Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What is the cost of looking professional?

I've been pondering the issue of professional attire these past few days. I could have done a phone interview in an old flannel shirt, but the final in-person interviews definitely call for something a bit spiffier. The question arises, do I dig one of my old fall backs out of my closet or start checking the sale racks for a nice new outfit? The attire teachers wear on a daily basis seems to depend a lot on the culture of the school so it is too soon to begin worrying about planning a full work wardrobe. Mapgirl and Dog Ate My Finances have both posted recently about buying clothes for their jobs, and, I must say, I'm a little nervous about the costs.

College students can get away with wearing just about anything. Physics departments are probably one of the less clothing-focused places on the planet. There are some faculty and students who do look snazzy and put-together every day, but if your hair is combed, none of your clothing is inside out, and you aren't wearing black socks with brown sandals then you probably look ok by physicist standards. (And, yes, I've seen all of those issues in our department.)

As a result, I've seen little reason to devote a lot of attention to my appearance on a daily basis. I use generic dandruff shampoo, Suave conditioner, and haven't paid for a haircut since I started college. Most days I just use moisturizer with sunscreen and lip balm, or if I'm feeling really wild and crazy, I might go for some powder and lip gloss as well. I live in jeans and t-shirts.

I do have some dressier clothing. In addition to my absolute favorite dress, a short sleeved, knee length A-line, black knit, I have a black sport coat, and two blue suits. I've had the suits for several years, and they both cost around $40 on clearance. The pantsuit was something my mother bought for me, and it's one of the least flattering items of clothing I own. I've worn it many times, but I don't plan to wear it again and probably would have donated it to charity long ago if I didn't suspect doing so would hurt my mom's feelings. The other suit consists of a sheath dress with a long coat, and I do like it a lot. It's a flattering cut, but I'm afraid the polyester fabric might scream "cheap!"

How much time, effort, and money should I devote to looking nice for the T. F. A. interview? Do I need to go get a real hair cut, or would having my mom trim my long, wavy, blonde hair suffice and putting it up for interviews suffice? Is a nicer suit worth the money, or should I stick with something I already own and am comfortable in? Will there be a little more leeway since pretty much everyone interviewing is a college student with a presumably limited wardrobe of professional attire? I'm open to any suggestions other than wearing high heels or mascara; I draw the line at things I know from experience are uncomfortable enough to be distracting.


SJean said...

My personal opinion is that you should put a lot of thought into your look, but not necessarily a lot of money. Most TFA candidates are college students, and I highly doubt they expect all out business formal attire.

If your mom's trim truly makes your hair look nice, then it will suffice. If you can get away with things you own, then do it.

I've had three interviews for professional jobs since I graduated, and while I dressed up, they were not "nice" suits or anything fancy. Cheap, actually. I got offers each time. Of course, it does depend on industry, so maybe try to talk to successful TFA candidates.

plonkee said...

Be sure that whatever you wear suits you as a first priority. I've always preferred to wear a suit as I feel more polished in them, probably a jacket is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the industry. For me, I'm an accountant and to not wear a suit to an accounting interview is suicide, even if the job is business casual.
Always dress your best(short of your prom dress! lol) and it will help you feel your best!