Summer Career Networking Style: It’s in the Details
From the boardroom to a barbecue, your personal style should shine through. By Nina Myers
When you’re shaking hands and exchanging business cards this summer, the most important thing to remember is that there’s a fine line between standing out and overdoing it. From the boardroom to a barbecue, your personal style should shine through in the details without overwhelming your entire wardrobe or showing up your interviewer or colleagues.
It’s also important to stay cool and look cool. So keep the clothing light and to a minimum; let the accents carry the day. Whether it’s a pair of cufflinks, a handsome briefcase, a beautiful scarf or the perfect pair of sunglasses, you will stand out because you nailed classic style with a modern twist.
Use this guide to stay classic and cool in every scenario of the job search from networking to the interview.
1. A formal interview
The good news is there’s not much wiggle room when it comes to wardrobe for the formal interview. A suit is critical. Think about dressing 5 percent to 10 percent more formal than you would before your first day at a new job. You want to look classic, not trendy. You want the focus to be on your job performance, not your wardrobe.
Look for a two- or three-button wool suit in gray or navy. Do not wear black. A black suit looks like you’re attending a funeral or driving a hearse. Wear a solid-white, light-gray or light-blue shirt, but keep in mind that white looks good against all complexions and makes your skin pop the most. Make sure half an inch of your cuff is visible. If it’s not, your suit sleeves are too long. Your trousers should break slightly at the hem.
If you already own a suit but you’re not sure about the fit, invest in a good tailor. He will be able to tell if your suit needs to be reworked or replaced. Never underestimate the importance of a properly fitted suit. The fit of the suit is everything. A slouchy suit looks sloppy.
Wear a silk tie: something solid, especially blue or yellow. Save red for your first day of work.
Carry a proper brown or black structured leather briefcase with handles. No backpacks. No messenger bags. No duffel bags. No bags on wheels. Ever.
Keep it light in both fabric and color, but don’t wear a white dress or suit. White is the least serious color and looks too casual. The lightest you should go is cream. If the position is less corporate, you may want to try mixing separates, like a solid sleeveless dress with a tailored jacket in a brighter color or pattern. Look for a slim-notch lapel to keep it modern.
Don’t be afraid to toss the suit and wear a sharp dress with a jacket. The benefit to wearing a sleeveless dress is that you can remove your jacket until right before your interview, so you’ll stay cooler. To create shape, cinch a skinny or chunky black belt around the jacket.
A more classic skirt or pants suit paired with a pretty printed silk blouse is also a lovely combination.
Avoid statement jewelry; simple hoop earrings or pearls are perfect.
Avoid “It” bags for interviews, especially if they’re made of exotic skin or covered in hardware. Your bag should be big enough to hold all the necessities. Try an elegant leather tote in a solid classic color like tan or black.
2. A job fair
You’ll want to dress similarly to your interview attire, but with a bit more personality to avoid getting lost in the crowd.
Since a future employer can see you from every angle, focus on the extra details. If you’re wearing a suit, lose the tie in favor of a crisp white pocket square. If you know no one else will be wearing a suit, wear a pair of dark denim jeans or tan chinos with a tucked-in dress shirt (light pink softens your face under those harsh fluorescent lights) and a sport coat with some texture – pinstripe, windowpane, houndstooth or herringbone. Save your plaid suits for autumn.
Wear a solid brown or black leather belt with a square buckle. Your belt should match your shoes.
Newly shined brown shoes from chestnut to chocolate stand out the most. Look for round-toe shoes. (No square-toed shoes!)
A messenger bag is the most practical option and looks sophisticated as long as it’s not bulky or made of nylon. Stick with canvas or leather.
It’s not necessary to wear a suit to a networking event, but you want to be comfortable and chic. Solid-colored trousers or pencil skirts with a wool/Lycra blend help avoid wrinkles. Keep the colors classic – cream, tan, navy, black. Pair them with a patterned jacket to create a point of interest, or if you’d prefer a more classic look, wear a solid jacket with a floral, bow-front or ruffled blouse underneath, which are several of the season’s trends.
You could also try a three-quarter -sleeve cotton pinstripe dress shirt to give the look some texture, tucked in, with a skinny belt, simple earrings and ballet flats.
As beautiful as heels can be, when you’re walking around a 10,000-square-foot convention center exchanging business cards, it’s hard to smile when your feet are aching. Look for one- or two-tone flats. (Black and tan is a nice combination.)
3. An informal networking event
Summer presents opportunities to network in casual locales like a dinner cruise or the roof deck of a potential employer’s building. Such events present a special challenge because it’s potentially hot outside, making it tempting to dress down or show more skin. You should still take extra care in your wardrobe; you never know whom you may end up shaking hands with.
On a dinner cruise, preppy and nautical styles often look best, as long as they’re not overly campy (i.e. lobster-embroidered chinos) or exaggerated (a navy blazer with brass buttons). In either situation, it’s okay to ditch the suit in favor of lightweight straight-leg denim (white is a nice alternative to blue jeans for summer) or khakis.
