The Beginning of the End of Government Suits?

Despite my advice in yesterday’s post, sometimes you can wear whatever the hell you want to a job interview. Wired calls attention to a the White House’s attempt to recruit IT talent to its new U.S. Digital Service—a project led by ex-Google engineer Mikey Dickerson. A point this video returns to over and over is the government’s accommodation of coders’ traditionally lax dress code: Dickerson seems to favor nondescript, untucked cotton button downs and khakis, while most of the President’s men are all suit all the time. In one segment Dickerson is wearing a jacket and tie—he jokes that it’s only because the President is in the room; Dickerson’s dress shirt appears to be made of denim.

The often-stereotyped uniform of the computer programmer/IT guy/coder is really the politician’s “can’t look like I care too much” uniform taken a step further: politicians won’t wear clothes that might be perceived as flashy because they could signify vanity, conspicuous wealth, or a lack of seriousness. They want you to know they have more important things to worry about. The Silicon Valley aesthetic’s rejection of, uh, aesthetics is more about, as Jesse put it, creating the facade of meritocracy: “Whoever hacks best wins.” Politicians want the approval of everyone, or at least 51% of everyone, and enough people still believe that SERIOUS BUSINESS requires a suit and tie to justify them. Tech guys’ attitude is a rejection of needing any approval at all. “This is what I feel like wearing. You need me. Take it or leave it.”

The implication of the video is great: that the government is worried its missing the opportunity to hire the best people for the job because those people wouldn’t even consider taking a job where they’d have to wear a suit.

-Pete

Pocket Squares: Interview Attire?

Infallibleatx asks:

I recently graduated from a masters in accounting program, and was chatting with a member of career services staff. She said that they do not recommend that students wear pocket squares to interviews. I was taken aback, because I thought of them as being a classic part of a nice outfit. She said that they were considered “trendy.” Can you settle this? Are pocket squares more of a modern trend, or something classic? Would you recommend them for an interview?

Pocket squares are classic in the sense that leaving a corner of handkerchief visible in your suit’s breast pocket is something men have been doing for a long time. But they’re also trendy in that they’ve made a strong comeback in the last decade, after going underground in the wake of the 1990s biz-caz revolution (the pocket square was the first thing guillotined).

When interviewing for a job—and this question arises for the most part in relation to white collar jobs—you want to wear clothing that (1) tells the interviewer you are aware of and conform to the social norms of business attire (which do change!), and (2) is unlikely to offend anyone’s sensibilities. A lot of things we (reasonably) consider classic are also (reasonably) considered by many to be ostentatious, and you don’t want your job interview to be a referendum on what you’re wearing. Why is a piece of colorful silk in your pocket not acceptable yet one tied carefully around your neck a-ok? A reasonable question. 

Political candidates walk this line constantly, because they’re interviewing for their jobs every day. They default to something like Nicolas Antongiovanni’s concept of Conservative Business Dress (conservative not meant in the political sense). Dark, single breasted, notch lapel suit; plain white or blue shirt; basic, contrasting necktie. Nothing showy or expensive-looking, which would convey frivolousness and concern with unserious things: no pocket square; for god’s sake no French cuffs; as little pattern as possible; black shoes. Look at the images above from the most recent presidential primary debates, essentially the most visible job interview in the world: Not a pocket square on the stage.

I hate to say this, because most politicians dress terribly, but for white collar job interviews: you want to dress like a politician. You can wild out with sick pocket squares once you’re hired and you get a feel for the office culture.

