Trying to land your first job out of college is difficult enough, but it's even tougher for the Millennial generation, which has an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent. That's why the last thing young people need today is erroneous advice when it comes to dressing for job interviews.
And while American politicians are rarely known for their sartorial command, President Donald Trump's too-big suits and too-long ties serve as a daily refutation of the notion that financial success and political power are dependent on following time-tested rules of proper dress.
Rutgers University recently made news when it held a job fair with a strict dress requirement for both men and women. Men were required to wear a white shirt, discrete necktie, and a suit that was either black or grey. Never mind that low-income students just scraping by might be relying on whatever hand-me-downs and thrift store items they could find to get dressed up, but the specious requirement of black was especially damaging, since the students would then wear this, presumably their only suit, to subsequent job interviews.
Black suits are fine if you're in a Quentin Tarantino movie but are an awkward faux pas if you're trying to land a job in the real world. They're severe, gauche and anyone who knows anything knows that the colors of the business world are navy and charcoal.
"When I used to work at Brooks Brothers," says undergrad Al Castiel III, "I would go to different local universities in Boston to lecture on how to dress for interviews. A lot of the guys seemed to think black suits were OK. We fixed that."
Maxwell Raymond Rich, another college student, says, "Boston University Law had seminars which actively encouraged black suits for interviews at law firms. I spoke out numerous times to explain how silly that was. Still at law job fairs almost every male and female wears black or black with gaudy pinstripe suits."
Last fall the Financial Times reported on the cluelessness of young graduates when it came to proper dress for working in London's financial industry. An executive was quoted saying, "If you look awkward in a suit, you're done before you start." The biggest critiques were candidates wearing suits that were too big and ties that were too flashy.
It's no surprise young men are confused about social customs like how to get properly dressed. Not only does our president dress terribly, but all the rich young guys in the technology industry wear the same t-shirts and hoodies they wore in college, so what's the point of learning to dress up and spending all that money on formal clothes? Things are so upside-down that in certain industries wearing a suit to an interview could be more of a liability than wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
But for the vast number of recent college grads just trying to get their start at something, apparel retailers should put themselves under an obligation that's not just sartorial, but moral. If they want to stock black suits for funerals, nightclub bouncers, and guys who work in the fashion industry, that's fine. But if a young man comes in and says he needs a suit for job interviews, please steer him towards the navy and gray.
And if he sees a black one on clearance, explain the difference between saving a few bucks now and landing a job where he can afford to buy a nice car. It can even be black.
Christian Chensvold is a New York-based men's wear writer and founder of Ivy-Style.com.