Back to School Shopping for Professional Attire – Dress for Success But Don’t Break the Bank

By Kelly Cleary

We all know we should dress to impress when it comes to professional networking and interviewing, but what does that mean, exactly? We know it doesn’t mean jeans, t-shirts, or anything you’re likely to wear to an 8am class or a party on Friday night.  But what should you wear to employer information sessions (which begin the night before classes for full-time OCR positions), alumni panels that include networking receptions, career fairs, or first or second round interviews?  (The info session and employer links above provide some tips on what to wear to these events.)

If you’re planning  to interview for post-grad jobs or internships in the upcoming year, you don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe, but it’s a good idea to have a few key pieces of professional attire in your closet, or at least at your disposal (your roommate’s closet?) If have clean and pressed articles of these types of clothes that fall into the same color scheme (black, gray, dark grey, some neutral tones),  you should be in good shape for recruiting season.

What to wear? The Basics

  • A dark suit, ladies can opt for pant or skirt suits
  • Dress pants, again dark shades are preferable
  • Dress shirt(s) in conservative colors (white, blue, other neutrals)
  • You can also add a professional looking sweater, ladies can go with a blouse
  • A blazer, if you can find one that works with one or two pairs of your dress pants
  • Dress/professional shoes that work with your color scheme (black shoes make a black/grey color base easy) with dark socks
  • For Men: a tie or a few
  • For Women: conservative (just above or below the knee) skirts or dresses can also work well.
  • This article offers more detailed advice on what to wear.

Where to look for your new professional attire? Yes, you can easily spend a chunk of your hard earned summer cash on new clothes, but you don’t need to do so. Here are some suggestions for finding professional clothes while staying within your budget.

Hand-me-downs – check big sis, big brother or maybe even mom and dad’s closets. I’ve always been really fortunate to have a mother who dresses well and is about my size. I’ve also scored some great clothes from my sisters once they were gainfully employed and happy to pass on last season’s suit or shoes.

Discount stores – you can find great deals on suits, slacks, shirts, ties, blouses, and shoes at stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Kohl’s.

Sales at department stores and specialty stores – If you hit the sales right or remember to bring in those 20% coupons (which can sometimes be found online), you can purchase some of these wardrobe staples at great prices at stores like Macy’s, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and Banana Republic.

Your friend’s closet – Most of us have friends who seem to have endless closets of really great clothes, and some of those friends are also willing to share. When I was in college one of my suitemates worked at Ann Taylor so she had a closet full of stylish professional clothes. Several friends treated her closet like a library for interview clothes. Unfortunately for me she was 5’8 and I was 5’2. She was also finance major and I was an English major, so at the time I was more than a little intimidated by her career path focus and interview confidence… but that’s another blog story.

For more tips on business etiquette and professional dress read the article on p. 89 of our career guide Pathways. (Note, this link takes you to the 09-10 guide, but hardcopies of the 10-11 guide are available in Career Services and it will posted online soon.)