Man Grooming Q&A: Just One Suit

Kenny writes: "I’m 22 years old and am shopping for my first suit. I’ve read several conflicting things on the internet about what color is appropriate for job interviews. Some say that black is OK and some say to avoid wearing black. I’ve only heard good things about navy blue and charcoal.
"I really like the look of black on me, but maybe it’s because I’m Asian (black hair, somewhat tan skin). I don’t particularly like the look of navy or charcoal on me and pretty much have my heart set on a single breasted three-button black suit coat.
"Please tell me whether if I’m making a bad decision by picking black over navlue blue and charcoal. I just don’t want to be frowned upon.”

First and foremost — and remember this always — black is never a wrong choice. A basic black suit will serve you well on many different occasions when only a suit will do. Weddings and funerals, naturally, but also formal holiday parties and, if my ex-boyfriend is correct, the occasional appearance as ‘A Man’ in a drag show parody of Madonna’s “Holiday.” I own a way too-expensive D&G black suit that I bought knowing I’d have occasion to wear it again and again, and that no matter how fashion changes through the years, it will always be in style.
My advice to you is buy the suit that makes you look best, and buy it with yourself in mind rather than the opinion of people who won’t be wearing it. Trust your own eyes and feelings first before someone talks you out of true habiliment happiness.
I can, however, see why a black suit might not be the best choice for a job interview, however. There is the chance that your potential employer may think you’re ‘trying too hard,’ whatever that means, and a black suit can be severe and off-putting depending on the environment. It will depend on how you wear it, rather than what you’re wearing.
For example, leave the jacket unbuttoned and perhaps wear a tie but leave it loose, keeping the top button of your shirt open. This may or may not look forced, depending on the collar of your shirt. The newest trend in dress shirts is to have two buttons for your collar rather than one, so that your collar ‘stands up straight’ and the tie’s knot has plenty of space in which to sit. When done up properly, the look is crisp and professional, but trying to go for a little bit of casual charm ends up looking sloppy instead.
Another look is to wear a suit with either a patterned dress shirt with no tie, or a more casual, collarless shirt. The black suit still works here, and you can get something snappy and attractive like a silk T-shirt or something with stripes to offset the suit’s very plain face.
If you find that perhaps the black suit is not the way to go, you’re absolutely correct in selecting either a Navy Blue or Charcoal suit instead. If you opt for stripes, find something subtle and subdued. I would not go for pinstripes or contrasting stripes in my only suit, but a chalk stripe or even a very subtle houndstooth is fine.
Now, as for the cut, I never recommend double breasted suits. There’s a time and a place for them, certainly, but I’ve never actually encountered the right time and the right place. I think they make thin men look lost inside a tent, and they make fat men look even fatter. The number of buttons varies, and lately I’ve seen between one-button and 5-buttons on a jacket. Split the difference and call it 3, although a 2-button jacket is a little more sporty. Rule of thumb: Never button the bottom button of a jacket. The sole exception, obviously, is if you only have one button to button.
Avoid pleated pants as well. Go for plain front. Pleated pants have come back into vogue for reasons beyond my understanding, but avoid them like the plague on humanity that they are. You want the pants to drape along yuor frame, not balloon out at the waist as if you’re built like a gyroscope. And if you are built like a gyroscope, why
call attention to it?
I’m not a cuffs fan, either. I like plain cuffs that hang in a nice line across the front of your dress shoes. Make sure you wear the shoes you’d ordinarily wear with a suit to your fitting, Kenny, or the pants may end up too short. Dress shoes ordinarily have a 1-inch heel (or sometimes, but rarely, higher) so the tailor has to account for
that. A good tailor will insist.
So, long story short, all your feelings were correct. A black, 3-button single-breasted suit is absolutely fine for the interview — or any other suit-calling occasion. It’s a fine investment and one you’ll never regret.

November 21, 2005

6 responses to Man Grooming Q&A: Just One Suit

  1. pat rock said:

    Black suits are awesome.
    I was wearing a very plain cheap black suit Friday night. I had bought it a while ago for some black suit function, and for some reason have hung onto it.
    Well, I found I liked the way it looked on me way better than my expensive gray “interview” suit.
    So, I’ll be shopping for a nice black suit soon.
    I always wear a suit to an interview. An interview is a place where trying to hard is always better than not trying hard enough.
    As someone who interviews a handful of people of every year I always give a little +1 to the suit wearers, for trying harder.
    Just my two cents,
    Pat Rock

  2. Guy Sie said:

    What I learned from an interview training was that wearing a suit shows flexibility, depending ofcourse on job enviroment. But the people who come forcibly casual, with an air of “I don’t like suits”, are the ones who apparently aren’t willing to do something as simple as wear a suit when it’s asked of them. So how can you expect them to be flexible in other matters?
    Ofcourse I look really, really good in a suit, so it’s not so much about flexibility as much as just trying to look my best 🙂

  3. Looking Like said:

    I hate to dissent, but a black suit is almost certainly the wrong choice for interviewing. Charcoal or a flattering lighter gray, or a charcoal pinstripe will make a much better impression. Navy will work if Navy works with one’s skin tone.
    Black suits are fine for dressy evening wear, or if you are a priest, or if you are Johnny Cash. It is not a look that works in most offices.

  4. Kumar said:

    Speaking of suits, don’t wear one if you are an engineer. Your employer definitely will not be wearing one!

  5. Brian said:

    I somewhat concur with Kumar. I don’t think it is necessary when interviewing for an engineering position in the computer industry. Workers in the industry generally dress casually. As an extreme example, I once worked with a guy that looked like he had just woken up and came to work in his pajamas. This was his usual work attire. Though, that’s not to say that one shouldn’t dress up when interviewing. A suit can work but may not be necessary.

  6. Joel said:

    To contradict Brian and Kumar, it’s better to err on the side of caution. I don’t think it would hurt you to wear a suit when interviewing for an engineering or IT position, and in many cases, it would be preferred. I work in IT and our office is quite casual, but any time we have meetings with higher ups more professional attire is required. I would use the same rule for an interview.
    I think the only time it may hurt you to “dress up” is if you dress in such a way that makes you look and feel uncomfortable. Above all for an interview you need to buy a suit, shirt, tie, shoes, socks, etc that are comfortable and are tailored properly so you can be cool and confident when the moment of truth comes.