As promised, I’m back this week with an interview look for all the guys out there [The post on woman's look is here]. Men have it easy compared to women: they don’t have to ponder the great Pantsuit v. Skirtsuit conundrum, which certainly proved to be a problem for at least one reader last time. (Hint: don’t like skirts? Wear pants. It’s that simple.) No, men don’t have to worry and fret about the hidden meaning and ramifications of sporting a skirt suit until they froth at the mouth: all they have to do is show up wearing pants.
Now, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I suspect it’s not a huge secret at this point that the suit is the crucial part of the interview look. The right suit must convey the right look, without being too distinctive. You hardly want to be remembered as the guy with the monstrously huge shoulder pads or the tie so loud that you’re violating local ordinances.
There are tons of options for guys’ suits in lots of different qualities, but I want to hit on the main things you should be looking for.
First, color. I’ve always been a huge fan of navy for the first interview. Perhaps it’s just a reaction to my father always saying that black suits should be worn to funerals only. But navy is just a great color for a suit, very standard and safe. And on the first interview? Boy, do you want to be safe. Show off your style later, when you actually have the job.
Second, fabric. Wool is the best. In the winter, go with a nice merino wool suit; the way the merino wool is woven creates pockets of dry air that really trap body heat very well. Fun fact! Also: did you know that wool suits fare much better when they’re steamed and pressed, and not when they’re dry-cleaned? Wool suits in general, but particularly suits made with merino wool, are admirably resistant to the smell of sweat, but they do need some help. A good steam and press will wick away normal odors (it’s not like you’re shoveling manure in your two button, anyway). Dry-cleaning prematurely wears out the fibers. You’ll get more mileage out of your suit if you save the dry-cleaning for stains and just drop it off for a quick steam otherwise.
Finally, buttons. In the words of the LawSkoolBFF, “Two. Always two.” I won’t argue with it, mainly because I don’t really take strong positions on men’s fashion aside from, you know, wear pants…and not tight pants.
But if you want to consider the different types, we can do that. Two button suits are the universal standard because their frame-lengthening properties flatter basically all different builds (particularly the short torso). Two button suits that aren’t embellished are classic and elegant and won’t ever go out of style, so they make good investment pieces as far as your wardrobe goes. (Cap that investment at around 5-6 years, though. There is hardly ever a compelling argument to own a suit older than a first grader.)
As for the three button suit, those are good for the tall guys – those of you that hit the six foot mark and keep on going. That’s because the buttons generally reach higher up the chest, making it more comfortable for the taller fellas. The three button was a big trend in the fall 2009 lines of a lot of menswear fashion designers. They’re a little hard to wear, though – some guys can pull off buttoning the top two buttons, but the tried-and-true safe route is to just button the middle button, and certainly never the bottom button.
Three button suits convey a different sense of style, which is why the two button suit is probably preferable. Don’t play around on the first interview; dust off your three buttons when you actually have the job.
Now that I’ve explained why I’m going with the two button suits, I can show you some of your options. I did my best to pick suits in different price ranges, but all hitting pretty close to my ideals in terms of color and fabric blend.
It’s okay to admit it: some of us are pretty strapped for cash. We don’t have a couple hundred to throw down for new threads: we have rent to pay, MacBooks to buy! Thankfully, Macy’s offers a selection of suits for the frugal career man. Sure, this one is a polyester blend, but it will do if cost is an important factor in this decision. And remember: no one’s expecting a Burberry suit and Gucci loafers. The focus is on you, your intellect, your people skills, and your accomplishments. It just helps if you’re wearing pants while talking about all that stuff.
If you’ve got a little bit of extra dough to spare, Macy’s got you covered – literally, with this wool suit from Michael Kors for $200. It’s dry clean only (translation: steam and press) with two buttons and yes, that’s navy. I know, it looks black. But it’s navy. It’s a solid option at a good price, and it’s versatile and will last you quite a while.
But remember what I said about first graders.
Another great buy from Macy’s for a little bit more. This one is a wool and cashmere blend, absolutely classic and fool-proof. You’d have to try to mess this suit up.
…Please don’t try to mess this suit up. It’s nice and it just wants to help you.
JoS A. Bank is a great alternative to Brooks Brothers if their prices are a little steep for your budget. They offer clean, classic, quality suits at a good price, and it’s not like you have to buy a new one every week. This one is navy, two button, and made from merino wool.
This one offers kind of a slim fit, and is a wool and cashmere blend. Classic and elegant.
Aaand now you’re a J.Crew guy! When you’re not checking in for your first interview, you’re taking the little speedboat out on the lake and going to clam bakes and wearing over-sized wrist watches. And you’re doing it in style in this navy, two button, slim-fitting wool suit.
In the middle of the road, here’s a mark-down from Brooks Brothers. Their suits are amazing and will easily cost you a grand, but you can find some classic items in their Sale section, like this one. Two button, navy, lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, and apparently it breathes really well.
Squeaking in at just under $500, here’s a standard two button in navy, wool. You really can’t go wrong with it.
For those of you that anticipate having to catch planes to your interview, you’ll be very glad for the many wrinkle-resistant suits available. This one is wool, but is wrinkle, water, and stain resistant, so travel without fear!
