Interview Outfit Advice From 11 Fashion Bosses

Photo: Courtesy of The Coveteur.
By Chelsey Burnside
Weddings, red carpets and Tyra Banks-hosted casting calls aside, there’s one rite of passage in which you will be inevitably and unapologetically be judged on your outfit. And, in our world, your future quite literally depends on it. Trust us, it’s what’s on the inside that counts until you decide to debut an Andy Sachs' original to a potential boss with a hidden Wintourian agenda — sure, she’s asking you to talk about your biggest weakness, but secretly she’s staring straight at it. Spoiler alert: It’s that necklace, and it looks like a medieval torture device.
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Of course, we’re talking about the dreaded job interview ensemble.
No one’s above it, and very few have mastered the subtleties of the twenty-first century first impression, especially when even Wall Street and the White House are pushing the boundaries of business-not-so-casual.
But, trust our Cov-alumni (a.k.a. fairy job-mothers — like what we did there?) to have experienced it all, from dressing like a circa-2004 Olsen Twin all the way up to dry-clean-only, three-piece linen suits. We grilled a few girl bosses — and one boy boss, too! — on the outfits that worked and the ones that didn’t, why accessories should never be an afterthought, why dip-dyed hair may not be Vogue-appropriate and the forever-debate of flats versus heels.
Nina Garcia, Creative Director, Marie Claire
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On what she might have worn to her first job interview...
"It's tough to remember exactly, but I have been one to wear a tailored pant and a killer shoe rather than a dress to interviews — and that is because this silhouette speaks more to my personal style. When interviewing for any job you, of course, want to dress appropriately for the position, but you also want to stay true to who you are. After taking some courses at FIT, I interviewed for a PR position at Perry Ellis when Marc Jacobs was head designer. Yes, I got it."
On what she wore to interview for her current job at Marie Claire...
"Balenciaga trousers and Alaia heels."
On the outfit she'd like to see you wearing if she were interviewing you...
"Something that demonstrates a knowledge of what is happening in the fashion world, but that highlights their own personal style at the same time."
Photo: Courtesy of The Coveteur.
Joe Zee, Editor-In-Chief, Yahoo Style
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On his first job and what he wore when he interviewed for it...
"My first magazine job was at Allure, and when I interviewed in 1992 with Polly Mellen, I wore a leopard Gaultier vest, a white shirt, and a pair of black pants from this London shop called Demob. Polly commented on my vest, and yes, I got that job."
On what he wore to meet with the power players who offered him his current job...
"I wore a navy Givenchy suit and a white Uniqlo shirt when I met with Marissa Mayer and Kathy Savitt for my current job as editor-in-chief of Yahoo Style."
On why you shouldn't go all-out with the designer look if you're interviewing with Joe Zee...
"I prefer the person to always shine through in a job interview versus what they are wearing. I'm less concerned about the specific outfit but more that they are polished, clean, pulled-together, and smart. I would be more distracted if someone showed up wearing a crazy head-to-toe runway outfit. It would make me worry that the actual work would take a backseat."
Photo: Courtesy of The Coveteur.
Christene Barberich, Editor-In-Chief, Refinery29 & Author, Style Stalking
On what she wore to her first interview (at The New Yorker, no less)...
"I remember it very clearly...it was a three-piece off-white linen skirt suit (yes, THREE pieces! The vest was no joke!) that I strangely bought in a crappy tourist boutique in Nice, France while backpacking after graduation. I mean, I remember the only splurge I allowed myself on that trip was a suit for interviewing...what a nerd. Anyway, I wore it to my first interview at The New Yorker for an assistant position. And, I got the job!"
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On what she wore to interview for her current job...
"I didn't really interview for this position since I came on so early on in our launch. But, I do remember that it was in 2004 and I was very into low-waisted baggy cargo pants back then. Thank goodness my partners didn't hold that against me."
On what she expects out of an interviewee today...
"I'll admit I'm pretty old-fashioned when it comes to making a strong impression at an interview. I love getting dressed for meetings, even if they aren't particularly important ones. And, because I'm so busy, I really do remember candidates that project a strong aesthetic image that's really chic and put-together. I'm super impressed by talent who obviously know what looks good on them and exhibit how that can work so powerfully in their favor.
