Ask dapperQ: What to Wear to Job Interviews and Still Pass as Female?

A reader asks:

“I will soon be graduating and looking for jobs. What should I wear to a job interview? I usually dress masculine-of-center, and I come off pretty gender neutral, even my name can be ambiguous. Usually this doesn’t bother me, in fact it’s what I’m aiming for; but sometimes it makes others uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing I want to do in a job interview. What should I wear to show that I am female, but dress in a more masculine manner?”

Maddow Icon 13Rachel Maddow, who dresses more masculine but passes as female, is known for wearing Jil Sanders suits

I’m a bit torn about how to answer this question. On one hand, I want to tell you to be yourself no matter what – DON’T CHANGE FOR NOBODY! On the other, I am a cis-gender femme who can pass as straight, so I have had the luxury of never having to experience the fears you expressed in your question. Yet, throughout my career, and especially now in the male dominated, heteronormative, and sometimes very homophobic world of healthcare, I have on many times had to swallow the bitter pill of homophobia once my co-workers and supervisors find out that I’m a lesbian. (I usually start dreading the “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “Are you married?” questions once I start a job.)

Then there’s the fact that I’m bi-racial: half African-American, half Italian-American. I was raised by the highly insensitive Italian-American side of my family, who often called women “broads” and referred to creative troubleshooting as “N-rigging.” Not to mention that I have been told to go back to Africa by a fellow student at my undergraduate college; have had heil Hitler salutes thrown in my direction by a group of skin heads; have had a dear Latina friend of mine tell me that she “doesn’t see me as Black” because I don’t “act like the Blacks on t.v.;” have been followed and harassed by a group of Black men accusing me of being a race traitor while I was walking with one of my gay, White male friends; have been told that I’m “pretty for a Black girl;” have been made fun of for having kinky hair and big lips; have had strangers come up and ask to touch my hair; have been followed around stores by shop clerks; am constantly asked by other customers in stores if I can assist them (no, I don’t work here – I’m shopping too!); have been told that I only got accepted to graduate school at NYU because of my race (never mind that I graduated college with the second highest honors and had a GPA of 3.89); and live in a country where shooting an unarmed Black child is justified because being Black just plain old scares folks. And, even in the face of all of this, I personally would never hide the color of my skin, even if I could – and definitely not to make people feel more comfortable!

And, then I come back to my privilege. Even in negotiating the discriminatory world of healthcare, as a healthcare provider, my economic and job stability is better than many other Americans’. So, who am I to say you should go without a job in order to make a political statement?

In the end, what I am going to advise you is to be mindful of where you are applying. Do you want to work for an organization or supervisor that would discriminate against you? Also think about this: You just might feel MORE uncomfortable dressing in a manner that doesn’t feel right for you, and your interviewer may pick up on your discomfort.

Ellen SuitEllen came out, her show was canceled, but she later found HUGE success.

However, if you feel uncomfortable about your gender presentation and are nervous about projecting these feelings onto your interviewer and/or having a major panic attack, but just don’t have the time right now to work through all of that because you need to put food on the table, look to Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres for some style inspiration.

Maddow Icon8

Both are power players, dress slightly more masculine, and read as female.

Ellen Degeneres Suit

I can give you style advice, but I cannot solve this very personal, tough question for you. Let us know what you decide, and we’d be happy to come up with some more targeted recommendations for you.

Rachel Maddow

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  • Cindy says:

    I’d recommend to this person to try wearing tighter form fitting clothes and a simple “female” cut top. Light make up seems to make these 2 mentioned tv models a hit. Overall feel confident in yourself in whatever clothes you decide to wear. Clothes doesn’t make you. Good luck!

  • Granted says:

    I can identify with the asker.

    The few times I have gone through the effort of trying to pass as cis female, it made me so nervous I bombed. It also wastes a lot of time that could be better spent preparing for questions – you can’t just throw on a female shirt when everything looks wrong in the mirror. I think its generally possible for andro or masculine FAB people to dress authentically and still come across as professional. In fact, since masculinity is revered, it may even give you an edge!

