Dear Mr. Molloy: I am going to be meeting a prospective employer for lunch soon in Miami, and this is probably the most important interview I will ever have in my life. This man is the leader in my field, and if he hires me, in a certain way, I will have it made.

He is a world recognized expert, and if I become his assistant I will be able to pick and choose where I work. He keeps all of his assistants for about six or seven years, and nearly all his former employees have either opened a firm of their own or become a partner in one of the major firms throughout the country. I am not going to name my field, because obviously it would let everyone know who he is.

I believe I am one of the last two or three candidates. I have been told that after he narrows the list he invites each candidate to have dinner on succeeding nights and chooses the one he likes best. The dinners are in his home, and the standard dress for the dinner, as he indicated on the invitation, is a suit, shirt and tie. From what I have been told, he comes from a very wealthy background. His father was president of a very large company, and his mother was the daughter of one of the very wealthy families in New England. He is known by everyone as a very conservative person.

Could you tell me what I should wear and how I should act? I have to tell you that at present I have limited resources and although I will spend $400-$500 for a suit, I am willing to spend almost anything for the shirt and tie. They, of course, have a limited upper range. — Job Candidate

Dear Job Candidate: If you do not already own one, you should buy a medium range, all wool, tropical weight gray pin-stripe suit. If the lightest gray was a number 1 and the darkest was 10, your suit should be a 5 or 6. The reason I suggest gray, is that gray is. rich even in the medium and light shades. If you have a blue in medium and light shades it sometimes looks cheap, and your suit should look as luxurious as possible. Try to choose a material that looks rich. Make sure to have the suit perfectly tailored. Explain to the tailor exactly what you are doing and that you must have a perfect fit. Don’t show too much cuff. One-quarter to one-eighth of an inch is maximum. With it, wear a high quality new all-cotton shirt.

If you don’t get a chance to see the gentleman ahead of time, I suggest that you wear a white shirt. If you do see him, mirror his image. Many people from the background you are suggesting will wear a colored shirt or contrasting collar and cuff shirts. If this is the case, play follow the leader. You can spend as little as $40-$50 for a white shirt. If you buy a colored shirt or a contrasting collar and cuff shirt, you have to spend at least $70. The quality of the cotton affects the way it takes dye. Accompany this with a small patterned silk foulard tie that complements the shirt and suit. Of course you have to wear executive length socks, conservative highly polished shoes, and a conservative but good wristwatch.

Our research shows that people from privileged backgrounds weigh social graces very heavily. Most upper class people believe that table manners is like the tip of a social iceberg. If they meet a man or a woman who has wonderful table manners, they assume that they have mastered the other social graces. On the other hand, even a minor faux pas is an indication to them that you may not be a sophisticated person.

I suggest that unless good table manners are second nature to you, that every night for the next month you eat either before a video camera or a mirror. Perfect table manners must be as natural to you as breathing. The reason your mastery must be so complete, is once the interview starts you will forget newly acquired table manners and do what you do naturally.


About one-third of the advice I have given in the last 10 years has become dated in the last three years. You can now wear colors and styles in business that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

That is the good news. The bad news is most women, including many with advanced degrees, are making the wrong choices and are “Dressing for Failure.”

(c) 1992, Los Angeles Times Syndicate