How to Dress Like A Grownup: Dress For The Job (Search)

The Day Job is hiring for several positions right now, so I’ve interviewed a number of applicants. One thing that’s struck me, particularly with it being a fashion-related job, is how few people come dressed appropriately to apply or to interview. I understand how challenging it can be to judge the level of formality necessary, so here are some tips for dressing appropriately.

  • If you’re going in to get an application, you should be dressed the same way as if you were going for an official interview. The old cliche about never getting a second chance to make a first impression is absolutely true.
  • If you’re going to wear fragrance, go very, very light. Individual tastes in fragrance vary so widely that you don’t want to set the interviewer against you by wearing something they don’t like. My go-to is to wear a very little bit of something very clean and soapy, like Pure Grace by Philosophy.
  • If the job doesn’t involve dressing up, you don’t necessarily have to wear a suit. If you present as male, it’s usually a good idea to go wearing the full suit, but watch as you’re going into the building. If the people going in are wearing jackets, wear yours. If not, take it off and leave it in the car. A dress shirt, tie, and slacks will read very differently (and much more universal) than a formal suit. There are exceptions; always, always wear a suit if the job is in banking, government, law, or law enforcement, or if you’d otherwise be wearing a suit on the job.
  • A tank top and shorts never constitute interview attire, no matter how informal the work environment is. If that’s what you’d be wearing on the job, then go business casual for the interview, with a polo or button-front shirt and a crisp pair of khakis.
  • Leave your club-worthy stilettos at home, especially if it’s a job where you’d be working on your feet all the time. Party clothes are nice, but they’re not work clothes.
  • If you’re interviewing for a position where you’d be wearing a suit, navy is always a good choice. There’s a certain psychology to color (more about that in a later post), and blues read as approachable and trustworthy. In addition, navy is one of the four “core” suit colors (black, charcoal, navy, and brown) that are typically the safe-bet colors.
  • Unless the job would involve selling piercing jewelry or it’s encouraged in the environment, take out your piercings or put in retainers. Also, if your hair’s an unusual color that wouldn’t be allowed in the work environment, consider dyeing it to a natural color until you get the job and can find out about the dress code in more detail.
  • My personal go-to in an interview is a pair of black dress pants and a fairly dressy top in a jewel tone. Any non-clashing color would do for the top, though–just don’t go white shirt and black pants. It’ll make you look like a waiter.

The absolute most important part of dressing for an interview, though, is to go in something that makes you feel confident. You can be dressed impeccably, but you still have to carry yourself like a professional. Good luck!


Men’s Department Wardrobe 101: Suiting Up

The day job is at a men’s clothing store, and I’ve been seeing a lot of guys come in who don’t know what size suit they wear. With a good-quality suit being such a vital part of a complete wardrobe, that’s not good, y’all. So I’m going to talk a little bit about how to get a good suit.

OK, first of all, you’re not going to be able to measure yourself for a suit. Unless you’ve got more arms than Shiva, you can’t hold the position in which you need to be measured while holding a tape. (And if you do, a suit won’t fit you anyway.) So let’s just take it as given that if you’re the one holding the tape, you’re not the one being fitted. That said, let’s talk about how suits are fitted.

Generally speaking, it’s best to measure for a shirt and a jacket at the same time. Waist-wise, dress pants are going to run the same as any other pants, but bear in mind that inseam lengths vary slightly from one brand to another, even though pretty much all men’s clothing brands claim to be sized by actual measurement. For example, my employer’s suit and dress pants run slightly longer than their casual and work-to-weekend pants. So your usual size is a starting point, but don’t be surprised if you have to tweak it slightly.

First thing you need is your neck measurement. So you know that friend I said you’d need to hold the measuring tape? Have them measure around the base of your neck, where the collar is going to hit, and leave just enough slack for a collar you can breathe in. That’s your neck size. Once you’ve got that measurement, have them hold the start of the tape at your spine, right at that ridge where your neck joins your back (that’s your T1 vertebra, but that part’s not important–what’s important is that it’s the midpoint of the line across your torso) and hold your arm straight as they measure down to maybe half an inch or so past your wrist joint, so that you’ll have just a teeny bit of shirt cuff coming out of your jacket sleeve. Your neck measurement and your arm span measurement (being a chubby girl, I measure out at 17″ and 32-33″ in the shoulder/arm measurement, depending on how much cuff I want) are the two numbers on a dress shirt size.

Once you’ve got that, you’ll want to get your jacket measurement. First thing with that is to get a good measurement straight across the chest, right under the arms. You’ll hold out your arms to your sides so your tape-person can get the tape around you, then drop your arms to get a measurement with the posture in which you’ll typically wear it. Now, where I work, my manager told me that was all there was to measuring for the jacket, but to get a perfect fit, you’ll need a little more information than that. You’ll also need a measurement around the widest part of your shoulders, with your arms down, and your waist measurement. If your around-the-shoulders measurement is more than 7″ bigger than your chest, it’s probably a good idea to pull a suit jacket one size bigger than your chest measurement would indicate, and try both on. A perfect fit in the jacket is probably going to require tailoring; that’s where the waist measurement comes in. Also, if your suit comes all together rather than as separates, that measurement is going to give you an idea of what fits you. Typically, classic-fit suits are going to have a 6″ or so difference between chest measurement and waist size, while a slim fit is going to have a slightly bigger difference. Aside from the chest measurement, a suit jacket will also be marked as short, regular, or long; basically, if you’re shorter than 5’7″, you need a short, and if you’re taller than 5’11”, you need a long. Otherwise, you’re a regular. Your collar should fall very close to your shirt collar and come about halfway up the side of your suit collar.

The most important part to get right in the fit of a suit jacket is the shoulders. The seams should be in the right place, and you should be able to move comfortably, though not necessarily engage in any athletic feats, while wearing it. You shouldn’t get any kind of indentation where the shoulder seam came out past the edge of your arm and then your sleeve had to come in to compensate for that; the shoulder should hit *at* the edge of your shoulder, not over the line. Get your shoulders right, and the rest can be fixed. Minor alterations to a suit aren’t such a big deal when you take into consideration how long a good suit will last you, and you can’t alter the shoulder to fit after the fact, so fit the shoulders and then worry about the rest.

You want your suit to be made of cotton, linen, or wool, never polyester. Polyester doesn’t breathe, and you’ll be uncomfortable in it. It also wrinkles like the very devil, and you’ll never look polished in it. Linen will have a cool, slightly-crumpled-on-purpose look, great for hot climates. Cotton is another good and breathable fabric for hot climates. The most common and most versatile will be wool, which in lighter weights (“tropical” weights–if there’s a number associated with the weight of the wool, go for a high number, such as 100-120) will even be suitable for summer.

¬†Your suit jacket is constructed in three layers: the inside lining, the canvas (middle layer), and the outer fabric. The most important one of these for how your suit is going to hold up is the one you’re never going to see, because the canvas is what gives your suit its shape. In a cheap suit, the canvas is going to be fused to the outer fabric, and it’s going to give some shape and stiffness, but it’s not going to be perfect. Ideally, you want a jacket made with a full canvas, meaning that the canvas is a separate layer of fabric, floating free on the inside of the construction. That’s going to give the jacket a more precise shaping and make it hold up better.,

I’d strongly recommend that you get the best-constructed suit you can. It’s something you’re going to need and be able to use for years to come, so I’d really encourage you to treat it as an investment. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most expensive one you can get, as long as it’s well-made. And unless you’re wearing something double-breasted (which is rare), only button the top button!

Fashion choices not to inflict on your child

When kids are small, there’s not much you can do to make them not-cute. That said, there are some outfits you just shouldn’t put on a child too young to tell you, “I’m not wearing that.” Here are a few things to avoid.

  • Baby bikinis. Tankinis on a child still in diapers are good, because they provide enough skin coverage to help avoid burning a baby’s delicate skin while still having the bottom in a separate piece to allow for easy diaper changes, but a string bikini like this one just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t provide enough coverage to avoid sunburn; the only purposes of the top are to mimic adult bra-top styles and to enforce senseless rules about how even as tiny babies, girls are required to cover themselves up in ways boys aren’t required to.
  • High heels. A child’s foot is small, and as I’ve mentioned before, it isn’t the height of a heel that’s damaging but the angle of the wearer’s foot in the shoe. A 2-inch heel may be nothing to an adult, but to a child whose foot is half the size, it’s like wearing a heel twice as tall. Your little one will have plenty of time to choose high heels later in life. Meanwhile, have some regard for the fact that her feet are still growing and that any damage to them now will stick with her the rest of her life, and put her in shoes that won’t wreck her growing feet.
  • Shirts with crude sayings on them. You might think it’s funny now to put your kid in a onesie that says “All Daddy wanted was a blow job,” but chances are, there’s going to be a picture of your kid in that shirt, and once your kid is old enough to know about sex, he’s not going to want to think of it as something his parents do. Picture for a moment your parents having sex. Grossed out? Your kid will be too.
  • Anything dry-clean-only. Children play, make messes, spill things, and generally wreck their clothes. All you’re going to do by putting a small child in clothes that you have to worry about getting ruined is to put undue stress on both you and your child. Go for washable.
  • Anything with words printed across the butt. This should go without saying, because what’s tacky for you to wear is tacky to put on your child, but I see it all the time. It’s never a good fashion choice, and even less when you’re inflicting it on someone too young to know better.
  • Plastic shoes. I know they’re easy to care for, but they also don’t breathe. They can cause blistering, and they don’t allow air flow around the feet, which means the child’s feet will sweat and stink. Don’t think the other kids won’t notice and get mean about it.
  • Anything that completely clashes with your child’s personality. If your child is a tree-climbing tomboy who wants to spend her time playing in the dirt and riding her bicycle, she may not be a big fan of pink ruffly dresses that get in the way as she’s trying to play. Likewise, if she prefers to play tea-party with her teddy bears and braid her dolls’ hair, don’t assume camouflage cargo pants will be a good look for her.

