Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lament of the (Would Be) Working Girl


I used to work for a woman who loved to interview for new jobs. After a bad day at the office, she'd go home, fire up her laptop, and send her resume out to her broad network of contacts. She thrived in new environments, and her enthusiasm invariably dazzled her interviewers. Every couple of years, she moved on to a new job and new challenges. Just last week, she packed up and moved from Southern California to Alaska. She is fearless.

I, on the other hand, break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of CareerBuilder. So you can imagine my terror when I was asked to come in for an interview on Friday, my first in over 10 years. In the days leading up, I worried myself into red, bumpy, painful hives that covered my neck (not a good look). At night, I dreamed about everything that could go wrong - getting lost on the way, flubbing interview questions, and (worst of all) realizing just as I was shaking hands with my potential colleagues that I was wearing faded jeans and a sloppy shirt.

This last subconscious worry seemed about to become a reality as I scoured my local malls for an Interview Suit. When I graduated from law school way back in 2001, you could cruise into any Ann Taylor and pick up a navy or gray skirt suit in acetate or viscose. Pair it with a cream-colored polyester shell, throw on some sensible black heels, a good watch, and some pearl studs, and you were done. Incidentally, we were instructed by Career Services to avoid black (too severe) and pants suits (unprofessional). It went without saying that we were to wear pantyhose, preferably Donna Karan. To paraphrase Melanie Griffith's Tess, you wanna be taken seriously, you need a serious suit.

Now admittedly, the Interview Suit was no one's favorite article of clothing. As soon as you signed your offer letter, the Interview Suit retreated to the dark recesses of your closet. Perhaps you wore its sibling on your first day or pulled it out occasionally for important meetings, but soon enough, business casual reigned triumphant. Eventually, your whole look devolved until, by the end, you were wearing flip-flops on Fridays. No? Okay, I guess it was just our office then.

So while I'm glad that many of us no longer have to wear suits on a daily basis, I was irritated when I realized that Brooks Brothers (of all places) does not stock navy or gray skirt suits. The saleswoman even called into the warehouse for me. Zip, zilch, nada. I made my way over to J Crew, where a salesman told me that the store had recently stopped stocking suits altogether, but that I could still order one online. Irritation gave way to panic. Giving up my dream of natural fibers, I visited Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Talbots, and Macy's. Still no Interview Suit.

In desperation, I tried Burberry and yet again came up empty handed. But here, an angel of a salesman whispered in his British accent, "Go to Lord & Taylor. Everything is on sale." And there, in the middle of the first floor, was an Interview Suit bonanza. Racks and racks of suits made by someone named Arthur S. Levine. Plain, no-nonsense suits in plain, no-nonsense colors. Let me tell you, relief feels like poly-blend.

Tahari Arthur Levine
Two Button Blazer

Tahari Arthur Levine
Tommy Pencil Skirt
All this has left me wondering if the Interview Suit is a dying breed. Perhaps the smaller stores needed to clear out boring basics this month to make room for their more exciting holiday offerings. Perhaps women have collectively decided that the old "rules" are nonsense, and that their education and experience should speak (rightfully) louder than a black pant suit. Or perhaps women aren't interviewing because of the poor job market. I just don't know.

I do know, however, that I'd really like a navy or gray suit in wool. If you have suggestions, please let me know. There is this one from Tahari, which I might be able to try on in Boston. Then again, maybe it's time to go custom with Moi-Meme.

19 comments:

  1. Oh my, what a challenge. I know Banana Republic has a Suit Collections in Navy Blue. Also try Ralph Lauren and Talbots. Also sometimes, you may get lucky to get an Armani Suit in Navy Blue or Gray that is on sale. My other suggestion is to wear a dress, preferably straight cut with no large prints and then wear a Navy or Gray Blazer on top of it. I wish you all the best!

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    1. Pam, thanks so much for the suggestion. I haven't tried Ralph Lauren yet - that's a great idea.

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  2. Hurrah! You are back. Sadly I cannot help as I've never looked for such a suit. For my med school interviews I wore a circular black wool pleated skirt, charcoal sweater and cream blouse with tiny black polka dots and piping and a Peter Pan collar, and coral and gold ballet pumps. It was the best interview outfit ever - I don't know why but it made me feel serious (dark, natural fibres), creative (I have an honours degree in Eng. Lit.), and clever and cool (classic with a twist). (Also my mum approved. And so, apparently, did they).