When something really suits you — whether it's a beautifully tailored blazer, high-waisted trousers, or a flattering midi dress — it shows that you know who you are, and that confidence permeates how you conduct yourself in so many capacities. So, I guess I don't really care what a person wears to an interview with me, as long as it seems to suit them and I can tell the person put some care into choosing what that was for our meeting. One last tip: Remember, the details REALLY count, so your bag and shoes should never be an afterthought."
Photo: Courtesy of The Coveteur.
Aliza Licht, SVP Global Communications, Donna Karan International & Author, Leave Your Mark
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On how what you wear is the first (and most important) impression...
"Come on. I can't remember what I wore last week, let alone on my first-ever interview! Actually, I'm sure I blocked it out. People don't realize that the clothes you wear on an interview are Exhibit A. Your look should marry well to the potential job. While you need to dress the part, be very aware of what your clothes say about you. You want them to complement what comes out of your mouth. When in doubt, bounce some ideas off a savvy friend. Better chic than sorry."
Photo: Courtesy of The Coveteur.
Ray Siegel, Online Director, CR Fashion Book
On remembering the outfit she wore to her first interview...
"This is an easy one for someone who remembers the outfit she was wearing at age two when her baby brother was born (purple overalls from OshKosh B'Gosh and a star print turtleneck). The first actual interview that I can recall was for an internship at What Goes Around Comes Around's fashion archives in 2006.
Naturally, I wanted to appear as though I had an eye for vintage, but my collection wasn't so vast at that point. I wore a Rebecca Taylor jacket that looked like it could have been vintage — it had chrochet trim around the sleeves and edges. I wore my only pair of heels that I had brought with me to the city at that time; they were from Via Spiga: brown leather, round-toe shoes that were probably beat-up looking because I had walked miles around the city in them. I ended up getting the job and spending most of my paycheck on the vintage treasures that I was surrounded by. I was broke, but I never regretted a single purchase. To this day, I can't walk down West Broadway without stopping in — and I've never once left empty-handed."
On two more notable interview outfits, including the one worn to meet with none other than Carine Roitfeld...
"Not much further down the line came my first interview at Condé Nast. I was reading a book at Jack's Coffee in the West Village when a friend called to tell me that there was an opening in the fashion closet at Vanity Fair and that I needed to be there for an interview in one hour. I ran home to throw on a black dress from H&M and a pair of Miu Miu boots that, in retrospect, probably weren't the most appropriate.
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Alexis Bryan told me that they had interviewed several girls, but that I was the one for the job (in almost those exact words). I spent the next year in the fashion closet: picking up and returning samples, delivering complicated lunch orders, assisting on shoots, and watching in awe of every run-through and fitting. Alexis, who is now the fashion director at Lucky Magazine and Sam Brokema, the senior accessories editor at Harper's Bazaar were the kindest mentors to me when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing!
"Cut to several years later, Shiona Turini and Michaela Dosamantes were prepping me for a third and final interview to become the online editor at Carine Roitfeld's CR Fashion Book. The three of us sat in Le Pain Quotidien on a rainy day in Soho. I was wearing a black, double-breasted Band of Outsiders jumpsuit and a Burberry trench. Of course I asked the girls for advice on what to wear when meeting one of the chicest — if not the chicest — women in fashion. In unison, they both answered: "Wear the jumpsuit." So, I did. As I stood up to shake Carine's hand at the end of my interview, she looked at me and asked, "What are you wearing?" I said, "Band of Outsiders." She said without smiling, in a very matter-of-fact sort of way, "It's good." I must have been grinning from ear to ear. I don't think it's what got me the job, but it definitely didn't hurt."
On why the outfit isn't everything...
"If you ask me what I'd look for in an interview outfit, my answer is that I wouldn't pay much attention to it at all. One of the smartest, most knowledgeable, and hardworking women that I've had the pleasure to work with in fashion wore sweatpants and New Balance sneakers to work every day. Granted, this is not the dress code at my current place of employment, but the point is that true style and talent comes in all forms. If you're unable to recognize that, you could miss out on someone who's truly great."
To see what the rest of the fashion bosses had to say, head over to The Coveteur.
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