Competent Not Cookie-Cutter
We expend a lot of energy in the profession of Personal Color & Image Analysis helping women gain the confidence to look like themselves rather than a pale imitation of anyone else. Most often, I feel the obstacles in this arena are more internal than external. What we feel is impossible and will never work in our lives turns out to be no problem at all once we take that first leap of faith. But what about the rest of the time? There are, in fact, some instances when we must step very carefully around the “rules” and one of the most anxiety-inducing examples has got to be the job interview.
When our financial security and career development among other very huge things are riding on an interviewer’s assessment of how we line up with a checklist, temptation can ride high to run to the safety of Ann Taylor. If we do seek advice, what we get back is extremely discouraging (for example: this stylecaster article). Be conservative, wear neutrals, and don’t try and be clever about it is essentially the message. Which begs the question, is that really the only solution?
Those who know me or have read along to their fourth or eighth issue will inevitably guess that I find this a bit unsatisfying. As it happens, I do believe this is one situation where you must to the larger degree do what must be done. If the interview calls for a suit, you’d best be wearing one. At the same time, I question the efficacy of wearing the most obvious rendition of whatever the expected attire may be.
Sensate creature that I am, I always try to picture the practical example, so let’s say it’s me going on the interview. If I were to wear the outfit described and pictured in the linked article for say, the tech company interview, I’m fairly certain I would more readily be offered some spare change to catch the bus home than a position with the company. My rule is, if it doesn’t do what it says on the tin, stop doing it. So let’s talk about solutions that might actually work.
Before I get on to the images, I do want to offer the caveat that, if you're looking for advice from someone with 20 years experience in corporate human relations, that's certainly not me. That said, I feel that when people with this type of experience are asked what they look for in the appearance of a candidate, they report what they think they probably do as opposed to what they actually do. As human beings we tend to believe we make decisions based on rational criteria such as how appropriate and professional we thought the candidates choice of footwear was or not, and instead we tend to choose based on much more subjective and impulsive measures, such as how drawn to the candidate we felt or how solid of a connection we made. As ever, I believe that a true expression will always connect you better with other human beings than a checklist.
We will start by imagining two scenarios for each type. The first will be a more formal interview scenario, probably the more common one for most positions, though how strict the formality is may vary depending on what the dress code will actually be once you are working for the employer. The second is for the informal interview, essentially for something like a tech company where showing up in a suit would make you look tone deaf to the company culture. As a bonus, these second examples will be very useful for the type of workplace where it is acceptable for employees to wear jeans some or all of the time, even if it's not quite as informal as Apple or Google, not to mention occasions such as a parent teacher conference.
You may also like to notice that virtually every item here save a couple of very simple skirts was sourced either from the past 7 issues of Signature/STYLE, or from Christine and Jorunn's very helpful articles on choosing jeans for the seasons.
The right suit for Yin Romantic is almost never the most common style, but this one is pretty ideal. The skirt is rarely the issue, though she may need to buy it in a larger size than the jacket and have it tailored if she is very full through the hip and thighs. Many blazers either have too much sharpness around the neck or an overly closed in neckline for her and/or a boxy shape that is very widening to her curvy and compact figure. A portrait collar and peplum style bodice are not the only options but they certainly are choices that take less adjustment in tailoring to make work. It is worth mentioning for women of all types that if you are going to interview in a suit or will need to wear one to work regularly (if you are an investment banker or trial attorney, this is you), you should expect to tailor the suit and work that into your budget. No man expects a suit to work without tailoring and nor should you.
I would suggest to wear a very simple camisole or shell underneath this suit style which is fitted to the body and has a rounded, open neckline but covers just to the top of the cleavage with nothing showing but not higher. Contrary to popular opinion, I do personally believe that a small bit of cleavage is not a problem for most workplaces in the case that it's more flattering than the alternative, however in the case of the interview it may be best to take that element out of the equation. At any rate, this suit is meant to be worn buttoned with the jacket on and isn't cut to put any top with volume to it underneath, which may be the case for many of the best suits for the R types. In my opinion, a sling back pump or flat is fine, but I would avoid an open toe. Sheer hosiery can be worn or not at your discretion. Of course, you could also choose a simple round toe pump 3" or less or a flat, but take care as depending on the cut of these shoes they can become quite frumpy looking even on this woman.
Advice that is given across the board to professional women is to wear neutrals. I have instead chosen a color for each of these woman which is so intuitive on her that it doesn't read as inappropriately colorful and yet is more enhancing and expressive on her than a neutral might be. Neither of these outfits is especially detailed otherwise so I feel color helps keep them from falling over the line into too much plainness. An alternative would be to wear color as a smaller accessory block, or to employ pattern, texture or other detailing to prevent looking like you just came off the line at the the corporate drone factory.
