Monday, October 15, 2007

Reader Question: How to Help a Friend With Poor Fashion Sense

Hey Meg, I've got a question I was hoping you might be able to discuss--it seems like your area of expertise in more ways than one. I've got a good friend who dresses, well, trampy, and wears makeup to go along with it. She's in the process of applying for jobs, at pretty conservative places, and has made no effort to tone down her look. Is there any way I can gently let her know that the smoky eyes, miniskirts, and cleavage-bearing tops might be preventing her from getting hired? Thanks, Jen

This is definitely a tricky situation, as you don't want your friend to misconstrue your actions as a personal attack. I think it's best to start with a subtle approach. If she's got an interview coming up, ask her what she's planning on wearing, and if it's something inappropriate, gently suggest that she go with something more conservative. "I've heard that the X industry is really conservative, it's probably better to be safe than sorry and keep things conservative."

There are a lot of good articles online about dressing for interviews, and you could send some to her and let her know you found the advice really helpful. The Princeton Career Services website has a good guide, as does and your own college career development office probably has guidelines for students. If she isn't totally sure what to wear, suggest that she call the company she's interviewing at and ask what attire they prefer interviewees to wear. Hearing it from the mouth of her interviewer might be more effective in convincing her to dress up and tone down her look.

It's likely that she finds appropriate business attire to be boring, and like many people, takes on the attitude that "if they won't accept me for who I am, I don't want to work there." You can make a few counterarguments to this:

First, in most cases, you're expected to dress more formally for the interview than for the actual job. I've worn business suits to every interview I've ever had, but nearly all of my jobs and internships had casual or business casual attire. Still, that doesn't mean that low-cut tops, heavy makeup and tiny skirts were acceptable- they're not acceptable anywhere.

Second, you need to tell her that she can still keep her style, she just has to tone it down during office hours. Part of being an adult is realizing that you can't totally be you 24 hours a day, that you have to act and dress differently in different situations.

Third, she has to think hard about her priorities. If dressing as she currently does all day long is her first priority, then she has to face the fact that she's seriously limiting her career choices. But is keeping her style more important than snagging her dream job? Probably not.

I think it's really admirable that you care about your friend enough to want to help her succeed in her job interviews. But as with all things, there's only so much you can do to change another person if they're not interested in changing. You can talk to her about how you feel and make the suggestions I listed, but until she's ready to change, your words won't get too far. She'll learn these lessons on her own, perhaps the hard way, but hopefully she'll recognize what a good friend you are in the process, and will ask for your advice in the future.

Anyone else have suggestions for Jen?


Dana said...

Like the picture Meg included with this post- it may be helpful to show her a cute outfit you saw online.

Making a shopping trip out of it may also be a good idea, but can be dangerous. I have a feeling your friend is more interested in looking "trendy" and "hot" than just wearing a minimal amount of clothing.

Pull her into some business casual stores with you. She might not go into New York & Company by herself, but trendy business appropriate displays on the manicans may sway her. Try to convince her to try things on by being open to trying on new things as well. Making positive comments like- "Wow, you look so professional, you look like you could be working at company X in that" could be what she needs to hear.

Mrs Fashion said...

Great advice! And Dana's idea of an interview-outfit-shopping-trip is a good one...

Cate said...

lol, maybe i'm the rudest thing ever on the planet, but i'd go for the blunt approach. "girl, i love you, and you are hot, but what you wear day to day isn't work appropriate. that's why they call them "work clothes." it could be that she doesn't have a huge budget to go shopping with, and so she would rather buy the clothes she prefers to wear rather than the clothes she needs. tell her it's easy: every hoochie-mama out there has a pair of black pants and black heels. tell her all she needs is a buttondown shirt and a vest or a jacket, and she'll be good to go.

also, a friend of mine felt this way about one of our friends, and she used a mass email approach: "hey ladies, here's a bunch of articles i found really helpful while looking for my first job, hope you will, too" and she included links to interviewing tips, business attire, questions often asked, et cetera.

Teresa said...

If her clothes & makeup are really that tacky then you should be blunt. It's for her own good. She'll thank you after she gets a good job. I would hope my friends would do the same for me!

nadarine said...

re: dana-
I think the photo Meg included shows a look that should BE AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS in a professional situation: corset top, belly showing, short-pants, 4.5" heels. I am by no means conservative, but if I ever attempted to wear this ensemble to work (in a rather relaxed office), I would be setting myself up for embarassment and ridicule.
Could you imagine meeting with clients and constantly tugging your shirt down to cover your midriff? Or wearing your best sexy-going-out heels to a 8:30 am meeting? You'd look like you just rolled in from the club the night prior.

Fabulously Broke in the City said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Nadarine. Go for a skirt suit if you want to be feminine, but a regular pantsuit usually works fine too (skirt suits are for the uber conservative)

What I'd do is say: Hey, let's go shopping... then veer her into Ann Taylor and pick out a couple of things, and like Dana said, suggest positive comments about her looking professional.

Rebecca @ Space Between My Peers has a fab festival going on that has "Workplace" as a theme that you could get ideas from.

Anonymous said...

nadarine, I agree with you completely! i'm not conservative by any means, but believe that there isn't a place for sexiness at work. femininity, for sure. sexiness (high, high heels, midriff poking out, etc), no.



Jc3 said...

I don't think the photo Meg included is off the rails. I was curious, in fact, so I shared it with a friend of mine, and she said, "I want that outfit!"

Meg, can you share the source of this photo? I'd like to visit the website.