Gender Politics and the Interview Suit

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For a meritocracy, Wall Street sure can be picky about appearances. Just ask the women out there trying to land, or hang onto, a job.

It's bad enough there are more candidates chasing fewer jobs. While they try to stand out from the crowd, many women find themselves in a can't-win situation. Dress too casually and they're not serious enough, dress too formally and they're domineering. Or something. One thing's for sure, says The Wall Street Journal's Christina Binkley, who covered last week's meeting of 100 Women in Hedge Funds: It's not okay to dress as casually as men do in some corners of the street. On job interviews, women feel more under a microscope than ever, which causes a lot of second-guessing as they lay out their plans - including their wardrobe.

What to do? Writes Binkley:

... it's possible to reduce such risks by considering what clothes mean to the people around us. Our clothes at work needn't express our true inner selves. Instead, they can express our ability to contribute or take charge. Collars on a shirt or jacket convey authority. Flat shoes can suggest a girlish lack of authority; if you wear them, choose flats with some hardware and avoid the ballet look. As for stockings, the debate rages on, but if your primary audience is over 50, they may feel more comfortable with them.

As one former hedge fund professional remarked: "We focus so much on gaining that elusive informational edge on our jobs that we tend to forget that our appearance can help put us over the edge of that promotion, job offer, etc."