Monday, 28 June 2010

Short-and-Sweet and Super Slim Summer Smarts - A Mission

I received a plea for help from a lady known to me only as Hellsbells:

Can I ask for some urgent advice please?

I have an interview on Friday for a PGCE and don't know what to wear. It's been years since I had an interview of any kind and don't own any smart trousers or skirts. I was hoping to get away with wearing smart black jeans, but not sure this is a good idea. Plus, in this heat, I'd probably be stupidly uncomfortable.

I find buying trousers that fit properly REALLY hard. Practically impossible actually.
I'm petite - about 5 foot 1. And very slim. So for anything to look decent on me, it has to be pretty fitted. Don't know what's going on with sizes in shops, but trousers in Next (for eg), in a size 6 in the petite range - they just fall off me or look utterly ridiculous.
Should I wear a skirt instead? And if so, what kind of length/style etc?

Thanks for your help

Sometimes, we all need to look smart. Some jobs require an everyday level of spit-and-polish, while others - like teaching - are a little more relaxed day to day.  Some jobs are T shirt and jeans territory... but almost all of us need to look tailored and groomed for interviews, and although this is for a course (post-graduate teacher training, for the uninitiated), it's the sort of thing that demands a professional-looking appearance.  But then - wow, but it was meltingly hot today.  Looking the part may be important but if you're too flushed and flustered to answer your interviewer with your customary charm and sparkle...? Well, you may as well be dressed in your pyjamas. So we need to find a balance - on the one hand, smart; on the other hand we need to keep it cool.

The answer, my swelegant lovelies, lies in dresses.  If you weren't going for elegance and poise you could be cool and comfy in a loose linen trouser, but linen is too soft and crumply to give a super-professional impression.  The two dresses above will both allow cooling breezes to circulate around your bits and pieces, and while they are superficially similar, not all Little Black(ish) Dresses are created equal. The dress on the left is from Marks and Spencers' petite range.  It's £29.50 and available in sizes 6 to 18.  The dress on the right is also from the petite range, is £35 and available in sizes 6-18. So which is better?  It's the latter.  Hellsbells is a teeny size 6, so we can safely assume she doesn't need to worry about that high neckline making her boobs look matronly, as a more buxom girl would, and the benefit of that is the fabulous retro styling that the neckline gives (along with that perfect little belt). Think Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy - the slightly pointed low-heeled pumps add to the early-sixties look. Also, it's not black, but rather charcoal grey: an entirely more flattering colour for almost everyone. Dark grey also manages too look more expensive than black, even in a budget-friendly man-made fibre like this. Lastly, the lack of sleeve will help keep Hellsbells cool as air can get to the underarms too.  We can't all look smart when sleeveless - those of us with flabby arms can't help making the place look untidy if we let them wobble around freely - but a size six has no such problem.  Cover shoulders and decolletage, of course - but the arms can be exposed without compromising your smartness.

Both those dresses are very plain, though.  It is possible to look more 'fashion forward' (to use a revoltingly fashionista phrase) while still communicating grown-up intelligence. My least favourite high-street shop seems to be having a little moment of style.  The navy dress above (available in a size 6, petite length - but also in regular and tall length and sizes up to 22) is rather fabulous.  The matte, businesslike fabric is enhanced by feature seaming and silver buttons to create a suitably subtle but unmistakably stylish military feel.  It's £28.

So far all the dresses have been super-sober, but this is an interview for a potential teacher, and teaching is all about personality - so how about some colour? Also from Next (I know...!) and available in the same range of sizes and lengths is this soft raspberry pink dress - a colour muted enough to be sensible but bright enough to fit the season (£38).  In terms of cut, this dress is in the same family as the charcoal Marks and Spencers dress above - more contemporary (with the draped skirt) but also not quite as smart at the waist.  For that reason it's not a clear winner: you'd have to decide whether fabulous tailoring or gorgeous colour is more 'you'.

Regarding the rest of your outfit - I'd accessorise with black: even with the navy dress as matching blues can be hellishly hard.  A low 1 - 2 inch court shoe or mary-jane would be ideal, but a well polished ballet pump would do (no sandals or peeptoes, though), and a plain black bag or slim briefcase. Keep jewellery minimal, and probably silver for all of these outfits. If you want to take a warmer layer, a black, lightweight fitted cardigan in the twinset style would be better than a jacket.  Despite ettiquette I think, in extremely hot weather, that you needn't wear tights: so long as you aren't self conscious of your legs being blotchy or some other such thing.  If you do choose hosiery, go to the locale bare legged and take two pairs of 10 denier, non-shiny, skintone (not tan) tights in your handbag.  Put one on in a cafe loo just before you arrive - the second pair is in case you ladder the first through nerves or plain old cack-handedness... or is that just me?

And good luck! Teaching, eh? Why anyone'd d want to do a thing like that I'll never know...


  1. Love ur blog!!! :) unfortunatly I have never had a sense of style.. Or shall I say I still haven't discovered it yet at the grand old age of 34! luckily I can live in jeans (even for work!) hopefuly u'll inspire me! :D

  2. First you learn to love it - the rest just comes along. Thanks for saying nice things, though! xxxx

  3. I love that Next dress like I've never loved anything ever before.

  4. The blue one? It's incredibly 'you'.

  5. Yes, the military one. I need it, I need it!


Thanks for commenting - always nice to know I'm not talking to myself...