Macy’s has you covered when it comes to the relatively high end suiting apparel, too! This Hugo Boss fits my bill very nicely: navy, two button, wool, vented, lined, and pretty buttons on the cuff. What more could you ask for? The only way this suit could get any better is if it came with a fire-breathing dragon driving a monster truck.
Remember how I said that no one was expecting you to pull out the Burberry for the first interview? Well, no one will turn up his or her nose at you if you do. So for those of you looking to invest in a good suit that you can wear to interviews down the line and use for other occasions, this is a sharp navy, twill-striped, fully lined wool suit that will serve all those purposes.
Plus, it’s Burberry. That’s really all you need to know to know you’re getting a quality, classic suit.
Not good enough? That’s fine! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking that sizable settlement check and investing in some high-end pieces for your work wardrobe. In that case, you’re sure to love these two next suits, although, honestly, if you have this kind of cash to throw around, you’re probably more likely to head to a tailor, select fine imported Italian wool, and get the thing custom-made. So let’s just say that these next two suits are for the attorney with the hefty settlement check that doesn’t have time to go to the tailor and get fitted for three hours because he is busy earning more settlement checks.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
Another beautiful suit, this time from D&G. The D&G guy doesn’t mess around. He wears his amazing lightweight wool suits and reads over the briefs his summer associates wrote while sitting in his leather armchair and smoking cigars, pausing occasionally to pat his aging Irish Wolfhound on the head. If that sounds like you, you need this suit!
And even if it doesn’t sound like you, that’s okay. Wear the suit and that will be you. Or, at the very least, you can pretend it’s you.
And for the real big spenders, here’s an almost $1500 Prada suit that hits all of the items on the checklist.
Now that we’ve got the actual suit down, let’s talk about the shirts.
The shirt is the part of the interview outfit that allows you some leeway. There’s very little reason to shell out the big bucks for one as long as you make sure you’ve got the basics down.
Your shirt needs to be: white (obviously), in a crisp fabric, offering a tailored fit, with a flattering collar.
Generally, as far as collars go, you’ll want a spread collar. These are the most flattering, just like boot cut pants are the most flattering for women. Some things just work.
I will very likely be doing a more detailed post in the future about picking the most flattering collar style for your face, but for now, let’s just agree that spread collars are what we need to be working with.
Keep your shirts fitting close and trim – not tight by any means, but you don’t want the back end to double as a parachute! No extra bumps or bulges under the suit jacket, folks. To help you out, I’ve selected a bunch of shirts around the $50 mark, and not straying above the $100 mark. You can pinch pennies here; take advantage of it!
If cost is truly an issue, don’t worry. Just stop by Macy’s. They’re always stocked with dress shirts that go easy on your wallet, like this value pack for $20. Look into their house brand, too: Alfani. You can always find a nice cotton shirt for under $50 at Macy’s. Of all the different parts of your interview look, the shirt is the one that you least need to stress out about.
Not feeling the $20 shirts? Go with this one, also from Macy’s. It’s cotton, not a cotton blend, machine washable, and has French cuffs. Don’t be afraid of French cuffs! It’s okay! They don’t bite! I mean, they did once, but I’m pretty sure they bred that out of them.
Since we’re digging French cuffs right now, here’s another one from Express. It offers a modern, tailored fit, a point collar (which I’m not wild about but I know some of you will probably swear by point collars, so, okay, I’m all about options for everyone), and a cotton blend.
Another great dress shirt – white, cotton, spread collar, and you don’t even need to iron it. It’s perfect for you guys on the go that have to hop on planes (or switch a couple trains or buses) to get to that interview so you can absolutely nail it.
That Hugo Boss suit I shared with you earlier was getting lonely, so I’m trotting out this Hugo Boss dress shirt. It’s a great one, too: 100% cotton, spread collar, machine washable, and a modern slim fit.
Goodness, I’m running out of things to say. Oh, wow! Look! It’s a shirt!
And that’s our cue to move on to the next part of the interview outfit: the tie. Here you have some room to play around, because you’re wearing a navy suit and a white, solid shirt, so you don’t have to worry about mixing prints or anything. All you have to do is make sure you don’t put on a tie with licensed cartoon characters. And that your tie isn’t too loud or busy or…ugly.
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of stripes. Here are some of my favorites.
Ties are taken care of, so let’s move on to shoes.
You will be judged by your shoes. I’m sorry, but you will. Chances are, though, that you’re used to this. You’ve probably noticed that when you walk up to a woman (or your wife), she quickly glances down. She’s looking at your shoes, because the kind of shoe you wear says a lot about you.
Square toed shoes are a big no, especially for the job interview. Don’t do it! You know what kind of guys wear squared shoes? Guys with questionable taste. The kind of guys that go to cheap clubs and drink a Bud and claim it’s good beer. Avoid these. Avoid them in general, but don’t even think about wearing them to a job interview.
Pointed toe or narrow toe shoes are trendier, and made a big comeback in 2008. You’ve probably seen them all over the place, still basking in this fashionable resurgence. They’re generally fine, but you can do better.