-Pete

Because You Are An Adult, You Need A Sincere Suit
Not every man should wear a suit and tie every day. I myself wear a suit once a month at most. But every man in America should own a suit. I am defining “man” broadly here - let’s call it sixteen and up. One suit. For when it matters.
"What do you mean, ‘for when it matters?’"
Well, I get an email about three times a week that says, “I’ve got an unexpected (funeral/wedding/job interview/christening/wake/big meeting/court appearance) coming up next week. Where can I get a good suit on short notice for a good price?”
I usually (almost always) help these people. I suggest Brooks Brothers or maybe Suit Supply, two very good sources for suits, and I suggest they try to find a passable alterationist to work on short notice, and I suggest they not try to save money on this because it’s important and because as engineers say: “cheap, fast, good: pick two.”
But there’s something I really want to say to these people that I don’t. Something a little sour. Something I will say to you, man-who-has-not-yet-faced-sartorial-crisis.
YOU’RE A GROWN MAN. YOU SHOULD ALREADY OWN A SUIT.
This particular event may have been unexpected, but did you seriously not expect that something would come up in your life that would require grown-up clothes? Even professional surfers who live in beach huts in Bali have great-uncles who die back in Fresno. And great-aunts who’d feel bad if their grand-nephew showed up at the funeral in khakis and a polo shirt from his catholic high school’s uniform. 
You will need a suit, and it is better to buy it on your time. When you buy a suit on short notice, you get something ill-fitting, you pay too much, you don’t have time to make your own decisions about what you want, you can only go to one store, you might not even be able to get it altered… in other words: you’re fucked from the word “go.”
So get real. Take some time, and buy yourself a good suit. One good suit. What my mom calls a “sincere suit.” It should be solid gray and conservatively styled so you can wear it for a good five or ten years when this stuff comes up. A plain, mid-gray suit can be worn to any event which requires a suit, from Easter Dinner at grandma’s to your co-worker’s unexpected wake.
Get yourself a shirt and two ties, too - one very dark for funerals, one a little happier, though still sober, for not-sad events. Neither of these ties should have Bugs Bunny on them, by the way. And some dress shoes, and socks and a belt. Just one set of basic, serious-business clothes. Because you will need them. Not all the time, but sometime. Inevitably.
You don’t have to be a suit-and-tie guy. You don’t even have to be a wears-pants-instead-of-shorts guy. But if you’re a grown man, you should own a suit.

Because You Are An Adult, You Need A Sincere Suit

Not every man should wear a suit and tie every day. I myself wear a suit once a month at most. But every man in America should own a suit. I am defining “man” broadly here - let’s call it sixteen and up. One suit. For when it matters.

"What do you mean, ‘for when it matters?’"

Well, I get an email about three times a week that says, “I’ve got an unexpected (funeral/wedding/job interview/christening/wake/big meeting/court appearance) coming up next week. Where can I get a good suit on short notice for a good price?”

I usually (almost always) help these people. I suggest Brooks Brothers or maybe Suit Supply, two very good sources for suits, and I suggest they try to find a passable alterationist to work on short notice, and I suggest they not try to save money on this because it’s important and because as engineers say: “cheap, fast, good: pick two.

But there’s something I really want to say to these people that I don’t. Something a little sour. Something I will say to you, man-who-has-not-yet-faced-sartorial-crisis.

YOU’RE A GROWN MAN. YOU SHOULD ALREADY OWN A SUIT.

This particular event may have been unexpected, but did you seriously not expect that something would come up in your life that would require grown-up clothes? Even professional surfers who live in beach huts in Bali have great-uncles who die back in Fresno. And great-aunts who’d feel bad if their grand-nephew showed up at the funeral in khakis and a polo shirt from his catholic high school’s uniform.

You will need a suit, and it is better to buy it on your time. When you buy a suit on short notice, you get something ill-fitting, you pay too much, you don’t have time to make your own decisions about what you want, you can only go to one store, you might not even be able to get it altered… in other words: you’re fucked from the word “go.”

So get real. Take some time, and buy yourself a good suit. One good suit. What my mom calls a “sincere suit.” It should be solid gray and conservatively styled so you can wear it for a good five or ten years when this stuff comes up. A plain, mid-gray suit can be worn to any event which requires a suit, from Easter Dinner at grandma’s to your co-worker’s unexpected wake.

Get yourself a shirt and two ties, too - one very dark for funerals, one a little happier, though still sober, for not-sad events. Neither of these ties should have Bugs Bunny on them, by the way. And some dress shoes, and socks and a belt. Just one set of basic, serious-business clothes. Because you will need them. Not all the time, but sometime. Inevitably.

You don’t have to be a suit-and-tie guy. You don’t even have to be a wears-pants-instead-of-shorts guy. But if you’re a grown man, you should own a suit.

