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October 12th, 2011,
Job Interview Outfit

By Vickie Elmer

As your big interview approaches, you look deep into your closet to see what to wear. Your bright red jacket, the one that seems to give you strength and luck, calls out: “Wear me!”

Then you remember the advice you once read somewhere: Wear a dark, plain professional suit to your job interview. Stick with solid navy, gray or black, or maybe a pinstripe.

So today’s question is: How much color can you put on when you want to portray yourself as powerful and professional?

“You can wear a red jacket to a job interview. But it’s helpful to know something about the organization’s culture,” said Stephanie Legatos, a career coach, colors counselor and owner of Be Well Partners.

In the fall and winter, Legatos favors a splash of red or purple when she meets with clients or potential clients, and she considers new client meetings akin to job interviews. Occasionally she will wear a black-and-white zebra patterned jacket. “I feel fabulous in that jacket,” she said. Yet she knows it may be a little “out there,” so she balances it with very conservative shoes and handbag, and she doesn’t wear it to every new client meeting.

When you’re choosing your colors and your attire, be thoughtful on what you’re doing -and who you’re meeting and what message you want to convey. Legatos suggests you ask yourself: “What do I really want to project?… This is a person who’s promotable. This is a person who knows how to establish a presence. ”

Added Ellen Schulman, a career counselor with CareerGenerations: “Do you really want to be perceived as the orange, turquoise or chartreuse lady interviewing? You want to standout, not the color.”

Tips For Choosing Job Interview Attire

Consider the color. Colors convey meaning and emotion. Red means luck in Chinese, and red and black are power colors, said Legatos. They may work for an executive or contract negotiators’ job. But if you’re interviewing for an administrative assistant job at a nonprofit, you may be better off in a less bold color – blue or brown or something more neutral. White – as in a shirt or blouse- suggests clean, purity, honesty.  People do have these subconscious reactions to the colors you’re wearing.

Consider the mix. If you’re trying for professional with some flair, pair a dark suit with a bright colored blouse or shirt. Or wear the red jacket but make the rest of the outfit a muted gray with plain professional black shoes. Wear a scarf or a tie with some zest to bring in a little color. If you love purple, by all means, carry your purple purse. But the purple purse and shoes and blouse, “that might be a little much,” said Legatos. Brighter colors are fine; just ask yourself: How much is right? To be safe, you may want to wear mostly neutrals and just a “splash of color,” said  Schulman.

Consider your audience. If you’re heading to a Wall Street investment bank, you may want to wear something more conservative than if you’re interviewing at Apple or Google. And if you’re talking to the creative types, or want to work at Chico’s, a woman’s clothing chain that mixes a palette of color and styles, you may be fine in your jewel tones or rainbow of colors attire. But if you’re meeting the CFO or the head of the legal department, tone it down: Wear brown, navy, black. “The key here is to show yourself as someone who fits into the organization,” said Schulman, who worked in the fashion industry before becoming a career coach.

Years ago, Legatos wore a dark eggplant purple suit to a job interview at a Boston-based mutual fund company. Everyone else seemed to wear black or navy. The interviewer gave her that “once over with the eyes. That threw me off,” she recalled. She knew immediately that her suit, though professional, didn’t fit into that place.

Consider your confidence. If that red jacket gives you a sense of courage and conviction of your high value, then it may be worthwhile to wear it. Same with some special necklace, family heirloom watch or other good luck charm that you can slip into your pocket.

However, if you feel most authentic and confident wearing a beaded blouse and a fringed jacket and old jeans with holes in the knees, you may put that on for a few minutes, look in the mirror – and then change into something more professional for the job interview, Legatos said Being authentic is important, but so is the understanding that your social image may differ from your professional presence.

Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards, large and small. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more. She has been called “dazzling,” “incredibly competitive” “creative” and “prolific and feisty” by those who work with her. Elmer is the mother of three children and the co-owner of Mity Nice, a start-up that employs teens to sell Italian ice and sweet treats from a shiny silver cart in Ann Arbor, Mich. An active volunteer, she encourages kindness and creativity and embracing change, and she blogs and tweets under the moniker WorkingKind. This post was originally published on and has been re-published with permission.

  • John U Lord

    It’s important to not forget about what you’ll wear to an interview. While a conservative outfit is always appropriate, one way to let your personality show is attire. Considering the company’s culture when choosing your outfit is a great suggestion and could help you get the best of both worlds – personality and professionalism.

  • Greg Louison

    So I guess that polka dot jumpsuit I wore @ my last interview really was a bad idea…

  • Anonymous

    Ha ha! I guess it depends on what you were applying for. :)

  • Anonymous

    Great points! It is really important to let the interviewer know who you are as an individual.

  • Anonymous

    u00a0The main thing is to wear something that makes you feel comfortable and that also looks professional.