Expert job search advice.

Monica Barnett

Monica Barnett blog graphic
Work from home fashion advice

Let’s talk interview fashion with Monica Barnett!

According to an article in The Balance Careers, some hiring managers say they know within the first 30 seconds or so whether the person has a shot at getting hired.

Additionally, a 2014 study completed by researchers at highlighted how quickly first impressions are formed and revealed that those early thoughts often make or break a candidate’s chance of getting the job. In fact, employers rank first impressions as the second most important factor (24%) when considering a hire, following only behind work experience (36 %) but before a candidate’s education (12%). 

In the Monster study, 70% of hiring managers reported that the way a candidate applies makeup impacts on their first impression. What’s more, six in ten bosses say an interviewee’s dress sense has a big impact on their employability.

In an incredibly competitive job marketing, having a personal style that leaves a strong impression is important. That’s why I reached out to the lovely Monica Barnett to talk interview style. Monica has advised DC politicos, styled Chicago executives, worked with Miami professional athletes, and curated New York entrepreneurs. As founder/editor-in-chief of Blueprint for Style, Monica knows how to develop the right style – the conscious selectivity of elements that work in concert to create a curated image.

Sarah: The most common job seeker attire concern I hear is, “what do I wear to an informal coffee informational meeting?” These meetings are not official interviews, but they are a chance to make a strong impression. What are your thoughts?

Monica: First and most importantly, every interaction is an opportunity to make a lasting impression, and if it’s your first meeting, then it’s even more important. That said, an “informal” informational meeting means look good but look appropriate. In most instances, “appropriate” means smart casual so a midweek coffee meet up means dark jeans + nice shirt + blazer or sport coat + slip-ons or flats (no sneakers); or a weekend morning juice meeting means dark jeans + nice shirt + blazer or sport coat + slip-ons or flats (no sneakers). Over half of today’s work environments are more casual so your goal is to look put together and like you “care” but also to show good judgment!

Sarah: The dress code in Silicon Valley is very different than Wall Street. For tech or startup interviews, how do you suggest dressing for a formal interview?

Monica: Every interview requires research, and a key part of research is to understand the culture and environment of the company with which you are interviewing. For a formal interview with a tech or start-up, the best dressing “uniform” would be to convey that you’ve done your research and can align with the culture of the organization so if it’s less formal (e.g., the Googles or Facebook’s of the world) then dark denim + a short (not collared) + cardigan or sport coat would be ideal.

The shoes should be a personality piece that introduces and speaks to who you are without screaming it so, a cool leather sneaker or casual brogue or a pair of spiked or metallic flats are all acceptable.

Make sure they’re polished and in good shape though so it says you took time to prepare for the meeting.

Sarah: Rodney Williams, the CEO of LISNR, said that the “the new start-up attire is: just be you.” Do you agree? Do the same rules apply for start-up attire in Silicon Valley as they do in say… Columbus, OH?

Monica: I have had the opportunity to do training sessions for Marriott International, Google, and various law firms to name a few. I mention this because they all have very different dress codes and distinct looks. You can subscribe to the “just be you” mentality once you part of that company or business but the rules are different if you’re on the outside looking in. Be sharp, be smart, be aspirational, be flexible.

The same rule that applies to a start-up in Silicon Valley that applies in Washington, DC or in Columbus, OH is knowing that you are part of a team and an organization, and focus on blending in with that organization while providing a bit of personality. For example, you can do the jeans + tee and then add your personality which could be a colorful scarf or fun shoes/sneakers or maybe it’s a crisp white shirt that acts as your layering piece. You can blend in but add personality pieces to stand out.

Sarah: Is the “power suit” a skirt or pants for women?

Monica: Ahh yes, women in business spent years following the ‘ole boys network’ and rocking pants suits to have a seat at the Board room table but those days are long gone. If you think back to the former first lady Michelle Obama, the new power suit is more feminine, and she was one of the main people that made a dress the new power suit.  Even the former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who is an avid pants suit wearer softened her stance and appearance of pants suits to less structured and more non-traditional styles. Indeed the “power suit” for women has expanded to include dresses and skirts, but the more important take away is that the “power suit” today read more feminine and personality-packed than ever before!


Everyone should “invest” in their professional wardrobe because it’s how you make your money!

In 2019, the business world is moving toward a less formal environment and to more and more entrepreneurial and start-up endeavors – that means the line between work and weekend is blurring fast! My recommendation would be to start thinking of your closet and wardrobe more holistically because business is done just about everywhere, every day, and in every corner of the world so what you wear on any given day represents who you are. 

As a professional, your goal should be to have those foundational wardrobe items that say effortless polish without being overly formal. For ladies that includes (1) fitted blazer (that isn’t part of suit), (2) dark, straight leg denim, (3) flowy tops that can flex solo or under another layer (at least two should be some type of print or pattern), (4) darker-colored pointed-toe flats or heels, and (5) a great structured handbag or tote. The complete list is 11 items, but those are a great start.

For gents, the list of must-haves would include (1) dark, straight leg denim without embellishments, (2) navy sport coat (not a blazer that was part of suit), (3) a few collared sport shirts (not button downs), (4) a nice leather belt with minimal hardware, (5) a pair of loafers/slip-ons or casual brogues in a matching color with the belt, and (6) a leather card case/slim wallet. Again, the list for fellas has 10 items, but this is a great start.

Given the trend toward “work wear” instead of work week items vs. weekend, the goal should be to look ready at all times and that means likely creating a little more flexibility in your traditional work attire and upping your game for your typical weekend looks, so they come together more easily. 

Sarah: What is the best career advice you ever got? Did you take it? (I am asking everyone this question)

Monica: The advice came from the late Joan Rivers who was talking to a group of digital fashion influencers at this conference I attended years ago when I was starting out – she said: “do everything until you figure out what you really want to do.” She made a point to say that when we’re starting out, we get picky about whether something will benefit us or help us get where we want to be, and in the end, you may end up doing something completely different, and that skill or job you said no to could have come in handy. My takeaway is that knowing more than less is always a good thing – I’m always trying to learn more!

Thank you Monica! If you want to learn more about Monica’s work, 1) follow her onLinkedIn or Instagram. 2)If you’d like to take advantage of this post and her expertise, she’s providing a customized Entrepreneur/Digital Nomad Professional Shopping List by scheduling a one-hour call 3) She also does corporate speaking engagements

If you liked this week’s Curated Career Conversations article and you haven’t subscribed to my series– please take a moment to do that now. I have some great HR distruptors and unique viewpoints coming up over the next two months including a salary negotiation expert, student loan expert to talk about the impact of loans on career decisions….and more!



Written by: