Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What to Wear to an Interview When You're Fat

So, inspired from this XOJane article, I decided to do a how-to of interview do's and don'ts for the plus-sized corporate maven.
I spent most of my adult life working for large corporations, and mostly rebelling against the standard uniforms. It took years of not being taken seriously and turn-downs for positions to finally get me to give in and play the game. Granted, I'm retired from it at the moment, but that doesn't mean I didn't become an expert toward the end.
The biggest obstacle for corporate wear - especially interviewing - is how big I am. The typical fashion advice didn't work for me. I had a hard enough time finding clothes - let alone tailored clothes! - that would actually fit me. Tuck my shirt in? There's no way I'm going to look like a lollipop for your amusement!
Once I started getting the hang of dressing myself and mastering the politics, I was given the task of managing a development program for our employees. 
One of the classes in that program was about interviewing. We had an amazing expert-interviewer come in to demystify the interview process as well as discussing what to wear.
The speaker had great standard advice - keep it simple, tailored, blah blah blah - but once again, the world seemed to be oblivious to the fact that fat people can't just follow the simple rules that the thin-privileged put in place.
Multiple times, I had larger women coming to me after these classes asking for advice on what they could, "Get away with," wearing for their interviews (don't get me started on why we have to get away with clothing our bodies!).
Fat women already have a harder time landing a position. Time, as well as many other sources, have studied the effect of obesity on employment. The thin have a number of automatic assumptions about fat people - we're lazy, disorganized, unhealthy, unable to handle day-to-day stress without a steady supply of chocolate - whatever! We have to work way harder to overcome our coworkers' and managers' innate biases, and interviewing can be much more important to us as a way of proving our ability to fit the position we want, regardless of preconceived notions. The last thing a fat person needs is to have their ensemble disqualify them before they have a chance to be heard.
So, here are a list of typical interview outfit rules, and adaptations for the pudgy. Please remember that these are just from my experience, and in a corporate environment. For those interviewing in a more creative or relaxed field, alter appropriately.
1. Wear a dark-colored suit
This is the hardest one to work with for a plus-sized lady. Without the aid of a tailor, suits don't work for most of us. A fat lady is not just a thin woman scaled up! Our bodies distribute fat in such different ways. For example, I have the fattest arms ever! If a jacket fits my body, it still won't fit my arms. If it fits my arms, it will hang off my body.
If you can wear a suit as a fat woman, more power to you. If not, then go for a dark dress or a pair of nice, crisp slacks/below-knee-length fitted skirt and a dress shirt.

This top by Lane Bryant is understated and professional.
This skirt by Old Navy (shock!) is also a good choice.

You can also pair a nice cardigan (plain, no frills, clean lines!) or scarf with any of the above to help complete the outfit. Three pieces is automatically a little more pulled together.

2. Tuck in your shirt

Only you can decide if it works for your body and comfort level. Tucking in my shirt makes me look like a beach ball, but not all plus-sized ladies are created equal. If it's more flattering and creates a longer line, leave it untucked. Just make sure the hem isn't dropping and you've ironed it.

I like to keep it simple and go with a dress; then I don't have to make this decision.

3. Wear dark-colored pumps, no higher than a 3 inch heel

You will not catch me in pumps. If the corporate compound is large, you have to walk around in those heels, which causes back and leg aches for me. You also won't catch me in oxfords, athletic shoes, or sandals.

If you can wear pumps, awesome. Wear those heels. If not, then go with some plain, dark-colored flats.

4. Keep jewelry simple

This isn't size specific, but it's a good one to remember. Wear no more than one accent item - be it jewelry, a scarf, or a handbag. An interview isn't the time to look like a Macy's float, but one accent item can help them remember you - especially if they're interviewing a lot of candidates.

"I really liked that one girl... The one with the red scarf."

5. If you question whether you should wear it, don't

Again, not size specific. When in doubt, don't wear it out.

Here are the don'ts:

1. Don't wear anything too revealing

This should be a standard for anyone, but especially a larger person. It's not OK, but some people just aren't comfortable with a larger person's body. Once you're hired, you can challenge the status quo. You can't make them rethink things if you aren't around, though.

2. Make sure your clothing fits properly and is comfortable

Nothing says nervous like fidgeting. Your potential employer doesn't know you're putzing around because your pants are cutting off circulation to your feet, and not because you're trying to think of an answer about how you promoted diversity in your previous positions.

3. Don't wear anything faded, pilling, with holes, dropped hems, or just worn out

Don't wear a favorite pair of pants or shirt in the hopes they don't notice the oil stain that's only visible in certain light. It's an interview; they'll notice. This is, like, the only time it's completely socially acceptable to scrutinize someone else.

Basically, your clothing shouldn't speak for you in an interview. It should be an empty canvas, and your resume, personality, and answers should be the main event. Don't give the hiring manager an excuse to turn you away before you've even painted a picture.