How? Pick the rounded toe! Rounded toes are as standard as the spread collar. Sure, the guys who wear rounded toe shoes have a reputation for not being the most fashion forward, but guess what? Most guys wear rounded toe shoes. Besides, you’re heading in for a job interview, not a photoshoot for the latest Abercrombie catalog. You’ll be fine.
And the best round-toe shoe, in my opinion? Oxfords! You absolutely cannot go wrong with oxfords. They’re classic and elegant and can be worn on any number of occasions. When you’re buying shoes for a job interview, you absolutely do not want to skimp. You want something classic, something leather, the best you can afford. But thankfully, you don’t have to break the bank, either, with all these affordable options that are available.
I’ll put up some of my favorites in different price ranges. As always, click to purchase.
I had to include the Hugo Boss for tradition’s sake.
Now, the belt. You need a belt. I know they’re awful. I agree. I despise belts. But I’m a girl, so I rarely have to wear one! Try not to be too jealous; you’ll get frown lines.
But belt shopping is so…frustrating, yes? They’re just strips of leather that cost in the neighborhood of $100, and you can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to live in that neighborhood anyway. Plus, you need a black belt and you need a brown belt, just so you have your bases covered. And you have to shell out for each of them.
…Or do you?
Remember the clothes you had when you were a kid? Chances are, things like your rain coats or your hats or your belts or those goofy little cuff bracelets you wore because everyone else was wearing them were reversible.
Who says you can’t also wear a reversible belt? One side black, one side brown, and no one will ever know your dark secret.
There. You’re done. You’re welcome!
Now, the last article. The briefcase.
Don’t worry about this one: it’s not that hard. All you need is a leather briefcase, the best kind of leather you can afford, and preferably one that has straps or something you can throw over your shoulder if you’ve got to catch a plane or a train or a bus. Straps just make things easier.
And for the really big spenders…buy this one. Just…buy it. Please. Because I can’t buy it. And I love it so much that I really, really want it to have a good home.
Drool-worthy, isn’t it? Just amazing. I love it so much.
But for those of you that are quietly freaking out because a $200 briefcase is out of your league, please don’t worry. Try this on for size:
Yes, it’s a computer bag. Big whoop. No one will be able to tell; you’ll be fine. You need a briefcase right now to take to the interview, and you can save up and invest in a better one. Besides, the briefcase will hardly be the deciding factor in whether you get the job or not.
Now, for the beauty concerns.
Obviously, be sure you’re well groomed. Trim that facial hair, shave it, wax that handlebar mustache, whatever. Just get it taken care of. Consider using a pre-shave scrub to cut down on unfortunate nicks or inflammation or ingrown hairs or itchiness. Take a look at your brows, too, and trim down any hairs that are growing taller than your brow line. Don’t go crazy, though; we only want to make sure the brows are even. If you have any stray hairs in your uni-brow region, get rid of them.
A year or so ago, while my teenage brother was still in that awkward phase between wearing the same band t-shirt for a week because he just didn’t care how he looked and noticing that girls did more than just exist, they were interactive, he was trying to figure out personal grooming. He has never had a uni-brow, but occasionally gets a few stray hairs there now and then. He went a little crazy and ended up taking a centimeter off his eyebrows in each direction. It was hilarious!
This, naturally, was before I stepped in to provide my expertise in all matters of facial grooming and maintenance.
That brings me to my next point: Don’t be afraid to pinch a couple of feminine beauty products if you can’t find the masculine counterparts…or if they don’t exist. Prone to blackheads? Use a blackhead-eliminating mask the night before.
Too girly for you? Fine. Use an exfoliating scrub that morning, maybe something for sensitive skin that gets easily irritated or inflamed. After all, you don’t want to be red-faced and itchy when you show up. Or maybe you have skin that gets kind of dull and ashy. Or maybe you have blackheads. Perhaps you have troublesome acne, or maybe you have oily skin.
The hair is simple enough, because there’s not a whole lot to be done with it. Wash it, comb it, and use products as needed. Windy day? Grab the hairspray. Humid? Grab some smoothing lotion or silicone spray (John Frieda makes great products for all these concerns that aren’t scented with guava or passion fruit like the ones for us girls). Keep it out of your face and make sure it’s not distracting (sorry, Alfalfa, no cow-licks).
Also, your mouth. Cold sores and chapped lips just won’t do, so take care of that. Get a chapstick or slick on some petroleum jelly before you leave the house. Resist licking your lips or nibbling on them. Especially the nibbling on the loose, chapped skin because that’s icky. For your teeth, the same advice I had for the ladies still stands, obviously. Brush, floss, and dip your brush in baking soda and quickly brush again for instant whitening.
Now, your cologne. The advice I had for the ladies is still good: Less is more. Don’t be That Guy, the one that bathed in some noxious Calvin Klein scent before walking into a closed office space for the interview. Use your after shave and just a tiny bit of cologne, and you are set.
And I believe we’ve covered everything! If I missed something, or if there’s something else you wish I’d covered here (I’ll be doing more detailed posts about shirt collars and awesome briefcases in the future), sound off in the comments!