The right business casual outfit is arguably somewhat more difficult for this woman, as the culture of the these companies is often laid back to the extreme, an aesthetic which doesn't suit her especially well. That said, the best approach may be to wear something quite simple which is flattering to the body shape and simply does not distort her. In contrast to most interviews, where you will dress up more than you usually would after being hired, this woman may dress up a bit less just to show that she gets what this company is about. Later, you can wear a dress.
The Yang Romantic is sharper and edgier than her Yin counterpart, which means looking conservative is not as easy but looking powerful comes relatively naturally. There is some argument as to how necessary it is to have a literal suit (meaning the jacket and bottom are cut from the exact same fabric) even in some of the most formal fields. This is probably an area where women have far more wiggle room than men. There would be some interviews where this jacket with the stripes could not be used and a solid one of similar cut would be a much better choice. In other fields, the version with the stripes adds a feeling of a woman who is modern, forward-thinking and able to take risks, not to mention savvy enough to know what works for her. Your professional appearance is like your business card in that it's as much a mistake to make it too conservative as it is to make it too edgy, particularly if you work in a field where innovation is a factor.
Jewelry for both types here is more towards the smaller end of the scale and more restrained. However, you'll notice I've not suddenly started choosing single stone studs. I feel dangles are still appropriate as long as they are not so jingly or large scale as to be distracting.
In dressing professionally, gamines have the great asset of looking excellent in tailoring. The primary issues to tackle for business formal are that the scale of tailored suits can often be too large, and the design activity is relatively low, which can result in looking frumpy. For the Yin Gamine, I went towards the more creative end of Business formal, and I believe that in most cases it would be no problem to wear this outfit, with a high likelihood of getting a better response than when wearing something very mundane and oversize. The length of the skirt may seem shocking, but remember that on most gamines it will appear a couple inches longer. A trick to maintain the correct skirt proportion without drawing attention to the legs is to wear a very opaque tight the same color as the skirt. Not unlike the Romantic types who are also often somewhat small scale, compacted and curvy, YinG may often do best when tailored items fit slim to the body (without, of course being too tight). Excess fabric is to be avoided, it will only look messy and widen you.
In the case of the business casual interview, I really feel that this woman will present much better in a jacket than in a cardigan 90% of the time. Cardigans are often just too long and too floppy, and just generally underwhelming. The exception may be one that is more or less like a knitted jacket. It should go without saying that one would need to wear a camisole under the blouse pictured. The lacy-ness could be forgone in favor of something simpler if she prefers, but many YinGs really suit a combination of crisp tailoring and a bit of fussiness, which on them looks very high-end.
Probably Yang Gamines are sitting there scratching their heads over this one, but hear me out. I felt that for Gamines the more creative approach to being tailored and professional was relatively obvious, while she may feel very unsure of what to wear if she is interviewing somewhere very very conservative and formal. I liked this suit because the proportions are really good, both in terms of the length, the slimness of the body, and the light weight of the lapel. If you really must be far more reserved than would be optimally flattering, at very least make choices that do not distort your proportions. Still, accessories and a really great hairstyle can make all the difference in how well this woman comes across in this outfit.
As with the Romantic choices, I used very automatic colors in the casual choices, but this time I did show neutral-only choices for business Formal. In the same way this suit would not create distortion on a gamine but might not be the most exciting, the correct neutrals for your season will work much the same way. If you prefer to wear mainly neutrals, I highly suggest picking up a neutral collection, as it is very hard to know what you're looking for from the fan alone.
For jewelry, I have kept with the theme of choosing small scale, relatively more simple pieces, which also does not mean (if you are a gamine) that you suddenly start wearing basic pearl studs.
It probably goes without saying that Classics need to adjust "the rules" of dressing professionally the least in order to make it work for her, which is still not to say she doesn't need to adjust them at all, especially depending on her season. Worth noting is that fit and quality is incredibly important on this woman. In general, as clothing gets simpler, these things become more noticeable.
Yin Classic often sees herself as more old-fashioned and softer than she truly is. In a business scenario dressing so may be greatly ineffective in conveying competency and an ability to keep up with the times. While it is important to be mindful of the hardness of collar shapes, the right amount of taper into the waist, and length, she is absolutely not flattered by separates that are excessively drapey, flowery or soft structured. She could, however, choose a cardigan for the casual scenario, but I chose instead to show a jacket, which I think she would choose less easily on her own, but could be very successful.
Just as Yin Classic dresses softer and more doily than she is, Yang Classic can tend to dress more like a Yin Classic with the yin turned down a bit. Whenever we dress more yin than we are, the result can be that we look older and less feminine than we otherwise could. In the business formal example, there is a little more of a feeling of drama. I didn't choose a blouse but something the same color as the skirt would be fantastic to continue the longer lines established by the jacket. Of course, if you are a shorter YangC you may wish to add drama another way, for example by adding sharpness to hems, lapels, shoes, and so on.