Q and Answer: Dressing for a Job Interview
Daniel writes: I’m going on my first interview in many years next week. While I’m certain the range of ‘what to wear’ is broad depending on the kind of company you’re dealing with, I was curious what PTO’s take on a basic acceptable interview outfit might be.
Acceptable dress does indeed vary company to company.  If you’re interviewing to work at a comic book store, they might think it a bit odd if you show up in a suit.  That said, in most office-based companies, they’ll think it odd if you don’t.  Your goal in dressing for an interview should be to convey that you care about the opportunity, and that you’re willing to be part of the team.  You should dress conservatively, without ostentation, and err on the side of formality. 
Yesterday, a friend of a friend was headed to a job interview at a talent agency.  He was wearing brown rubber-soled sneaker/dress shoe hybrids, pinstriped pants, a white tie and a grey shirt without a coat.  The message he sent was: I hate dressing up, and I don’t care enough about this opportunity to overcome that for one day.  Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.
Basic interview attire is a navy or gray suit, black shoes, a white shirt, and a simple tie.  Watch Stephen Colbert and you’ll see a perfectly executed interview suit on a nightly basis.  Never showy, always appropriate. Simple, neat, never distracting.
You needn’t spend a lot of money on the suit.  You can buy an appropriate interview suit at Target for $200 and $50 of tailoring.  It must fit you, and it must be conservative.  Pinstripes are fine, though not as good as solids, and chalk stripes are a bit much.  Don’t wear black unless you’re interviewing for a job as a bouncer, priest or undertaker.  Your goal, again, is to prove you care without making your interviewer think you’re dressing for attention.
Unless you’re interviewing for a job in a creative profession, you’re unlikely to be looked down upon for wearing a suit.  There are some jobs where a hiring manager might not want to choose the “square,” but they’re few and far between.  If you’re interviewing for a job as, say, a gallerist, feel free to ask the HR person or even the receptionist the general dress standard in the office.  Whatever they tell you, follow it, but err on the side of dressed-up and conservative.  If they say, “everyone wears t-shirts, jeans and sneakers,” the least formal outfit you should chose is a plain black t-shirt, dark denim jeans, and clean, sharp shoes.
Again: your goal is to show that you care and that you’re not there to impose yourself upon them.  When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re asking people to consider how well you can do what is asked of you.  If you can dress appropriately, they’ll assume you can behave and work appropriately.  If you can’t, they’ll assume you can’t.  If you’re dressed well, they’ll be talking to you - a person with qualifications and a personality - not to the slob who obviously doesn’t have his shit together.

Q and Answer: Dressing for a Job Interview

Daniel writes: I’m going on my first interview in many years next week. While I’m certain the range of ‘what to wear’ is broad depending on the kind of company you’re dealing with, I was curious what PTO’s take on a basic acceptable interview outfit might be.

Acceptable dress does indeed vary company to company.  If you’re interviewing to work at a comic book store, they might think it a bit odd if you show up in a suit.  That said, in most office-based companies, they’ll think it odd if you don’t.  Your goal in dressing for an interview should be to convey that you care about the opportunity, and that you’re willing to be part of the team.  You should dress conservatively, without ostentation, and err on the side of formality.

Yesterday, a friend of a friend was headed to a job interview at a talent agency.  He was wearing brown rubber-soled sneaker/dress shoe hybrids, pinstriped pants, a white tie and a grey shirt without a coat.  The message he sent was: I hate dressing up, and I don’t care enough about this opportunity to overcome that for one day.  Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

Basic interview attire is a navy or gray suit, black shoes, a white shirt, and a simple tie.  Watch Stephen Colbert and you’ll see a perfectly executed interview suit on a nightly basis.  Never showy, always appropriate. Simple, neat, never distracting.

You needn’t spend a lot of money on the suit.  You can buy an appropriate interview suit at Target for $200 and $50 of tailoring.  It must fit you, and it must be conservative.  Pinstripes are fine, though not as good as solids, and chalk stripes are a bit much.  Don’t wear black unless you’re interviewing for a job as a bouncer, priest or undertaker.  Your goal, again, is to prove you care without making your interviewer think you’re dressing for attention.

