Last Friday, I gave my recommendations for how transitioning veterans can choose the right suit for their first civilian job interviews: solid colors, Navy blue or charcoal gray, and all wool. But the suit is only part of the outfit. You want to make the right impression, and not look like someone who isn’t comfortable making the transition from military to civilian life.
The suit itself is only one part of that effort. Your shirt, tie, and shoes, and accessories complete the outfit. Get them wrong, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve followed my advice to buy as much suit as you can afford.
A shirt is not a statement
A shirt is just a shirt. It ought not “say anything” about you other than “I’m a sensible person.” For that reason, I believe there are only two acceptable shirt colors for your interview shirt: light blue and white. Save the greens, yellows, and pinks for another time. Solid shirts are easier to pair with many ties, plus stripes and patterns are too advanced for the interview. And like your suit, your shirts should avoid artificial fibers. An all-cotton shirt is your friend.
Your collar should fit snugly around your neck. If your face is turning red, it’s too tight. If you look like a turtle poking out of its shell, it’s too loose. Collar buttons can be controversial. While they have been an accepted feature of men’s shirts since Brooks Brothers first introduced them in 1900 (literally, to keep the collars from flapping into polo players’ faces), they are, to some, too casual-looking for a true dress shirt. So to be safe, it’s best to avoid them for the interview.
The two other collar styles, point and spread, are a matter of individual taste. Just make sure to use the right tie knot for each collar: half-Windsor for the point, full-Windsor for the spread. Which brings us to ties.
Represent your regiment
The tie is one of the few places in his wardrobe where a man can make a statement. But if you’re not careful, that statement can be “I have no idea what I’m doing.” To complete the “Boston banker” look, choosing the right tie is key.
You simply cannot go wrong with a tie made from “rep,” a ribbed silk fabric. Rep ties are hefty and tie into a sturdy knot. Choosing rep also means you’ll avoid the abstract and geometric pattern ties that can be a distraction. The most basic American tie is a mirror image of the British regimental tie. These ties have distinctive diagonal striped patterns that identify the wearer’s Army regiment.
It is considered poor form for someone to wear a regimental tie that isn’t his own, so when Brooks Brothers began to duplicate the style in the U.S., it reversed the stripes. Most British regimental ties feature stripes that cross from the wearer’s upper left to his lower right; American ties based on the regimental style go from upper right to lower left.
You may sense a theme here: your tie should be silk, not polyester. And it should be in bold, mostly primary colors.
Shoes count. Watches, too.
Unless you’re a Naval aviator, do not wear your uniform shoes with your civilian suit. If you can only get one pair of civilian shoes, black are the most versatile. You can wear black dress shoes with either a blue or a gray suit, but you can’t wear brown shoes with a gray suit. Whichever color you choose, make sure your belt matches. A favorite book among my friends in college was Real Soldiers Don’t Shine their Civilian Shoes. It’s funny, but not true. Shine your shoes… just don’t spit-shine them.
Socks should match the color of your suit. Their job is to cover your ankles.
Lastly, watches are a man’s one real piece of bling. Nothing says “I’m in the military” like a Suunto or a Casio G-Shock on your wrist. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a Swiss timepiece to look good (but trust me, you’ll love it when you get to the point in your career where can splurge on the Rolex, Breitling, or Omega). But even a $200 Citizen watch in gold or stainless steel says “I mean business, and want to be on time.”
Following my advice won’t guarantee you’ll get the job. But it will guarantee that you look like you’re comfortable transitioning from military to civilian life. And that’s the biggest hurdle you’ll have to clear.