What do you wear to a career fair? Fashion do’s and dont’s

Suit business red
Stand out in a sea of dark suits, but remember to give any outfit a trial run. / Digital Vision

This week, students at the Fashion Institute of Technology gathered for their annual career fair. They did some things that most job seekers are discouraged from doing at career fairs — they chose ensembles that made statements and showed off their personalities.

“It’s one thing to dress professionally … but we encourage students to think about their complete presentation,” says Patti Choy, a career counselor at FIT.
Students’ attire ranged from street wear to business attire with a twist, Choy says. The topic of what to wear to interviews is a constant conversation. Choy works to find a middle ground that reflects students’ personalities and is affordable. “[If] they have a certain eye, they can really work a look based on their budget constraints,” she says.

The college environment combined with the fashion and design atmosphere gives them a little leeway when it comes to career fair formalities. Plus, the snazzy portfolios the students carry around tend to add polish to their appearance.

But, let’s face it: Most of us are not attending job fairs in fashion. So what can we do to create some bulletproof outfits that are professional without falling flat? We checked in with Holly Thomas, an editor at Refinery29, for some dos and don’ts.

“It’s really important to know that a job interview or career fair is not the time to experiment,” Thomas says. “Give [the outfit] a dry run; wear it the day before,” she says.

This doesn’t mean you have to be bored with your getup though. A great necklace, printed scarf or jewel-toned blouse can add personality, Thomas says. She also recommends adjusting your style to fit the type of company you’re applying to.

“Maybe you’re applying for a job working with a graphic design firm. In that case you can wear a bright red blazer,” she says. That is, of course, if you’re comfortable wearing bold colors — being comfortable is critical when you’re putting yourself in the spotlight, she adds.
Thomas recommends a pocket square or beautiful red satchel as appropriate ways to spruce up for an interview at a more conservative company, perhaps with a law firm.

For those of us who just aren’t sure where to start, Thomas recommends working with the ultimate weapon: a tailor. “The best advice in any situation when you’re out of your depth is to call an expert — get a great tailor,” she says. “Have one suit that’s been tailored that fits your body; spend a little bit of money to have it customized.”

More tips from Holly Thomas:


• Resist the urge to break in those new pumps. “A career fair is not the time to try something you’ve never worn before,” she says. Keep several tried-and-true outfits ready that you know work for you and that you can pull at a moment’s notice.

• “Don’t be afraid of an iron,” she says. “Everything should be clean and pressed.”

• And while it’s clean, keep it that way. “Don’t eat or drink anything messy on the way.”

• “Make sure that everything fits, that you feel comfortable, that you feel like yourself and that you’re keeping an eye to the industry you want to work in.”

• Don’t think of dressing professionally as stifling yourself. “There’s plenty of time for self-expression when you’re not working. Focus on getting a good job.”


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