As if the curse of a liberal arts degree weren’t enough, just when a newly minted college graduate wants most to look capable, serious and adult, he or she surveys a closet full of sweats, overalls and jeans and despairs.
It seems silly that a mind that aced statistics would be flummoxed by the simple act of getting dressed, but the real world, where “I think I’ll skip this class and sleep in” isn’t an option, can be intimidating.
The problem, however, is not insurmountable.
The challenges facing the grad entering the job market with a wardrobe of play and date clothes are to acquire an outfit to wear to job interviews, then gradually build a wardrobe of pieces that functions as more than the sum of its parts.
The first thing to hunt for - the perfect interview outfit - will make you look like the professional you hope to become.
Yet the range of what’s considered professional varies.
Power clothes are beside the point in an office where creativity is top priority and/or most employees never meet the public.
Our grads chose traditional outfits for interviews at conservative law offices and skewed deliberately more casual for positions in more artistic fields.
The male and female job candidates relied on classic pieces. Competing for the same job at a computer software firm, she chose a short-skirted navy suit, then wore it with a blue ribbed T-shirt instead of a more formal shirt and let her hair fall naturally, to create a polished but free-spirited image.
The user-friendly clothes Michael Douglas wore as a middle manager at a computer company in the 1994 film “Disclosure” were the inspiration for our male grad’s single-breasted brown wool tweed jacket.
The dress code at computer companies tends to be informal, so the palette could be earthier.
After a few paychecks, the jacket will pair well with a new turtleneck sweater and corduroys.
For an interview at a law firm, he found a traditional navy blazer with brass buttons; a striped, button-down shirt; and a plaid tie. The preppy combination is a nice contrast with his long hair, which might give an interviewer pause if his outfit were too trendy.
In winter, the blazer will work with gray flannel slacks, and the shirt can go with the first suit he invests in.
Although the items he put together to interview for a spot in an entertainment agency mail room were similar to his legal look, each one was a bit more stylish.
The jacket has broader shoulders and a more tapered European fit. Khaki trousers narrow neatly at the ankle.
The spread-collared shirt is more sophisticated; the muted print tie, more subtle. His killer accessory is rimless sunglasses.
For her most conservative look, an entry-level position at a marketing or publishing firm, she pulled her hair back in a businesslike, low ponytail, then combined a long navy blazer with a cream silk blouse and straight skirt, worn only slightly above the knee.
Her low-heeled loafers could never be judged too sexy for the office, and even her tote bag communicates that she’s prepared to take work home, not just heading out with keys and lipstick as she does when the destination is a club.
Looking dull wasn’t a consideration when she dressed for an interview in the music business.
By pairing a pale fitted zip jacket and matching narrow pants with a brown mock-turtleneck top, she seems adventurous but isn’t trying too hard. Her offhand up ‘do, caught with a barrette and not tortured into perfection, appears more hip than prim, exactly the image she wants to project.
Since a good jacket is the centerpiece of a new wardrobe for work, it makes sense to invest the most money there and skimp on tops and bottoms that go with it, if necessary.
Even if you are right for the job, it’s worthwhile planning to look the part.
Better that than losing sleep over whether that antihistamine you took last month will make you flunk the drug test.