Shades of White


    Dear Miriam,

    I'm planning my outfit for an interview. Some of my shirts have, let's say, faint stains, but they'd be covered up by a jacket during the interview. Even without the jacket, they're faint. But, even if nobody else knows, I know they're there. Should I spend money on new shirts? It really feels psychological — and a waste of money. If I could just get over the idea that my white shirts aren't perfectly white… What do you think — any words of advice for me to get over it?

    Shades of White

    Dear Shades,

    If you know with 100% certainty that you will not be taking off your jacket during the interview, I can't see a problem with some faint stains on your person, hidden from view. However, I don't think you can know that with absolute certainty, and you'll benefit from having the option to take off your jacket if a room is especially hot or all the people interviewing you turn out to be dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Knowing you're not confined to the jacket will make you more relaxed and will help you to be a competent interviewee. On the other hand, knowing that you'll be wondering whether the stains are really as faint as they appeared in the privacy of your home if you take the jacket off may inhibit you and affect your performance.

    Since you're applying for work, it's possible that money is tight, and spending money to make money is an understandable tension. A slightly less expensive option is taking the shirt to a dry cleaner and seeing if an expert can remove any traces of stains. If there is no colored trim, you could also try to bleach it at home (though consult a cleaning expert first, since I have terrible luck with bleach and nothing helpful to offer on the subject other than "other people tell me it works.")

    You mention the psychological aspect, and it's worth exploring that a little more, too. Do you think this potential job is worth an investment before you even get it? Is it an opportunity that calls on you to present the best aspect of yourself? Do you think you're worthy of the job? These questions may help get at some of the underlying reasons you don't want to spend the money. Wearing something new to an interview, even if all your shirts were perfectly fine, can serve as a statement to yourself about your own value. You don't have to replace your stained shirt with something from Brooks Brothers. Target has perfectly respectable white dress shirts, too, which might help you find a middle ground.

    If you do buy a new shirt, be sure to iron it or have it professionally pressed before the interview. I'm definitely advocating the new shirt route to help your polish and presentation, but a new shirt with clearly defined fold lines from the store will detract from your image. One final thought: If you're really set on wearing one of the shirts you already have, get a second opinion on the stains, look at them in both natural and artificial light and try on your whole outfit to be sure any faint trace is appropriately out of view.

    Good luck with the interview, and be well,