For the business casual outfit, I decided to do a variation on the outfit suggested in the original article, as I felt that a Yang Classic with a fair amount of natural yang in a summer influenced season would be the most likely to be flattered by this idea of an outfit. What I always find interesting is that most things that bear the claim of being universally flattering, actually only work for a very specific group of people, or sometimes no one.
One of the greatest leaps in understanding how to dress effectively as a Natural type with a professional career is to understand the difference between clothing that has a relaxed attitude and clothing that is appropriate for casual occasions. These things of course have something in common, but the latter category of clothing is neither exclusively for Naturals nor does it encompass everything they can ever wear effectively. Clothing with a relaxed attitude is a somewhat abstract category, but it definitely tends to include clothing which has simple cuts and easy fabrics that flow and permit movement, and a freedom from unnecessarily fussy detail. Still, it can be easy to go overboard when interpreting what that means. In the example above, I've chosen a jacket made of crepe which has no lapel, and a coordinating skirt made of a knit material with a blouse with an open neckline. While it has some important differences from the classic variations above, it is still polished and professional with the added bonus of relief from the feeling that we are looking at a woman wearing a straight jacket, or one whose clothing doesn't fit correctly. I believe that this would be appropriate for all but the very most formal interviews, and perhaps could work well there also with a simple pump instead of a flat and a solid blouse.
Naturals so frequently wear cuts of clothing that are saggier than they need to be in solid neutral color fabrics and the result is unsurprisingly underwhelming. I have chosen to include a print despite the common advice to wear solids in most of these looks because I believe that Naturals are so much more enhanced when there is a print or a texture in play than without. At risk of sounding like a broken record, it may be as much of a mistake to look entirely unremarkable as it is to bend the rules too much.
Yang Natural is perhaps the woman who more than any other type, has amazing potential to wear a suit effectively, but in practice doesn't. Often she either avoids them at all costs or chooses one which is radically wrong for her (Yin Classic is a perennial favorite of my YangN clients) and wonders why it doesn't work. Yang as she is, it should be no surprise that her suit looks a lot like our idea of a suit. the main problems she usually bumps into is that many choices are too small scale (which relative to her can just mean too medium) and too controlled. I often use the visual of letting the classic's suit let out a big breath and relax it's shoulders. On a woman whose body has a wider range of motion than many, the clothes need to be able to follow along in order to avoid being distracting. In many senses, thinking about how to dress appropriately for a professional situation is an extreme exercise in finding our own normal. We're asking ourselves, what could I wear that would not require the interviewer to have to think about it?
There are some big similarities in the kinds of challenges that Yin Dramatic faces in dressing for these occasions with those described above for Yang Natural, the main difference being that Classic works just a bit better for her, I think probably because like all Dramatics there is a certain rigidity to her. Anecdotally, I find a lot of Yin Dramatics achieving big time in business. Like the YangN, they can be surprisingly good in suits despite their curves. Their long verticals mean that they are far from an overgrown Romantic when it comes to what works on their body types or not.
That said, I really like the above blazer which both elongates and gives waist definition, though it may be one of the formal choices shown that is again, best for when just a tiny bit of creativity will be tolerated. I decided to use the entire suit because I really like the visual of a long column of color even though the cut of the pant is probably not ideal (long blazers and cropped pants seems to be the thing right now, probably a tough proportion to wear for most). Whether you choose to wear a different colored blouse or not it will still be effective that way, though I really do like the white. As with the Romantic types, for this occasion, choose a silk tank that covers just to the top of the cleavage and not higher or lower. Dramatics become tremendously more powerful when their appearance is consolidated into one major statement than broken down into little bits and bobs, which is what makes these looks so effective from my perspective.
When we think of the original 80's "dress for success" movement, of course we think of the power suit. In fact, for the Yang Dramatic, it's not a bad idea. This is a woman who, in what effectively look like a man's suit, comes across as a feminine force to be reckoned with. What I like about the suit on the left is that while we tend to think of YangD as clothing from another planet, it's so normal. And while there would of course be more exciting choices for her, this one has a beautiful elongated silhouette with sharp points to keep it from looking mumsy. My only complaint is that the skirt isn't a bit longer, though in the grand scheme of things it's probably not the end of the world. I chose a top that would add a subtle bit of futurism to the look without being overwhelming, though a solid button down could be used. As with the YinD outfits, these looks create a solid column of color that elongates her and makes a bold statement without needing to be over the top. What I like most about these Dramatic collages is, I was able to create the effect without using any clothing that was especially "weird". Often the complain is that it's such an out there style or is really impractical and the truth is that only really applies to the most cartoon versions of these IAs.