I found myself in unknown territory on Sunday: Ann Taylor. Having always considered it the territory of my mother and other working women, I felt extremely old when I went there to help my own friend pick out work wear.
While the first few months of school are obviously taxing, with new classes and schedules, juniors and seniors experience an additional level of stress: the job search. By day, they attend class; but by night, they strip off their street clothes and don their best “business casual.” Their mission? To attain highly coveted internships and jobs.
I ventured into the Ann Taylor on Chapel Street to find my friend an appropriate outfit for her upcoming networking event. But we soon hit a roadblock: the business casual protocol was totally foreign to us. While I sat in the white dressing room, she tried on outfit after outfit. She turned to me and asked, “Is it okay if I buy this sleeveless blouse? What if it’s warm in the event room and I need to take off the blazer? Is it appropriate to show my arms?” My efforts to answer were futile; we panicked. The lovely saleswoman provided crucial aid; now I hope to do the same for WKND readers. So here are some hints that will help any undergraduate transform into a savvy businesswoman. No longer will we need to panic in Ann Taylor dressing rooms.
1. The outfit. A blazer is a must, but can be paired with anything from a nice pantsuit to a dress. Keep the colors neutral: dark brown, black, and navy are the safest bets. But it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of color: a lavender or oxblood blouse could look nice. Just stay away from loud colors!
Make sure that your clothes are well tailored. The shortest skirts should land just above the knee. Shirts should be opaque and show no cleavage or naval. Most importantly, buy clothing that fits just right; anything too tight or too loose will make you uncomfortable.
2. The shoes. Stay away from stilettos. It may be okay to go with a higher heel if the shoes are classic Mary Janes. However, it’s safer to stick with kitten or chunky heels, or even flats. The most important question to ask yourself when picking your shoes is: do I look wobbly? You want to be as sturdy as possible when you walk. A good rule of thumb is to keep them three inches or under. And if you choose to wear flats, make sure they’re on the nicer side so that they don’t dress down the outfit.
3. The jewelry. The more subdued, the better. Delicate earrings and a watch are always in good taste. Go light on the rings — there will be lots of handshaking, and too many rings can make the gesture uncomfortable.
4. The nails. With the aforementioned handshaking, there’ll be more focus on your hands than ever before. Make sure your nails are clean and styled. Wear either clear polish or have your nails buffed. No hot pink, please!
5. The hair and makeup. Keep strands out of your face! Hair should be styled so that you don’t have to fuss with it. A nice braid or headband could work. As for makeup, it should be as subdued as possible. Go for an “all natural” look, staying away from bold lipstick and eye makeup. Light concealer, mascara, and lip balm is all you really need.
Now the answers to my friend’s frenzied dressing-room questions:
When is it okay to remove the blazer? Follow the lead of the recruiters. If they take their jackets off because of the heat, you may do the same.
Is it appropriate to wear a sleeveless blouse? Yes, as long as it doesn’t show too much shoulder.
In sum, you want to dress so others see you, not your clothes. The goal is to have executive presence, to look nice enough that you are taken seriously but not so nice that your clothes steal the show. You want the recruiters to look at you and hear what you’re saying, not be distracted by the brightness of your shirt. Most importantly, choose an ensemble that makes you feel confident. The outfit on your back can’t get you a job, but it can make you feel like your best self.