Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor day sale! Shopping for job interviews or the new semester.

I have read several posts on how a new female faculty should dress (good ones here, here and here), but since I come from a European country known for its fashion sense and for years I have been the designated shopping companion for job interviews and other major events, I thought I'd add my 2 cents to the mix. Guys whose eyes are rolling at this point, just stop reading. I'll have a gender neutral post next. If you are interested in advice for males there's a great follow-up post from Jake at How to Write a K99 blog. Bargain hunting is my favorite competitive sport, so I'll share some tricks and ideas for the ladies.

I will preface this with a general suggestion: balance being aware of your surroundings and showing who you are. You have to look professional and be appropriate, but the level at which you dress up or down should be within 1-2 standard deviations of the people around you. Yet don't be afraid of your identity. One of my best friends is a petite geologist who wears combat boots and cargo pants on surveys, but can rock stilettos and a hard hat on construction sites...Another friend is an academic who is sporty and outdoorsy. She has a very definite style, but when we'd go out shoe shopping and she tried on the pointy heels I like, they would look so uncomfortable and out of place on her. Suffice it to say she wore colored Camper shoes under her gown on her wedding day and she looked absolutely stunning. You are who you are and you have to own it.

The job search look
One piece of advice I received years ago at a job search advice seminar, was to go to interviews wearing at least one item which was distinctive, be it a scarf, a piece of jewelry or something with an interesting cut. The trick was to not overdo it, but be memorable and unique, which is easier said than done. Your talk and the way you interact with others are always going to be more important factors, but projecting professionalism and a sense of identity never hurts. I know that some people will talk about what you were wearing after you are gone.
My thing for my interview season was muted but strong colors, sometimes patterned, in tones of either petrol or oxblood, which work well with my coloring. Petrol is nice and calming and oxblood is softly energetic. I quite often wear fire-engine red, but unless you're campaigning for office, it may not be a good idea on the interview trail. I never wear jackets, but I also bought a couple of grey/beige blazers that fit nicely...and never wore them again. Shoes had a little bit of heel, but had to be comfortable enough that I could stand and give a talk for an hour AND if necessary walk 20 minutes to a restaurant if the guys taking me out for dinner wanted to take a walk and had no concept that my heels could be hurting. The most important thing is that the clothes are comfortable and make you feel good. No snags, tightness, loose necklines which could accidentally become revealing. Break new shoes in and invest in insoles or padding (my favorites are Foot Petals, which you can sometimes find discounted by the cashier at DSW). You can also use transparent surgical tape to protect your feet wherever you may get a blister.
Just in time for interviews, the Saks Consolidation Sale will have great designer outfits at 70-80% off at the beginning of January. Their sales people are often really good at helping you put things together, and will work with you to retrieve items from other stores or get tailoring done. I know it's not an American thing, but Tim Gunn is right when he recommends to have things tailored, especially dresses. If you are busty, get a larger size and have it taken in. If a dress you like is marked down from $500 to $100 but only exists in a larger size, $50 worth of alterations can make you feel like a million bucks. Hemming pants to the right length to hit your heel will cost $10 at your dry cleaner. See recommendations here on how to pick garments that can be easily altered.
On interview day, when you have the jitters and are desperate to make a good impression, the last think you want is look in the mirror of your hotel room and become self-conscious. It doesn't matter what size you are. Good tailoring, that hits in all the right places and fits like a glove, will help your confidence. Especially if you are not a average height size 6-8 C cup, since most off the rack clothes will not be cut for you.
My petite geologist friends had a mom who could sew well and she could point to anything in a magazine and say "Make me this" and her mom would make it. Most of us are not that lucky and if you are smaller, taller or curvier than "average", the fashion industry becomes trickier to navigate. The thing is that with a lot of different types of women buying clothes, there are brands and cuts out there just for you and when there aren't, there are still good seamstresses and tailors.

The "professor look"
As a new faculty, you will probably have more disposable income, but even as a postdoc there are a lot of deals to be had. Business attire advice always says that you have to dress for the job you want, but you don't need to break the bank doing it.
If you like suits, go for it, but as you go in and out of meetings and classes and try to still do experiments, blazers may be uncomfortable (as you have probably figured out by now, I hate blazers). Two really good pieces to pull together a jean/slack and tank top look are the DKNY cozy and the J Crew Jackie cardigan, both coming in a huge array of neutral and bright colors.
DKNY cozy styles
Cozies are wonderful because you can tie them differently every day and you can adapt the style to your shape. Forget the $195 price tag and pick some up at any DKNY outlet store, especially when end of season colors go on sale for $30-40, like this weekend. They come in P-S and M-L size and that's all you have to worry about. The cozy ring which looks like a big belt buckle is awesome to get some of the more complex ties to look put together.

The Jackie cardigan is a proper name for a little 3/4 sleeve cardi with pearly buttons which Jackie O might have worn. Its cheaper sibling the Clare cardigan is now on the sale at the J Crew Factory site for $24.50 in 14 different colors. It lasts a season of washes and then starts to look a bit faded, but it's an amazing deal at $25.

Despite all the advice to the contrary, my big thing since getting my faculty job have been costume necklaces in different colored resins that match or complement the sweaters which are usually in bright candy colors. Senior female faculty in my department is big on jewelry, so I have experimented a lot. Flash sale places like RueLaLa or ideeli have really cool designers like Amrita Singh and Sparkling Sage in the rotation and surprisingly has a huge array of jewelry from all over the world. I call this my "professorial necklace" collection. Nothing steps up a look like properly chosen accessories.

In a way you can see the interview outfit shopping as your trial to assemble your faculty wardrobe. With comfort and personal style in mind you may try new designers and buy go-to pieces for your first talks and conferences. Since we are all crazy busy and don't have much time to keep track of stuff ShopItToMe is a great resource: you tag what you like and you get an email when the price drops. Pinterest will also do that, if you make a board with different pieces. For example see Dr. Mellivora's board for new faculty attire.

I think that muting your femininity and your identity to fit in a boys' club sounds like an absolutely ridiculous concept. So, if you like to shop, shop away, ladies! 


  1. You inspired me to write up a post about what men should wear to an academic job interview.

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