Children are people, and while parents are responsible for making decisions on their children’s behalf, a child is not just an extension of the parents. Regardless of what you may think is cute or funny, it’s important to choose clothes that won’t cause injury to the child, stress to the child and yourself, or embarrassment for the child, either now or later. Think about the person you’re dressing, not just about yourself. Your kids will thank you later.

How to Dress Like A Grownup, Part 3: It’s In The Details

Have you ever been watching a movie and been completely distracted by one little detail, so much that it pulled you out of the story for a minute? “Wait a minute, he wasn’t wearing a tie when he jumped off that building! Why was he wearing one when he hit the ground?” There are fashion choices that can do that, too. Getting the details right will make all the difference in the world. Here are some minor-seeming items that can make or break your look.

1. Make sure the fabric on your clothes looks like it’s supposed to. Not just holes or stains, but if it wrinkles, make sure it’s ironed. If you have pets, make sure to hit it with a lint roller to get any stray pet hair off. (This is one I have to be really careful of, having two cats.)

2. If you have hair, make sure it’s neatly trimmed, even if you’re in the process of growing it out. (And if you don’t, don’t stress it. One of the most attractive men I’ve ever met had alopecia and was bald from head to toe. It’s all in how you rock it.) You don’t have to have it cut all the way back to the length you’re trying to grow out from, just enough to get any split ends and damage off, and to give it a cohesive shape. That goes for beards, too–even the Duck Dynasty guys didn’t look that raggedy until they were getting paid a lot of money to do so. You don’t have to be clean-shaven, but please, trim it up. If you dye your hair, make sure your roots are touched up. Nothing says “my hair color is fake” more strongly than having your natural color showing through at the roots, particularly if your natural color is much darker or lighter than the one you’re currently wearing.

3. Make sure your shoes don’t look dingy and that you’re not wearing inappropriate socks with them. White socks only go with sneakers. Sandals don’t get socks at all, EVER. Different types of shoes take different types of cleaning products, so read the labels. Also, if your shoes have laces, make sure the laces aren’t dirty. New shoelaces aren’t that expensive, and that’s the best route to go with leather or suede laces, but if you want to get any other shoelaces clean, soaking them in a solution of water and oxygen detergent (Oxiclean or one of its equivalents) works well.

4. Clean up your eyebrows. (Yes, I mean everybody. This isn’t just a woman thing.) You don’t have to go old-Hollywood drawn-on thin, but the Frida Kahlo look doesn’t look good on anyone. If it’s not something you’re accustomed to doing, it might not be a bad idea to get it professionally done the first time, and then just pluck the strays as they come up. You may find, as I have, that since having them professionally waxed is so much faster and easier, you prefer to go to someone to have them done. Just make sure you keep them maintained, even if all you do is keep them divided into two where they’re inclined to run together.

5. Take care of your skin. Use a cleanser and moisturizer that are appropriate to your skin type. If you wear makeup, it’s important not to sleep in it, because it blocks your pores. If you want to wear makeup but have mildly sensitive skin, you can get a quality foundation that won’t irritate from Clinique (in a department store) or Almay (in a drug store). If your skin is more sensitive than that, you should probably consult a dermatologist before wearing foundation, to rule out any skin condition causing the sensitivity. Also, make sure you’re replacing your makeup regularly. I talked about it here, but it’s important enough to be worth saying again. Use an eye cream, even if your skin isn’t that dry, because it’s the first place that wrinkles, and I know people whose eyelid lifts have been medically necessary, because the degree of wrinkling and sagging actually affected their vision. But if you do nothing else for your skin, wear sunscreen. Always. Sunscreen is non-negotiable, because aside from the wrinkling and discolorations that sun damage causes, skin cancer is no joke. Telling yourself that you don’t need sunscreen because you’re too dark to burn easily is dangerous, because so was Bob Marley, and melanoma (a form of skin cancer linked to sun exposure) is what killed him.