    Now, however, I may be in need of an interview suit in the not-too-distant future (fingers crossed!). I have recently been to a not-quite interview in this* burgundy wool-mix shift, black tights and black courts, a black cardie and large grey pearl studs (and my black trench over my arm and large black leather handbag) and it was absolutely right for that job but there are others (fingers again tightly crossed) it wouldn't be, and I may be in need of just the suit you describe. I would go to Marks & Spencer (purveyors of polyester suits aplenty) but they don't make clothes in my size. I would also try Zara (there are usually some poly classics mixed in with the studs and zips, although they tend to be black) and Brooks Brothers, although they are a bit spendy! assuming they will have some at some point (isn't that mostly what they do?).

    Good luck with interviewing! And let us know how you get on ;-)

    *http://www.liberty.co.uk/fcp/product/Liberty//Burgundy-Klein-Fitted-Dress/93200

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    1. That's a beautiful shift dress! I'm sure you looked lovely. Your interview outfit sounds so cool! I think that perhaps once the holidays are over, Brooks Brothers will resume its normal broadcasting and stock some traditional suits again. *fingers crossed*

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  3. I do remember in college when you wanted serious clothes you went to Ann Taylor. I like the idea of the dress with blazer mentioned above. Do believe your department stores may be your best bet.

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    1. I think your right - Lord & Taylor (which we did not have in California) was a gold mine.

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  4. I am the firm believer in a theory suit - they are so chic you will wear them constantly and they are worth the extra money! I don't have one right now given my current circumstances, but will have one again just as soon as I need it. I am thinking saks or nordstroms would carry them?

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    1. I thought about Theory too - I have a friend who absolutely swears by them. Unfortunately, the (few) suits I saw in stock were way too edgy for my purposes. I have not tried Saks yet. They might have a bigger selection.

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  5. my friend is in HR and interviews potential accountants and she says that the level of dressing is astoundingly poor and the new generation thinks that it is too working girl so they come in wearing kaftans or jeans!!

    I would say go grey only because navy is a little too expected. But then again depends on your skin tone - I would have at least one personal accessory because they also look for some individual character as well so perhaps a scarf or bracelet with some color?

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    1. At this point, I'm on the hunt for a gray wool suit. I like the idea of a scarf. I'll try to see if I can work that in next time.

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  6. I've never worked in a suit environment, so I'm not much help but I would have worked myself into the same frenzy as you, I'm very good at imagining "what if situations?"

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    1. Ah, the joy of an overactive imagination. :)

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  7. I think that men are luckier when it comes to work clothes, which although perhaps more expensive, are also more standardized. On the other hand, the situation you describe is all too familiar: they used to make exactly what one wanted, but it is now unobtainable--we empathize with your exasperation.

    Good luck with both the shopping and the interviews!
    --Jim

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    1. Thanks, Jim! I'm beginning to think that the holidays are just a tough time to shop for interview clothes. Hopefully, I'll have some more choices early next year.

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  8. Good luck with your interview! I would recommend Talbots. I've had good luck getting work appropriate clothing there thought I haven't tried their suiting collections. I wear a black suit for interviews and I had not been told that that was too severe but I imagine that all depends on your skin tone.

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    1. I think the "black is too severe" rule is probably a relic from another age at this point. I saw plenty of black suits out there, so my guess is that this is what most women are wearing now. I have had good luck with Talbots in the past, just not this go-around.

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  9. I have to point you to the blog Corporette. Kat Griffin has your stuff:).

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  10. Oh I missed your mini-crisis while away on a trip. Glad you found something that worked. I just recently purchased a jacket and trousers of the same navy wool-mohair blend from J.Crew's Collection label because the sale price plus big percentage off was so good. Figured I have occasions for business dress (and I don't have to get as business dress as a skirt). They are beautiful pieces. I thought the mohair would make the fabric wooly but turned out to be a light dense fabric, good for all but the coldest days.

    There was a time the regular label would be beautiful pieces but ...

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