Unless you’re interviewing for a job in a creative profession, you’re unlikely to be looked down upon for wearing a suit.  There are some jobs where a hiring manager might not want to choose the “square,” but they’re few and far between.  If you’re interviewing for a job as, say, a gallerist, feel free to ask the HR person or even the receptionist the general dress standard in the office.  Whatever they tell you, follow it, but err on the side of dressed-up and conservative.  If they say, “everyone wears t-shirts, jeans and sneakers,” the least formal outfit you should chose is a plain black t-shirt, dark denim jeans, and clean, sharp shoes.

Again: your goal is to show that you care and that you’re not there to impose yourself upon them.  When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re asking people to consider how well you can do what is asked of you.  If you can dress appropriately, they’ll assume you can behave and work appropriately.  If you can’t, they’ll assume you can’t.  If you’re dressed well, they’ll be talking to you - a person with qualifications and a personality - not to the slob who obviously doesn’t have his shit together.

Q and Answer
Lars writes:
So, here’s my question.  I’m interviewing for a medical residency (the bit of education after you graduate medical school) and this requires a suit and a lot of getting up and walking around places.  Now, lets just say I don’t have a flat gut.  I always find that if a wear a belt I’m either constantly adjusting the waist of my pants to have them sit properly or that the belt is so tight its uncomfortable.  Are suspenders (the real ones that button in to your pants on the inside of the waistband) an acceptable solution?  I’ve tried them out and they’re great!  They solve all my problems!  But my girlfriend says they are an abomination unto the Lord and shouldn’t be worn.  What are your thoughts?
I really couldn’t agree with you more, Lars.  I wear suspenders (aka braces) whenever I get the chance for exactly the reasons you just explained.  No more shirt mushrooms!  No more tugging on your waistline!  I love it!
However, let’s go over some ground rules.
No clips-ons.  You are not a Mork From Ork, you are a GENTLEMAN.  If the pants don’t have suspender buttons, just wear a belt like a normal person.
No novelty suspenders.  Especially ones featuring golfers.  Barf city.  Keep it simple - burgundy, navy, cream, black, etc.
When you’re wearing suspenders, you should be wearing a coat, waistcoat or sweater.  Suspenders are like undershirts - they should be functional, but never visible.  (Got that Larry?)
Some pants are designed for suspenders - no belt loops, suspender buttons, and a split waistband that swoops up a bit in the back.  Get those, and you’re good as gold.  But we’re not picky.  We’ll settle for the presence of suspender buttons.
Because suspenders are just that great.

Q and Answer

Lars writes:

So, here’s my question.  I’m interviewing for a medical residency (the bit of education after you graduate medical school) and this requires a suit and a lot of getting up and walking around places.  Now, lets just say I don’t have a flat gut.  I always find that if a wear a belt I’m either constantly adjusting the waist of my pants to have them sit properly or that the belt is so tight its uncomfortable.  Are suspenders (the real ones that button in to your pants on the inside of the waistband) an acceptable solution?  I’ve tried them out and they’re great!  They solve all my problems!  But my girlfriend says they are an abomination unto the Lord and shouldn’t be worn.  What are your thoughts?

I really couldn’t agree with you more, Lars.  I wear suspenders (aka braces) whenever I get the chance for exactly the reasons you just explained.  No more shirt mushrooms!  No more tugging on your waistline!  I love it!

However, let’s go over some ground rules.

  • No clips-ons.  You are not a Mork From Ork, you are a GENTLEMAN.  If the pants don’t have suspender buttons, just wear a belt like a normal person.
  • No novelty suspenders.  Especially ones featuring golfers.  Barf city.  Keep it simple - burgundy, navy, cream, black, etc.
  • When you’re wearing suspenders, you should be wearing a coat, waistcoat or sweater.  Suspenders are like undershirts - they should be functional, but never visible.  (Got that Larry?)

Some pants are designed for suspenders - no belt loops, suspender buttons, and a split waistband that swoops up a bit in the back.  Get those, and you’re good as gold.  But we’re not picky.  We’ll settle for the presence of suspender buttons.

Because suspenders are just that great.