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The New Job-Interview Dress Code

For women over 50 competing for employment, the key is to look current

By Linda Dyett

You recently lost your job. ... Or your twins are starting college. ... Or, after 30 years as a corporate bigwig, you’re hankering to switch to a nonprofit. …  Or maybe you’ve tried retirement and found it isn’t what it was cracked up to be. ...

These are just a handful of the many reasons record numbers of women over age 50 are either re-entering the workforce or switching jobs — and possibly careers. If you’re one of them, on the plus side you’ve got decades of career and life experience, you know your strengths and how to play to them, and hiring is on the upswing. On the negative side, competition is fierce. Your rivals for the job may be millennials, 20 or 30 years younger than you. Your interviewer may be a good deal younger too — and suspicious that you’re stuck in an antediluvian ‘90s time-warp swamp. 


What to Wear: The Specifics


Jacket and skirt. The skirt-suit no longer holds sway as default interview attire for women. “Today it looks fresher to break those pieces up,” says Moellering. “The matching thing can age you,” she adds. Look instead for:

  • A fitted jacket, worn with a white cotton shirt over a black pencil skirt: If it turns out you’re overdressed, you can always remove the jacket — even during the interview, points out Dorothy Brachtell, chief operating officer of the Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council, in Stamford.
  • A neat cardigan, the jacket's contemporary alternative: This is an inspired choice if you’re up for a job with a hotshot young firm, suggests Helen Perry, a Houston image consultant.
  • Skirt length: Keep it just below the knee, says Lola Ehrlich, a New York hat and accessories designer.
  • Jacket and skirt labels to check out: Zara, J. Crew, Club Monaco, Theyskens Theory, Uniqlo — especially for its budget-priced contemporary blazers. Cardigan labels: Paul Stuart, J. Crew, Madewell. 


Pantsuit. Much maligned in the past, the matching jacket and trouser combo has returned with a newfound fashion cachet. What’s key today is displaying an irreverent touch or two, such as a cropped, boxy jacket or an inverted peaked collar. (Consider pantsuits by Donna Karan, Elie Saab, J. Crew and Theory.)



Nails. According to every expert, a pre-interview manicure is essential. The ideal nail shape is short, square and rounded at the edges. Long, pointy nails cause distracting finger-clicking as you display your portfolio, says Howard. As for polish color, go for pale pink or shell with a fashionable light shimmer. 

Linda Dyett Read More
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