Well while Marilyn was surely onto something, what she forgot to mention was that women need a few more weapons in their arsenal than a powerful set of pumps to impress and succeed. As a recent grad I have witnessed firsthand the impression the ‘wrong’ outfit has left on others, and think its time I shared some solid post-graduate advice I received from the women in my life. There are three essential pieces that should be in your wardrobe, no exceptions. Feel free to accessorize them as you will, but just like a good house, every woman needs a solid foundation. So off we go, here are the three things you MUST add to your career-wear collection NOW.
- A solid black blazer. Unlike Marilyn, I think every first impression starts top-down: a black blazer can be classed-up, dressed-down, and worn with a wide variety of different clothes to create that positive first impression. For interviews, this piece is a must-have. Wearing a blazer over a daring top and black slacks can add restraint, and can work to add uniqueness to any outfit. Wearing a blazer over a work dress can create a clean professional look that will tell your employer “I’m serious about my career”. Similarly, wearing a blazer over a loud colorful dress will let you remain classy while still being fun. A blazer can also be your worst enemy if worn with the wrong things: Don’t wear anything that scoops too low over your “two best friends”. If you wear a scoop-neck or a plunging neckline, a blazer will draw a LOT of attention downward, making the focal point your breasts and not your face. As with any networking or career functions, try to keep necklines only a few inches below your collar-bone: regardless of what industry you are looking to get into, it’s always better to play it safe and then be a little more relaxed when you get the job.
- A dependable set of shoes. Marilyn was absolutely right about shoes: whether you’re a fan of sky-high stilettos or ballet flats, getting ‘the shoe’ you can walk to work in without changing is a for-sure MUST. In professional settings, the safest and most dependable is a barely there heel (just enough to nudge you up an inch or two) or a ballet flat. I prefer black, because it goes with absolutely everything, and keep ‘decoration’ at a minimum. If you’re going to wear a designer shoe, try to find a type that doesn’t scuff easily and is made to take a lot of abuse. Wearing pumps might work once you have a job, but until then stay far far away from them. Why? If you suddenly get a call asking if you can get coffee with a contact/interviewer/influencer you’re not going to enjoy power walking in whisper-thin heels that have you teetering 6″ above everyone else. Even if you are taking the subway/bus/or driving, there is just a much higher chance of you falling down, being late, or even breaking a heel before you can even make an impression. Make sure you can put these shoes to work and put them through hell, and you’ve got yourself a job-conquering weapon.
- One ‘classic’ work dress. This is the most important of the 3, and will be the hardest to find. A good solid work dress should be form-fitting but not curve-hugging, tactful but not tacky, and a neutral ‘can wear anywhere color’ (I prefer mine to be gray). The most important thing to remember about this dress is that is MUST be the safest piece in you closet: no cleavage, skirt below the knee, and well-tailored. If you can find all those features on a dress with pockets, go for it, otherwise stick to what works. If you need references for solid work dresses, look at websites like Anne Taylor, J.Crew (the tame ones ONLY), and refer to classically dressed women like Michelle Obama. What you essentially want to do, is give the impression that you are already employed, or taking your job search seriously, and a strong classic career dress will say that for you before you even open your mouth at a career event.
Have some other great tips for what grads should wear? Leave it in the comments!