Dress for Failure for Women

Excellent comments on yesterday’s Dress for Failure (for Men) post.  I only had three ideas for women, which I’ll share below, but I got a slew of tips for women.  As I thought about who to put for the image, I could only think of Mimi from the Drew Carey sitcom… who would you have put?

Without further ado, here is the…

Top 10 Things a Lady Can Do To Dress For Failure

  1. (you’ll have to share the #1 thing a lady can do to dress for failure) _________________________________
  2. Wear spandex to work.  I remember a memo at the FBI where they said no more spandex pants.  I didn’t think much of it until I realized the policy was met with wide approval,and most people were grossed out.  Even if you are in shape, leave the spandex for other places. 
  3. Wear really, really short skirts.  Or even kind-of short skirts.  I remember an interviewee that came in once with a very short skirt.  My first, immediate thought was “there is no way I’m hiring her – all of my peers (the other managers) would think I was hiring her because of that.”  Short skirts weren’t really part of the normal attire at this office, which employed mostly women.  Isn’t that bad, that I stereotyped and judged that way?  Perhaps it is horrible, but the point is, it lost her the job, and there are plenty of stereotyping and judging people out there.
  4. Please show me your cleavage.  It’s just plain distracting, women talk about it, men talk about it… again, leave it for another setting.  See my quote from Erin Brokovich below. 
  5. (the following are from Tracey Tarrant and Diane K. Danielsen… I pulled them from the comments from yesterday’s post)

  6. Wear flip-flops.  It’s really fascinating that women can choose from a billion styles of shoes… as I’ve only had like one or two pairs of office/work shoes.  But Tracey and Diane both agree… NO FLIP-FLOPS!
  7. Wear six-inch heels.  Staying in the shoe theme, if you want to distract me (not because it’s sexy, but because I’m wondering how uncomfortable it would be if I were wearing those… don’t those HURT??), put on your six-inchers.  Oh yeah, the other distraction comes when the brain-in-the-gutter coworker refers to your heels with a phrase that I can’t even write here… trust me, it’s really, really bad.  Show up for an interview with those and my sad judgemental mind will not let you through… as I wonder “if she wore that here, what will she wear once she gets hired??” 
  8. Disregard your stockings.  I’m likely not going to notice, since I am ignorant in fashion, but Tracey lists (a) a run in stockings, and (b) stockings with open-toed shoes as a no-no. 
  9. Show me shoulder, all the time.  Tracey also says it’s a no-no to wear a sleeveless shirt or dress with no jacket.  I’d have to agree.
  10. Been to Victoria’s Secret?  Let me know by showing me!  Diane says “It’s ok if you want to wear sexy undergarments to work, it’s NOT ok if everyone else can tell you’re wearing them.”  Yep.  That includes thongs… if you bend over and I can tell you have a thong, you chose the wrong attire.
  11. Wear ill-fitting clothes.  We touched on this with the guys, who I think can get away with a little more sloppiness, but Diane points out that “too tight or too loose gives two very wrong impressions.”
  12. Bonus:   Make sure your lipstick is on your teeth somewhere.  I would hate to have to be in charge of all this AND makeup… so I wouldn’t have listed this (I feel bad for putting this list together), but Tracey added this in her comments, and I do remember seeing people with lipstick on their teeth.  It is quite distracting, as I’ve wondered “how do I tell you…” and usually opt to just go away.

On Erin Brokovich’s website she talks about how she dressed(es) and what people think of it:

Yes, I did dress that way. I was actually taken back by the response of many people regarding my wardrobe. I just dressed that way because it was fun and I liked it. I was taught never to judge a book by its cover. My clothing was nothing more than a cover and I have never thought that anyone was smart or stupid or anything else by the way they chose to dress.

Unfortanely, we live in a world where judgements are made very quickly, and with harsh penalties.  Good for you, Erin, for having the ability to see past “the cover,” but I wouldn’t risk a career move on it.

Your turn… what are your tips for women to help them dress for failure?

