Now seems as good a time as any to note that my real life interviews involve mostly county government offices, which is somewhere below big-law corporatism and somewhere above marketing/advertising on the creativity in officewear scale. If your real life interviews involve big firms or super-corporate offices, err on the side of more conservative. If your real life involves casual Friday on every day that starts with a letter of the alphabet, you have wiggle room. It's always better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed, but you also don't want to be the douchemonkey that shows up in a full suit when everyone else is in jeans. You risk looking super out of touch with the company culture and, you know... douchey. Flip side: if you show up to a super corporate office in leopard peep toes, you
If you just can't fathom sacrificing even an ounce of your fashion individuality for any amount of time, don't go corporate. Alternatively, take a gander at the economy, be grateful you've got an interview, get over it.
General Rule: the rules are for people who generally have issues de-frumping.
Don't be ashamed if this is you. It's also me.
The fact is, the rules are made to lead to a presentable end product: if you look put together, professional, and you aren't totally incompetent, no one's going to care if your shoes are peep toes or if your suit isn't black. If you show up in a black suit with your vent strings on (CUT YOUR VENT STRINGS! GO NOW! we'll wait.), black pumps with scuffed toes, and I can see your granny panty lines, you look like you've got no attention for detail even if you're the smartest person in the building.
The Rule: wear a dark suit.
The Reality: wear a suit that fits you like cray and doesn't wrinkle.
A lot of people, my career services office included, will tell you that you can ONLY wear a black suit to interviews. The super old-fashioned ones will tell you to only wear a black skirt suit, because pants are too modern - to this I say half yes, because I think pencil skirts look 100000x better on everyone, and half no, because it's 2013 and fuck you and the horse you rode in on if some old guy says I can't wear pants.
The truth is, black makes a lot of people look awful. You look awful, you feel awful, and you need to feel awesome. If black washes you out, look for navy or charcoal gray. Again, more casual offices would probably be cool with a light gray suit, a white suit, a completely badass red suit. Your gut reaction is good here - I crushed so hard on a heather gray suit before my last interview, but the thought of wearing it made me wonder if that was okay, and if you have to wonder if it's okay, it's not okay.
(I know, I questioned a heather freaking gray suit? What kind of snoremonster have I become?)
Also, and this is a biggie: tailor, tailor, tailor. I found myself suitless the day before my interview and had to panic-rush myself to the mall, but ideally I'd have the jacket sleeves taken up a bit and some other tweaks here and there. No idea how a suit should fit? What a coincidence, your tailor will. Go in and tell them you bow to their vast expertise.
The Rule: no heels over 3" high.
The Reality: no shoes you can't walk in, no lucite, no platforms.
My Sam Edelman Portney pumps (suck on that 4" heel, Career Services) have been on approximately every interview I ever went to in law school, and no one ever busted out a tape measure. They also aren't platforms, are a conservative pointed-toe shape, and I can run in them if I have to. Do not, do not, do not, for the love of everything holy, ever let me catch you wearing platform heels in an interview. Please. Except maybe one of those covered 1/2 inch numbers.
The Rule: no short hemlines, no deep necklines, no shoulders, no skin-tightness, no panty lines.
The Reality: what they said, with the possible exception of the shoulder thing.
Yeah, if it's 85 degrees outside and the office isn't strict, a sleeveless blouse with a higher neckline is probably fine. Otherwise, I should not see your thighs, I should not see your cleavage (girls with actual boobs, I get it and I hate you, this is ridiculously hard, but minimize it as much as you can without the use of duct tape), I should not see panty lines or bra lines, and the fit should leave everything to the imagination. Because too tight screams things you do not want your clothes screaming, even if the reason is because the bar exam made you fat and not because you're trying to bring all the boys to the yard.
This is not a "defend men from temptation, they can't help themselves" thing, because that is disgusting (see: "... and the horse you rode in on"). It's a professionalism thing. Your goal in an interview is to make them see nothing but your qualifications. It isn't to say I have no personality I'm a sheep, it's to say I know how to read a situation and present myself appropriately for that situation. You wouldn't show up for a bullfight wearing all red, right? You don't ever, ever want to look like you're more concerned with your look than with the job.
4. Clean out your purse beforehand. When you go to dig for your pen, you don't want to flash your tampons and gum wrappers and ten thousand receipts.
5. No perfume. Stick a baby travel-size deodorant in your bag (the zippy part! Don't need to flash that either) if you get sweaty when you're nervous.
6. Keep your jewelry as minimal as you can. No jewelry looks a little less put together, but simple earrings and a watch are a good compromise. Necklaces, dangly earrings, bracelets, and rings are easy to fiddle with when you get nervous.
7. Speaking of... if you're a fidgeter, remove as many fidgeting opportunities as you can. No clicky pens, no jewelry, pull your hair away from your face, no hairbands on your wrist. Whatever you have to do to not look like a poster child for ADHD.
8. Take a drink of water and have a mint before you go in. No chewing on gum, no chewing on mints, no coffee breath, no Diet Coke breath.
9. We talked about suits, not so much what goes under the suit. No cotton tees, no tight tank tops. You need a dressy material that doesn't wrinkle or show lines, a color (or even a pattern! I KNOW! I SHUN THE RULEZ!) you like that makes you look amahzballs, and a length that doesn't look screwy tucked in.
10. Pay attention to details. Cut your vent strings, wear Spanx, make sure your toes/heels aren't scuffed, don't have orangey fake-bake hands, get a mani (or at least file your nails and take off your crazy polish), get the dog hair off, turn your necklace clasp back around, check that there's no lipstick on your teeth. Don't let the little-picture things screw you over.
Hit us with your best tips in the comments, I'll keep updating this list, and together we'll have an ever-evolving answer to the most boring outfit dilemma ever.
My real-life suit and I. Aren't you excited that my camera's coming out of storage soon?!
Real-life pro tip: take off the Wild Turkey phone case, or you know, amputate the iPhone from your hand and leave it in the car.