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A Woman's Guide to Business-Formal Dress
1. Pants, Skirt or Dress?
Depending on your program, the campus atmosphere and the time of year, dress pants, a skirt or a dress can all be appropriate interview attire. During the summer, a modest sundress or looser-fitting skirt may be appropriate, particularly at a more liberal college or university. In the fall or winter, wear dress pants or a straight or A-line skirt with stockings. The admissions counselor conducting your interview won't expect to see you in a formal business suit, but keep in mind the type of school and program you're applying to. If you're applying to a college of business, for example, business attire might be expected. In any circumstance, stick to neutral colors such as black, grey or brown, and make sure you feel comfortable in what you're wearing.
2. The Shirt
Andrea Black (Lacuna)
The shirt you wear is likely the first piece of clothing that your interviewer will notice, so it's important that it makes a good impression. A blouse or a nice sweater will pair nicely with either dress pants or a skirt. During the warmer months, a modest tank top under a short-sleeved or three-quarter-sleeved cardigan is also acceptable. Neutrals, pastels or cool colors are preferable to louder colors or patterns.
3. The Shoes
Choose a simple pair of pumps or ballet flats. Your shoes should appear professional, but make sure that you're comfortable walking in them, as well. Unless you choose to match your shoes to your outfit or purse (and make sure that this isn't distractingly noticeable if you do), black or taupe are both appropriate color choices.
4. The Purse
Unless you're bringing along a sizable portfolio or other pertinent interview information, a briefcase isn't usually necessary, but you'll likely want to carry a purse for personal items, particularly if your outfit lacks pockets. A smaller black or neutral-colored leather purse is a safe bet.
5. The Jewelry
Jewelry is a great way to add a touch of your own style to your interview outfit. Smaller necklaces and earrings, bracelets, watches and rings are all perfectly acceptable. Keep in mind that too much jewelry can be distracting, so limit your accessories to a few tasteful pieces.
6. The Hair
Your hairstyle will obviously depend on the type and length of your own hair, but as a general rule, simpler is better. You don't want to draw attention to your hair with a complex updo. Make sure it's pulled back away from your face, and if it's too long to leave down, wear it in a low ponytail, half-ponytail or bun. 7. The Manicure
A good manicure is important to tying together your interview attire. Whether you choose to paint your nails or not, make sure that they're clean and trimmed. If you do use nail polish, stick to the classic lighter or neutral colors or a French manicure, or even just a clear coat.
8. Piercings and Body Art
Facial piercings and visible tattoos have become much more widely accepted recently, particularly on college campuses. There's nothing wrong with leaving in a small stud in your nose or ear for your interview, and a tattoo is nothing a college admissions counselor hasn't seen before. That being said, if you do have visible piercings or body art, keep them tasteful and appropriate, as large piercings or highly noticeable or offensive tattoos can be distracting.
Occasionally, you will be asked to wear "smart casual dress" for an interview, workshop or other event. This is actually harder than being asked to wear formal business attire, as it's hard to know how casual to be! Ernst and Young give some excellent advice to candidates on what they view as "business casual" dress and you wouldn't go far wrong if you followed their advice, if asked to wear smart casual clothing for an event.
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