23 thoughts on “Dress for Failure for Women”

  1. What a great article. Here are a few more:

    Wear too much makeup (as Mimi does)
    Do your hair so it looks as if you just got out of bed
    So much hairspray that a hurricane could come through and your hair would still be in the same place

    I’m sure there is more I just can’t think of them 🙂

  2. Dressing for Failure…Wear shoes which are worn beyond a good buffing for repare. This definitely doesn’t mean you must have new shoes EVERY season (although what women doesn’t want to?). It simply means your money is better spent on sturdy shoes and they’ll last longer if you take good care of them! Understand this is a backhanded note to not wear shoes that aren’t usually buffed…tennis shoes, flip flops, etc.

    I think the basic rules for men apply for women most of the way around. Moderation is the key with nothing too conservative or too flashy. The problem comes in when one considers the different interpretations of the term “flashy.” 🙂

    I think an interesting topic would be what dress code rules AREN’T enforced. This, at my office, drives me crazy. Why have a dress code at all if it isn’t enforced?

  3. The same goes for recruiters… I was taught when I moved into ITthe talent level of the candidates is equal to the (length of the skirt) /[( length of the heel) + (length of cleavage)].

    I have seen a pack of male IT managers swarm around a modestly dressed new recruiter… not saying the new recruiter with the short skirt, low cut blouse and high heels won’t attract a crowd… it’s just a very different conversation :-)!

  4. I would add to this:

    Wear long dangly earrings (especially shoulder-dusters, very distracting to look at when you’re trying to interview someone) &
    Wear a long skirt ankle-length (this style is popular among the elderly and people still lost in the 70s, basically very out of date)

  5. I’ve been following Jibber Jobber for quite a while now, and never has a post upset me so much. Are you aware that you’re embracing the status quo instead of challenging it? Are you aware that your rules remove all joy and personality from dressing for work, which is backward today? Are you aware that you come across as envious and bitter? Are you aware that this is an American view not shared by the rest of the globe? Consider these previous statements, I didn’t make them lightly.

    Wearing lipstick (and food) on one’s teeth is a general faux pas and a sad lack of self awareness/ interest; should not be on your list. Even flip-flops, a type of shoes I don’t love, are debatable: if a company allows them because there’s a different spirit at work or because the weather is scorching hot, would you still fight it? Perhaps that woman you didn’t hire is better off somewhere else, just like Erin Brokovich. I always believed that HR has a lot more power than it enforces, so use it to do good.

  6. @gorgeoux – I didn’t mean to upset you, or anyone, with this post. Perhaps I wasn’t as qualified to write this (for women) as I was the one from yesterday (for men).

    I posted my response today (9/10) in a post titled: Dress for Failure – Did I Cross The Line?.

    The good news is, I’m not in HR, so what I’ve expressed here in these last three days isn’t going to make a hiring decision difference for thousands of people over my career.

  7. i probably would have written a “Dress for Success” instead of a “Dress for Failure”–there are just so, so many don’ts and only about 10 do’s.

    1. You can’t go wrong with a tailored suit in a neutral color, though think about the types of jobs you are interviewing for and what those people wear. If you don’t know, go park yourself outside the building at lunchtime to see. This can be a skirt or pant suit or even a dress with jacket. If you’re wearing a skirt or dress, it should come to at least the top of your knees, which is the most attractive place for a skirt to end anyway. It should all intentionally match, both fabric and color. It should be clean and pressed.

    2. An equally neutral shirt, preferably long sleeves to go under your aforementioned jacket, but a sleeveless shell is fine if it’s hot. It should be clean and pressed. No tank tops, tube tops, complicated strappy shirts, shirts with crazy patterns on them, etc. And no underarm stains!

    3. Clean, closed toe shoes to match the suit. Heels should be 3″ or less. No scuffs.

    4. Stockings, if you must, but make sure they are nude or black depending on your outfit. White stockings are for brides and nurses. Save the fancy colored stockings for when you have the job. No runs, no holes, and no thigh-highs you can see the tops of when you sit down!

    5. Small earrings, a delicate necklace, a non-jingly bracelet, a watch, a wedding ring, other rings, a pin. Pick any four.

    6. If it’s winter and you need to wear a coat, wear your nicest coat, which hopefully is just as clean as and matches your suit. If it’s raining, bring an umbrella. Essentially, be weather-ready and dress accordingly.

    7. Your handbag should match what you’re wearing and be tailored and quiet.

    8. Your hair should be professional-looking and clean. Find an ad for a business product and mimic what that person’s hair is like.

