Dress for Success

Dress for Success

Getting a job is hard. As a recent college graduate, I’ve applied to countless jobs, gone on numerous interviews, and gotten exactly zero full-time job offers.

Getting a job is hard. As a recent college graduate, I’ve applied to countless jobs, gone on numerous interviews, and gotten exactly zero full-time job offers. This comes down to a lot of different factors, some that are in my control and some that are not, but never did I think I wasn’t getting a job because of how I looked. My mother, on the other hand, seemed convinced that this was the case.

It all started during a conversation with her friends at their weekly mahjong group (a traditional Chinese tile game beloved by upper-middle class women in New Jersey). All the other women have straight, traditionally feminine, and employed daughters, whereas my mother has me: a gay, not masculine or feminine, on-call museum employee.

Apparently, Debbie’s daughter, Annie, went to a personal shopper at Nordstrom and then got a job at the Wall Street Journal. My mother took that coincidental correlation as cause and effect and set me up with a personal shopper at Macy’s.

To say I was not jazzed about this arrangement is an understatement. I have my own, unique sense of style and know how to look “nice” when I need to. My go-to interview attire up until this point (and to tell you the truth, pretty much after this point too) is a black blazer over a black dress with a “statement necklace” that my girlfriend picked out. Sometimes I wear a black shirt and black pants in lieu of the dress, but regardless, I always look professional. Now, here I was at the entrance of Macy’s – preparing to be bombarded by mid-tier designer clothing and incorrect assumptions about my regular attire, and I was not ready for it.

When my mother, my aunt, and I arrived at the personal shopper’s office, we were greeted by a middle-aged woman in a pantsuit. She first sent us into the wild to pick out whatever we wanted. Bad idea. My mother and my aunt shouted across the store asking me if I liked certain dresses and styles and ignored me when I said no. When we finally made it back to the dressing room, we had over 30 items of clothing – four of which I had picked out and only half that I could really imagine myself wearing. But before I could even break into the massive haul, the personal shopper turned to me saying, “Wait – we have to go pick out your shapewear.”

Now, I am a bit “thick” – that’s not something I’m going to deny. I may have a bit of a poochy belly, but never before did I think I needed to wear shapewear. I was forced to wear spanx to my brother’s wedding at 12 years old and swore that would be the last time. I don’t want to squeeze my body into something. Everyone is so concerned about a muffin top, but the tops are the best part, so I’m just chilling. Therefore, I was not pleased about being dragged into the lingerie department to try on girdles. Ultimately, I put one on to appease everyone, but I don’t think it made a difference at all. It now sits in the way back of my underwear drawer.

After my glam squad turned me into a sausage, the fighting really began. My mother insisted that I listen to whatever the personal shopper said, but the personal shopper didn’t totally get where I was coming from. For instance, I think hardware (i.e. zippers, chains, or any other metallic accoutrements) looks tacky, especially on blazers. If I wanted a motorcycle jacket, I’d buy one. I don’t need a blazer that looks like one. The personal shopper, however, was adamant that I needed some flare. And that is how I ended up in the frumpiest, most ill-fitting blazer to ever grace a human body.

Although I ended up convincing my styling team to let me buy a different blazer, the argument that led to that concession was exhausting. There were many other battles over the course of the personal shopping session: straight leg vs. flared pants, do I really need a purse, ugly patterns etc. And by the time I managed to stand up for myself and my fashion sense, I was left with only a few items that I really felt comfortable in. But I was okay with that.

Leaving the store looking exactly how my mother or my aunt or my personal shopper wanted me to is not the key to professional success. For me, rocking an interview outfit lies within feeling good in the clothes I’m wearing. If I feel awkward in a certain dress, or if my pants feel too wide, or if I don’t like the blazer’s pattern, then that discomfort will come across in the interview. I will be less confident and less likely to perform at my best. If I put on an outfit that I know I look damn fine wearing, then that’s what I should wear. Look good, feel good – but look good by your own standards.

To dress for success, follow these basic rules: no flip flops, nothing too revealing, and iron your clothes. And, most importantly, wear something that makes you feel strong, intelligent, competent, and confident. It’s a lot likelier that how you feel in your outfit will have more bearing on your interview than the actual outfit. Don’t dress for your mom or your aunt or even for your personal shopper, dress for you.

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