Rochelle has a job interview this month, for a high school teaching position. But she's not sure what to wear to the interview. When she emailed me, she was asking specifically for "appropriate interview attire that won't make me melt in the July heat." I'm sympathetic to that, because it's been over 100 here every day for I don't know how long, and trying to stay cool and look professional all at once can seem impossible.
But the thing about interview attire is this: You want to wear a slightly more dressed up version of what you would wear to the job. So I asked Rochelle about her daily wardrobe for teaching, and she had some great insights:
Teaching can be dirty business-Chalk from chalkboards can wreak havoc on a black suit (nothing like walking around a high school with a chalk print of your hands on your own hiney!) when passing in the halls between classes clothing can get snagged and dirty from pencils and pens or brushing up against other students.
Since I teach (or want to teach) middle/high schoolers I like to look fashionably forward (not trendy), age appropriate (I will be 36) but comfortable. I have been substitute teaching so I only have a few pieces that I wear over and over again: pencil skirts, oxford shirt, a denim jacket, a few dresses, cardigans, nice T's, some pointy toe boots, a pair of flats, some turtle neck sweaters and a couple of nice trousers that I mix and match. I do not own a suit as I have been at home with kids for 7 years and want to invest when (and if) I secure a job.
I'm not really into chinos as I have not found a pair that don't bag out by the time I get to school then I feel schlumpy for the rest of the day. I love dresses but do not do florals or ruffles so I'm having a hard time finding something I'm comfortable in. The dresses that I do have are sleevless (and looking a little worn) so I feel like I need to wear something over them.
Rochelle should approach her interview as a an opportunity to begin building an everyday work wardrobe for this career. Let's think about what she has and what she needs -- and what she doesn't.
Rochelle has some great basics: pencil skirt, nice trousers, button down shirts, turtlenecks, flats and boots. This is a great beginning, because these are core pieces that she can wear over and over.
What should she add to that core?
Cardigans: A cardigan is an easy way to change the look of basics. Rochelle could put a beautiful short-sleeved cardi over one of her sleeveless dresses for more coverage; she could layer it over a long sleeved tee and pair that with her pencil skirt and boots for a hip, comfy day look. For an interview, she can pair the short sleeved cardi with a button down shirt and the pencil skirt, or -- if it's just too hot -- she can also add a short-sleeved blouse. Cardis are a great investment because they are so flexible; wear your cardigan on it's own or over another top or dress; belt it or pin in shut instead of buttoning. Invest in both neutrals (a white cardi won't show chalk dust) and fun colors.
Blouses: Rochelle should pick up a couple of short-sleeved blouses, something a little dressier than a t-shirt but not necessarily a silk suiting piece. A blouse with a structured collar, or with some interesting detailing -- an empire waist or a beautiful print or a dramatic color -- is another easy way to dress up basics. And Rochelle can find great blouses for not a lot of money at places like H&M or Old Navy. Wear the blouse with the trousers now, when it's warm (or with the pencil skirt if it's really hot) and later with a sweater or jacket.
Tailored jacket: At some point, Rochelle will want to invest in a tailored jacket -- but she wants to look for one in a washable fabric, not something high-maintenance. Cotton canvas or corduroy will be perfect. Keep the line classic and simple -- a blazer cut, for example -- but don't be afraid to experiment with trendy details -- big buttons or a ruffled collar. She can wear the jacket with pants or skirts all through the fall and winter.
But what about the interview specifically? Surely Rochelle isn't going to wear a corduroy jacket to a summer interview! No, of course not. She can wear her pencil skirt and a beautiful blouse (no t-shirts for interviews, please) and a pair of beautiful shoes. This is a good time to get out the heels -- she might never wear them to teach in, but again, the idea is to dress up your basics for the interview.
Finally, this: Rochelle wants to look for pieces that she can easily care for; she wants to steer clear of fabrics that have to be dry cleaned or pieces that will need to be pressed before every wearing (unless, like me, she really loves to iron -- but I always assume I'm the only one who loves ironing). She needs a wardrobe that will let her walk the halls comfortably and stand in front of her class with confidence; she needs pieces that can get dirty during the day and wash up well later.
What else would you tell Rochelle -- both about getting dressed for her interview and about her classroom wardrobe? Share your tips and tricks with us!
Susan Wagner writes about fashion at The Working Closet and about chic suburban living at Friday Playdate. Believe it or not, she taught high school for a while, many many years ago; she wore a lot of khaki pants.
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