    9. Your makeup should be natural-looking. If you don’t know what this means, go to the Bobbie Brown counter at your local dept store and tell them you have a job interview you’d like to look professional for.

    10. If you have to ask, “Does this make me look [anything but professional]?”, the answer is “Yes”. You know in your heart that it does, you want to wear it anyway, and you are asking for an accomplice, not for the truth. Change what you are wearing to something less [anything but professional] and save your SO the trauma of having to answer.

    If this all sounds very boring, it’s because it should be. You should appear totally and completely elegant but fashionably neutral, unless you are interviewing for a fashion job. This is the time to show how professional you are, not how stylish you are. You want to sparkle–not your clothes.

    Thanks for posting such a delicate topic, Jason!

  8. Jason, I think you really hit the nail on the head with a lot of these. Honestly, some people may see it as continuing a status quo and not “being creative” but unfortunately as you said in your next post, people judge us by our appearance. I would really rather be considered a bit bland in the dress department than be known as “that girl with the eye makeup/wild earrings/short skirts/inappropriate shoes/etc.” I find the attention I get in the office is for my work, not my dress. And that’s just fine with me.

    I do wear color, and fun jewelry, but I do it in work-appropriate ways. I save the truly “funky” stuff for weekends and after work. It doesn’t hurt my feelings one single bit. Would I like to wear jeans on Fridays? Sure. But my employer doesn’t allow it (no denim at any time, actually) so I save it for later.

    Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed the blog, and thanks for continuing on!

  9. Here are a few other no-nos:
    Petite women who don’t have their jacket sleeves shortened and fold them back exposing the lining
    Too much jiggle from the back – Spanx to the rescue!
    A ring on every finger
    Exposed toes without the benefit of a recent pedicure

  10. I liked the list and loved the eye catching title. I personally can’t wait until I can wear pj’s to meetings.

    A few to add:
    – Wearing clothes with ring-around-the-collar
    – Wearing the same clothing to work several days in a row (I have seen this)
    – Sloppy wigs or hair extensions

    Having said that, we all have bloopers with interview dress. I know I did.

    I was sitting in an interview once and looked down to realize that my blouse was inside out. My Dad was with me and I had a super early interview. Small space and I did not want to turn on all the lights to wake him up before I left. So I stupidly got dressed in the dark. After all I had laid out my clothes from the night before to avoid any kind of issue!

    My shirt was brown, and in my anxiety that morning, I totally did not even notice it was inside out until I was in the interview. The truth is, I don’t think I heard any questions after that. I did not get that job.


  11. I’ll never forget the marketing assistant in a client’s office who perpetually wore ample cleavage coupled with a prominent rose tattoo…. well, you can probably guess where. Talk about a distraction. Unfortunately for her, the distraction was primarily humerous. We could never quite get past the thought of how close the tattoo artist might have come to puncturing her (ahem) chest.

    Great article!

  12. Jason, I’m less upset now, of course, thank you for replying seriously. I still can’t agree with most views expressed here, though.

    1. Again: food/ lipstick on one’s teeth, open toe shoes on imperfect pedicure, a run in one’s stockings and such are common sense, education gotten at home from mom early in life or later by being self-aware and aware of the world. It shouldn’t need pointing out and it’s not more appropriate in other environments.

    2. How to dress for success tips, while more positive, are even scarier. I don’t know when America became so purist and scared to show a bit of skin or heel, but it’s backward when compared to Europe, and I mean no disrespect. Here we know how to be appreciated for our work AND our clothing.

    These tips sound like ‘professional dressing for dummies’, except you mean REAL dummies, unlike the book series’ title.

    Who is your audience?

  13. To fail? Show off your tattoos, wear visible religious jewelry (*except* for small and inobtrusive items, *if and only if* you are interviewing at a place – or for a position – that is specific to your religious denomination, such as a Star of David if you will be working at a Kosher restaurant or a simple cross or crucifix if you are interviewing for a position at a Christian or Catholic establishment).

  14. I recently went to a networking event. The event was great but I am always amazed at the lack of thought that goes into what women wear for this type event. One of the biggest mistakes women make is not taking that last look in the mirror before heading out the door. If you did take that quick peek it is then you would discover many of the blunders that destroy any of your efforts to put your best foot forward. Panty lines are one of my biggest pet pives. As the foundation for the rest of your clothes, your headed in the wrong direction from the get go.

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