Don’t lose yourself in your quest for success

By Jessen O'Brien

As application season and seasonal sales approach, it’s time to start looking out for interview outfits. But what do you look for, and how do you retain your own style while remaining professional? It’s a difficult but achievable balance, and here are a few tips to help you find it.

First of all, it’s better to err on the conservative side. Yes, once you land that internship or job, you might be able to throw a blazer over an old dress and call it a day, but no matter where you’re applying, you’ll want to stick to something a bit more formal. You want them to remember you and not your clothing, so keep it simple.

This is not to say that you should forego your sense of style, or that the best choice is necessarily a black suit with a white button-down and an updo. It’s important that you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing and that it still reflects your personality. For most interviews, you can nix the suit, and invest in separates instead. You can mix and match, so you’ll get much more wear out of them, and they’re much less expensive than a suit. Most importantly, however, few women wear tops and bottoms that are the same size. It’s better to get separate pieces that fit you well than to buy a pair that doesn’t quite work.

If you’re starting from scratch, I recommend looking for a black blazer and skirt (just above knee length). You’ll get the most wear out of them, and you don’t have to worry about matching as you do with navy pieces. High-waisted skirts lend a little trendiness to the standard business pencil skirt. Depending on what you’re interviewing for, you can pair this with a tailored button-down or a blouse. You don’t want anything too loud or too busy—stripes are fine, but plaid might be a bit much. Your shoes should also be conservative—a low heel (two inches at most), and nothing too shiny. No chipped polish, please, and keep your nails unvarnished or in neutral nail tones like beige, pink, or red.

Having said that, you want your outfit to retain some semblance of individuality. If you do a black suit and simple button-down, make it your own with a long necklace or a thin, patterned belt. As a rule, it’s good to wear one or two statement pieces. They shouldn’t be too overpowering—you don’t want a big scarf or lime green heels—but something that displays who you are without taking too much attention away from your face.

You want to look kempt and be comfortable. If you always wear your hair down, wear it down. If you simply can’t feel at home in a skirt, wear pants. If you can’t walk in heels, don’t wear them. Never let your clothing distract from you. If you feel out of place in what you’re wearing, you’re bound to fidget. Ultimately, it’s better to stray a little from what’s expected than make yourself nervous trying to conform completely to a certain idea.