Beyond sweats and t-shirts: fashion after college
By NADIA CHOUDHRY
The job candidate sitting across from John Stehl, a former headhunter for a consulting firm, the McCormick Group, was certainly qualified for the position.
His grades were solid, his resume was filled with internship experiences and he was well spoken in his interview.
Despite the man’s obvious merits, Stehl couldn’t overlook his yellowed teeth or wrinkled shirt.
He didn’t get the job, just like plenty of otherwise qualified young professionals who have showed up to interviews badly groomed and sporting poor attire, Stehl said.
“G.P.A. and resumes are not the only factors that play into you getting the position or internship you want,” said Stehl. “How you dress and present yourself are equally as important.”
According to a 2010 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 24 percent of last spring’s graduates left college with job offers. Stehl cited the grim job market as motivation to do everything possible to get ahead, and dressing the part is essential.
Although dressing for the job you want, not the one you have, is common advice, many students who choose sweat pants and leggings as their go-to daily attire can find the task of picking an outfit for an interview daunting.
Sarah Monroe, associate director for internships at Career Services, said the most important piece to start with is a neutral-colored suit for both men and women wishing to begin building their career wardrobes.
She recommends sticking to basic dark colors, such as gray or black, and advised to keeping clothing and accessories conservative for interviews.
“The key is to not have any physical distractions that take away from what you are trying to say to your interviewer,” she said.
Monroe also encouraged students to do background research before interviewing with a company in order to judge how formal the day-to-day attire is in the office.
For government or law positions, shirts should be plain white, for example, but for a marketing or advertising position, where it’s a little less formal, students can opt for a more colorful palette, such as blue or red, Monroe explained.
On grooming, she advised men to keep their hair shorter and for women with long hair pull it back in a low bun or ponytail for interviews.
Megan Parry, a UMW alumnus and owner of the local boutique Beaucoup Vintage, agreed that a dark suit is ideal for interviews.
“Suits can be expensive, but they are a good investment. You can find a great, affordable suit at a consignment shop or department stores in the sale section,” she said. “You can also break the suit up and wear it every day. A blazer can be worn during the day or you can pair black slacks with a cute top.”
Parry also runs the website chicfaced.com with a friend, where she blogs about current trends in fashion and provides pictures of her own ensembles. She believes that accessorizing an interview outfit can actually benefit students looking to stand out in a sea of gray and navy blue.
“[Accessories] can be super subtle but also striking. If you’re wearing a great necklace that might stick in the interviewer’s head and that will be something to remember you, especially when 30 other people are applying for the same position,” Parry said.
Emilie Begin, a UMW graduate from the class of 2010, now works in Arlington at the defense-contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Previous internships didn’t prepare her for the more formal dress code at her new job and, as a result, the first few weeks were spent transitioning.
“I wish I had known [what to wear], but it’s hard to know these things going in,” said Begin. “You kind of have to go to the place to see.”
After seven months of working at the company, Begin has gotten the hang of business casual and is now working to infuse her own style into these generic looks. She echoed Parry’s call for accessories and said that finding the right balance between appropriate and stylish takes time.
“I don’t have the same kind of fun that I used to when I get dressed every day,” said Begin. “But I’m working on it.”