You could pair your trousers with a crisp, fitted polo in a solid color or a button-down, like a blue or dark-purple check, or a light-blue contrast-collar.
If you’re on a boat, deck shoes without socks are appropriate; if you’re on a roof deck, try a pair of classic brown leather loafers or cap-toe lace-ups.
The key to dressing for a cruise is that you want to look glamorous – you’re on a boat! – while remaining sure-footed. Try to avoid heels, and if you’re going to wear a dress or a skirt, make sure it’s windproof as you don’t want to risk the obvious.
Infuse some color and light into your look with a pretty silk scarf or colorful lightweight wrap, or a gorgeous pair of chandelier earrings. You could also try pairing a lightweight tunic with detailing on the neckline with cream trousers and metallic flats.
If you’re on a roof deck, women should try to dress as they would for an early-evening cocktail gathering (below).
4. Drinks after work
Your friend invites you out for a few drinks with a group of people who work in your industry. Your wardrobe should remain professional without making those around you feel like they’re still at the office.
Show up wearing a suit, but take your jacket off soon after you arrive. If you work in a slightly more casual/creative field, wear dark jeans and oxfords with a button-down shirt tucked in and a belt.
Wear a handsome watch. Bars are often crowded, and people notice more what you’re wearing from the waist up: A gorgeous brown leather belt with a square buckle, a classic-looking chronograph watch, a unique pocket square. A pinstripe shirt. Cufflinks. Even if the bar is dark, you’re speaking close to people, and they will notice the details.
Go from day to evening with a few simple tricks that don’t necessarily require changing. If you’re wearing a suit, remove your jacket, add a belt, and replace your flats with heels. The most classic shoes are round or pointy and closed-toe in black, brown or cream. For a night out, you can try something strappier, like a metallic sandal.
Add a little color and liveliness with a gorgeous statement necklace – one of the major looks of the season. A statement necklace is more than just a simple strand of pearls or a pendant on a chain; it is a big, bold announcement, often filling your entire neckline with sequins, stones, glass or metal. It melds with whatever you’re wearing, thus becoming the outfit. Everyone from Banana Republic to Burberry designs these, so they’re not hard to find.
Keep the rest of your look minimal with solid colors and minimal jewelry. Top off the outfit with a pretty beaded clutch, which will be much less bulky in a cramped bar than your tote, but can still fit your business cards.
5. A baseball game
There’s nothing more casual than America’s favorite pastime. It is tempting to throw on a team T-shirt and a baseball cap, but if a colleague invites you to join her in her company’s box seats, dress slightly more formally.
Cool comfort is key when you have to be “on” while spending the day under the hot sun or an evening in the humidity. Pair straight-leg chinos with a fitted polo (stick with white since it’ll keep you coolest in the sun) and leather sandals. Throw on a pair of aviators to shield your eyes.
A cotton shirtdress, belted, with white tennis sneakers is a fun way to dress up the occasion while looking as relaxed as if you were wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Keep your accessories unfussy. Stick with the basics: sunglasses, a sleek stainless-steel watch and a canvas tote.
6. A backyard barbecue
You’ve been invited to a friend’s house for a midsummer barbeque, and a potential employer may be stopping by. You would look out of place if you dressed up, but you also don’t want to look frumpy in his presence.
This is the trickiest situation possible because you’re expected to behave formally but not appear formal. On a hot day, wear flat-front cotton khaki shorts that hit between the knee and mid-thigh. Anything longer looks young and sloppy. Steer clear of cargo shorts, which are bulky. A fitted polo shirt or a cotton or linen button-down is always clean and handsome.
Leather sandals or clean white tennis sneakers are the best footwear option. You can wear canvas or leather flip- flops, but never rubber ones.
Even though you’re dressing down, don’t forget the extra details — a pair of aviators and a chunky stainless-steel watch.
Eating hot dogs and hamburgers in the sun calls for comfort. A cotton or linen sundress (as long as it’s not too lightweight or flimsy) that hits at the knee is a beautiful option. (Make sure to wear a nude slip underneath if there is any chance it’s see-through in broad daylight.) Pair with leather sandals or wedges. Cotton shorts or skirts (denim is fine) are also appropriate, and you can pair them with a light cotton T-shirt or tank top, as long as they’re not too skimpy.
Keep a lightweight cardigan or shawl on hand for when it cools down.
Aviator sunglasses pair nicely with shorts, while plastic frames in black or tortoiseshell feel more refined and would better complement a sundress.
Nina Myers is a New York-based fashion writer. She has worked at Esquire Magazine, where she was a men’s fashion market editor, and at Niche Media, where she was fashion editor for nine regional luxury magazines, including Boston Commons, Gotham, Hamptons and LA Confidential.