6. Keep a detergent pen in your bag, your pocket, or your car. (Spot remover, not bleach!) Accidents happen, and the last thing you want is to be walking into an important meeting with a Taco Bell drip on your tie.

7. Watch how you smell. You don’t have to wear fragrance, but make sure that your breath is fresh and that you’re wearing deodorant. Also, if you do wear fragrance, be very careful of how much you wear. A person who’s not close enough to touch you shouldn’t be able to smell you. For most scents on most skin, 2-3 sprays is plenty. If you find it’s wearing off before the end of the day, reapply, wear it over an unscented lotion, or wear it on your clothes rather than your skin. Don’t put on more in the morning thinking it’ll make it last longer. It won’t, and you’ll risk bothering those around you, particularly if you’re around people with asthma or allergies.

8. Labels are OK; big logos are bad. I can’t stress this enough. Companies pay good money for advertising. You shouldn’t pay them for the privilege of advertising their product. Part of pulling off the “I’m successful enough to afford expensive things” is “I’m successful enough to afford quality and confident enough in myself that I don’t have to shout it to everyone.” Conspicuous logos make it look like you’re trying too hard. Don’t be a billboard.

These little things make a world of difference in how you’re perceived. No matter how well you dress, it’s all in the details.

How to Dress Like A Grownup, Part 1: Where to Start

Hey, you over there, the one who’s made it out of college and into a so-called “real” job! Yeah, you, the smart, hardworking, successful one who still has no clue what to do about your wardrobe. This post is the first in a series that’s just for you, because what’s perfectly appropriate to wear to class at 19 doesn’t work ten years later. And neither does copying what your parents wear, because no matter how well they dress, they’re not you. Through this series, I’m going to take you through the basics of putting together a wardrobe that includes options for just about every occasion you’ll encounter, including the basics of fit and color, what to keep, what to toss, where to spend a little more, and where you can cut corners.

Let’s start with what you already have. There are some clothes that it’s OK to wear, if you’ve got good basics. Others have specific purposes and shouldn’t be worn for anything else, and some…well, feel free to keep them if they have sentimental value and you can’t stand to get rid of them *peers at stack of well-worn concert and event t-shirts* but you really shouldn’t go out in.

Things you need:*

  • Straight leg or boot cut jeans in a length that doesn’t drag the ground at the heels
  • Solid color t-shirts
  • A couple of button-up shirts or nice blouses in colors you’ll actually wear
  • A couple of sweaters
  • A jacket
  • The shoes recommended in my Shoe Shopping Decoded post
  • Socks, underwear, etc, that fit right and are in good condition
  • A couple of pairs of dress pants
  • A pencil or slight A-line skirt, if you wear skirts
  • At least one dressing-up outfit, whether dress or suit/tie

*This is a minimum list. Feel free to have multiples of each item.

Things that are only for specific purposes and shouldn’t be worn otherwise:

  • Swimsuit coverups/swim trunks are only for the pool area.
  • Gym clothes/shoes are for workouts only. Especially if your sweatpants sag and make you look like you’ve had a toileting accent, or are so tight that you have a visible panty line.
  • Pajamas and bedroom shoes–these stay in the bedroom! Really!
  • If you paint, or if you dye your hair at home, keep a shirt that’s already splattered so you don’t mess up another.
  • Club clothes are OK only if you’re actually out clubbing. And even then they’re questionable.
  • Camouflage is only OK if you’re on a hunting trip or a military assignment at the moment you’re wearing it. Don’t wear it in public!
  • Snow boots are only for snow, rain boots for rain, etc.

Things to never wear again:

  • Anything with rips, holes, stains, or tears
  • Anything see-through from wear, or a different color from what it once was
  • Anything so short your butt hangs out, or that shows your underwear
  • Anything that you haven’t worn in a year or more–you won’t miss it!
  • Anything that sags, gaps, or is otherwise too big
  • Anything you wore with an ex, especially if they broke your heart–you’ll never be happy wearing it again.
  • Any pants with elastic waists (unless you have a medical condition that makes pull-on pants a necessity), tapered legs, or pleats
  • Anything fur (fake or real–it’s tacky)
  • Anything in an unflattering color–your coloring is what it is, and no amount of “but it’s so cute” will make the color work on you.
  • Anything left over from high school
  • Pants or leggings with any kind of print on them
  • Anything that hits between your knee and your ankle–that’s a universally unflattering length, whether dress, skirt, long shorts, or capris

Just realize that it’s OK and necessary to purge your wardrobe. There’s no reason to have clothes that don’t work for you and that don’t represent where you are in life and where you want to go. In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk to you about fit and how to tell if something works on you.