I am about to lose my job because of pandemic budget cuts, and I am feeling discouraged. Now I have to do Zoom interviews, and I don’t know what to wear. I considered a black blazer, dress, jewelry and makeup but worried it was too stodgy and old-school looking. I also thought about pretty hippie blouses with embroidery and floral patterns, but I’m concerned that’s not respectful somehow. I have been interviewing at nonprofits, corporate communications and higher ed jobs. Any thoughts? — Elizabeth, Brooklyn, N.Y.
I am sorry to hear about your situation. Having to start a job search via Zoom during a year that has been challenging in so many ways is really tough, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Interviews involve many snap and subconscious judgments based on cues that go far beyond experience and résumé, and those are only harder to manage via a computer screen.
After all, every office has its own subculture, with its own unspoken dress code. As Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and Silicon Valley billionaire, wrote in his book “Zero to One,” “Everybody from slackers to yuppies carefully ‘curates’ their outward appearance.”
That said, there are a few basic rules that will help curate yours for the remote interview.
Though it may be tempting to play up your character and personality through the screen with colorful and idiosyncratic clothing, you don’t want your clothes to take focus away from what you are saying. It’s good to be memorable, but not because of the weird Bart Simpson pin you’re wearing.
That means nothing that is fiddly (straps), noisy (jangly jewelry) or otherwise unexpected (sequins).
At the same time, and as you point out, dressing as if you are about to enter Oliver Stone’s version of “Wall Street” can also backfire. No one can pretend the past year did not exist, and seeming to deny its impact, or the fact that we will all go back to a changed world, is probably a mistake.
Yet because you don’t have the benefit of seeing an actual office and how it is decorated and how people in it dress — all suggestions of priorities in a specific workplace — you can’t use those as clues to how to present yourself.
So what do you do?
I asked Floriane de Saint Pierre, one of the most respected headhunters in fashion (and a woman of great style), what she would recommend. “I would advise to play safe,” she wrote, noting that neutrals with a clean line are probably best. This is not bowing to the most conservative element in society. It’s taking clothes out of the judgment zone. That doesn’t empower them; it empowers you.
The simplest answer is a black jacket, perhaps with a T-shirt or jewel-neck shell rather than a decorative blouse, or a dark turtleneck or crew-neck sweater. Keep it simple and straightforward and timeless. (Same for the Zoom background; think about what’s behind your head.) The message should be competence, self-confidence and control. As well as modernity.
Kamala Harris is a good model for this. She’s pretty much an expert at dressing to convey authority without distraction.
And though it might be tempting to think that the upside of Zoom interviews is that at least you don’t have to worry about what to wear below the waist, or — hooray — whether to wear heels or not, I would advise against the sweats and slippers. After all, the psychology you are considering is also your own.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.