) Investing in a classic oxford shirt
The classic oxford shirt can be one of the most well-worn and useful pieces in your wardrobe. Certainly, for any professional’s closet, the classic oxford button-down shirt forms the foundation for outfits ranging for simple to chic.
Oxford shirts have an effortless appeal and they fit all body types. They’re also the perfect working woman’s shirt because they come in an endless array of cuts, patterns and colours.
As far as a white oxford shirt goes, it can be easily and simply paired with a chic pencil skirt, tucked in, or with a boldly patterned shawl, bright jewellery and skinny pants. Even the more traditional structured oxford shirt exudes a combination of femininity and professionalism.
There are two caveats, however, to finding that perfect oxford shirt and wearing it well. The first is to find a shirt with a button situated directly below your bra. Many shirts either have a button right on the cleavage (which could pop open) or they have it too far down, which means that when you sit, your shirt bunches and a person sitting beside you has a clear view.
Having a button sitting directly below your bra means you don’t have to button your shirt all the way to the top (thus making you look stuffy) and you can keep the first button and collar open while still preserving your professionalism.
The second key to the classic oxford shirt is to get it tailored to suit your body type and measurements. This will stop more traditional structures from becoming too loose, bunched or just plain boxy on your frame.
2) Using the blazer and blouse combo
When in doubt, you simply cannot go wrong with the blazer-blouse combo because nothing says business casual quite like a blazer.
For good practice, it’s best to have a navy, black or grey blazer, though these are just the beginning. You’ll soon fall in love with the ease and sophistication of the blazer, as you sashay your way around your new workplace.
The structured blazer is the quintessential working woman’s piece because it was intentionally created to help women transition into work during a time of gender equality in the workplace. Today’s modern blazer-and-blouse combination instantly amps up the professional factor while still keeping things casual.
And don’t be shy — plenty of blazers come with swanky details and embellishments that, if the position you’re applying for or the company you’re applying to call for it, you can absolutely flaunt!
3) Pairing a fitted sweater with plaid pants
The smooth, clean lines of a fitted sweater just scream for a dark tartan print.
We’re thinking, Claire Underwood with a hint of Jenna Lyons.
Fitted sweaters are easy to pair with fitted or hemmed trousers, pencil skirts and even classic dark-wash Levi’s.
The fitted sweater can come in a range of neck styles — boat, cowl neck, v-neck or a classic round neck — and can range in knit styles as well. For fall or cooler weather, you can layer a fitted sweater with a crisp shirt underneath for that ultimate preppie look. Just pair with loafers or flats and you’re good to go!
And since your sweater will be a simple camel or navy, why not go for a fun and slightly dramatic pant with a plaid pattern?
4) Changing the game with shift dresses
Shift dresses are the ultimate professional cheat-sheet. They’re one single piece you need to wear, which can be paired with loud or funky jewellery and you’re good to go.
Yet the structure and cut of the shift dress, coupled with its easy simplicity and feminine chic style give you the instant sense of a professional who owns the room. Well…maybe not yet. But certainly someday.
It’s the ultimate ‘Lean In’ dress, the shift dress is. Why? Like the classic oxford shirt, a shift dress is loose and comfortable, working well on all body types. Also like the oxford, shift dresses can range in colour, patterns and styles, and can come with embellishments or without. Their simplicity makes them the perfect canvas for accessorising and they welcome the classic ‘cinched’ waist, via a thin or thick belt. And they work even better when tailored.
Many shift dress designs are very forgiving when it comes to hiding certain bits and some dresses come with built-in paneling. They work well with heels as well as simple pointed-toe loafers or even brogues, making them fun, flirty but effective.
5) Going rogue with the LBD and statement jewellery
No professional woman’s wardrobe is entirely complete without an ‘LBD’, aka, the ‘little black dress’.
Now, keep in mind that the classic ‘little black dress’ is so popular because it can come in a multitude of styles, cuts and lengths. There’s simply no limit to the imagination or the creativity inherent in the option of wearing the little black dress to an interview.
Like the classic white oxford shirt, the LBD is heaven-sent because it’s a canvas for other bright pops of colour. You can choose to do this through your lip colour, your shoes, or even your accessories.
Our personal favourite has to be using the quiet and unassuming nature of the little black dress as a backdrop for some funky, loud or even chunky jewellery. Add in pops of colour using your necklaces or earnings, bold bracelets or oversized rings. Even if the workplace you’re interviewing for is a little more conservative, there’s no reason why you can’t show off your personal style.
Using any of these pieces, you can start an interview off on the right foot. There’s a whole score of other things you’ll need to prepare — but follow these tips and the right look won’t be one of them. Put your best foot forward by using any one of these wardrobe staples.