Dress for Success (and Credit Card Debt)

When it comes to the interview look, who can afford to be forgettable in a competitive work environment?
Marie Claire “Outfit 911”

Like many fashion magazines, Marie Claire makes an effort each month to provide content for the “career oriented” woman.  Gone are the days when a fashion magazine can publish page after page of uninterrupted dieting, fashion, and sex advice.  Now they punctuate their beauty features with serious stories, and many of them are worth the read.  Marie Claire‘s February edition, for example, includes an interview with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Katherine Boo.

Since many “career-conscious” women (and men) are out of work or looking for better opportunities, fashion and lifestyle publications now offer advice on how to dress for a job interview.  Marie Claire’s February “Outfit 911” spread focused on clothing that will help you “Nail That Interview.”  Here’s a sampling of the essential outfit elements they suggest:

A $645 jacket

A $625 Max Mara button-up white blouse

A $415 Alexander Wang cropped sweater (and you know how I feel about cropped clothing)

As well as a watch, a ring, and a purse whose prices are “available upon request.”

At the conclusion of the dress for success piece, a tiny text box asks readers, “Need some more ideas for work-worthy looks that won’t break the bank?”  Some more ideas?  How about a single item under $500 (there’s none — save a bottle of nail polish at $15).

The disconnect between the message of the feature and the products it proposes as reasonable remedies is a common theme in beloved magazines like Marie Claire and Glamour, and even fitness/beauty magazines like Shape  and Self. They fervently promote the idea of the independent woman, make plenty of space in their publications to discuss the importance of health over beauty, and descry the unrealistic and harmful standards of beauty women learn from a young age.  But, nevertheless, they are funded by advertisements of beauty products and clothing lines, which they must sell.  (Susan Douglas explores this tension at length in her book, Enlightened Sexism.)

Magazines like Marie Claire and Lucky are my guilty pleasures.  They’re great for a light read at the end of the day.  I do enjoy their exercise tips, profiles of unsung women, and the way the models’ flat stomachs and perfect thighs make me feel all warm and confident inside.

But I take their beauty and health guidance with a grain of salt.  It’s no coincidence, for example, that the moisturizer featured in a full-page glossy ad appears as an essential item for your “beauty toolbox” a few pages later. (Even Real Simple starts its publication with a list of things you need to buy for the purpose of de-cluttering.) Though they’ve certainly come a long way, fashion magazines are still “advertorial,” and the media-smart reader should keep that in mind before they buy “Marie Claire‘s five Fall favorites!”

(If you’re really looking for the perfect interview outfit at a reasonable price, H&M, TJ-Maxx, Marshall’s, and Nordstrom Rack should be your go-to places.  I landed a new job a few months ago and dug all of my interview-wear out of overstuffed racks at these stores.)