    I’m usually applying for technical jobs so I try to look “like an engineer.” There is a certain cut of buttonup in the womens’ section that makes me look flat enough that I don’t need a binder, and not having that constriction around my chest makes me more relaxed and less self conscious. I even own one in pink! Vertical stripes help straighten the silhouette further. I can’t afford blazers, but even if I could I would probably rather spend $200 on a shirt. Blazers make you sweat! RM looks pretty hawt in them, tho.

    As a starting point, I would go to the thrift store and try on shirts, focusing on ones that are in your size and drape flat on the hanger. If you’re not into thrift stores, once you find a cut you like you can check the tag and go to that store from then on.

  • Xenomorph says:

    This is exactly the issue I’m facing at the moment. I finished university last year in November, and I’m still looking for work. 100 job applications, and 8 interviews later, I’m still unemployed. However, I was really close in my last interview, I was the second choice after the person who actually got the job. And what I found out later was that out of the three people that interviewed me, the two guys thought I was great, but it was the woman who didn’t (and the final decision was up to her). And I swear that it has something to do with the more masculine way I dress, and possibly also the fact that I have an accent that no one can place, despite the fact that I’ve lived in my country since I was 8. What I reckon is that dudes are totally fine with me, but women get weirded out by non-gender conforming women.

    I had to go to the unemployment office today, and when the case manager asked me why I thought I wasn’t landing the jobs, I told her this, and she basically told me to change myself, and I honestly just felt like crying because she obviously had no clue what I was trying to communicate. It’s just completely impossible for me, and I would be so uncomfortable that I would screw up the interview anyway. And so I continue with my shitty, shitty life.

  • Lopi says:

    A friend of mine was in a similar situation a few years back. Not only she didn’t have a clue of what to wear, she also didn’t own any professional-looking clothes whatsoever, so I dug into my wardrobe and “made her over” using some my own stuff. I think the details that helped make her feel interview-appropriate while still being herself were some very subtle feminine-but-not-girlie touches: A light blue button-down shirt with very discreet pleats down the front, brogues with metallic details on the back and the most important of all, a jacket that fitted nicely on the shoulders.

    Here’s the link on my blog, if anyone wants to see photos:
    http://www.fashionarchitect.net/2010/06/making-someone-over.html

  • CorpBoi says:

    This is always a tough question especially if you’re looking for a starter job in white-collar sectors such as banking and law which go by a strict dress code akin to a corporate armor. As someone who has survived in pant suits for a decade in capital markets and interviewed several associates-in-training, here are my observations:
    1. Confidence. Wear what you are comfortable in and what you look good in. If you are not comfortable, this shows in an interview. Remember 80+ percent of the interviewer’s perception of you is based on your body language and positive attitude. You can’t sell to people what you can’t sell to yourself.
    2. Neatness and cleanliness. Whatever you wear must be cleaned, ironed and neat. Usually corporate uniforms in terms of suits are as follows from head down: crisp dress shirt (either completely buttoned to the chin or first one to two unbuttoned), matching blazer and dress pants, high polished shoes. In the summer light suits are the norm but brown, gray or black can definitely be for all seasons. If it’s a Fall interview, tweed jacket with dark pants are a good combo. A nice leather belt is a must. Of course, shirts must be tucked in. Buttoning up your blazer symbolizes maturity while leaving it open symbolizes easy-going – both qualities interviewers look for so this detail depends on your feel of the audience.
    3. Spend some money. Get a suit that fits, not necessarily one that’s good on the wallet. Brioni now makes tailored suits for women, but for starter suits, Banana Republic always carries the standards. For crisp shirts, BR and Brooks Brothers both carry good ones. Choose one that exudes your style – e.g. Red checkered vs solid black,etc. Cole Haan makes good shoes such as shiny flats and wingtips. Whatever you pick, make sure you shine them.
    4. Relax. People often treat interviews as dental appointments. Pretend you’re a salesman looking to charm the pants off people in the room with your knowledge and positivity. Take it easy. A recent hire of mine later told me she read a book based on butch-identified corporate warriors that made her laugh and gave her confidence. I think it was called “Butch Bros In Brooks Bros”. Believe it. Butches exist and kick ass in every sector, not just media.
    5. Follow up. Always follow up with people by thanking them for the opportunity and outline your skills to make sure they remember you. Sometimes you never know – you migt not be offered the job but get something else more interesting or an even better lead!

    Trust yourself, be brave, and good luck!

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