Buying new clothes to sell my soul

24 Aug
The crusade to conquer the labour market

The crusade to conquer the labour market

The CV distillation process and copywriter tricks in the motivation letters I sent off were successful as I got a job interview only a week after launching myself on the labour market. Great to get a job interview – but then it all of a sudden dawns to me that I don’t have any job interview clothes! RED ALERT – this was a matter of utmost importance and I summoned all my gay friends to go Suit’n’Tie shopping. Hooray ;-)

  • And itthe clothes emergency paid off – as the boss liked me – even though I’m too expensive… What should i do? Any advice? (please feel free to comment below).

So this wouldn't do I suppose...

So this wouldn't do I suppose...

It’s when following up the different application letters (I should say ‘emails’, because not a single company requested or wanted to have old-fashioned paper applications) by a polite little phone call checking if they had received my application (and getting some feel for the company, and chasing other information about the recruitment procedure) – I get a very delighted boss on the phone who happily wanted to see me (and he wasn’t even gay!).

It’s only then that I realized that job-interviews in the private sector, probably require more formal clothes… such as suit and tie, none of which I posess. (Well, to be correct, I do have a tie – but it has a Dracula castle, pumpkins and bats on it and when you press it there’s a draconic laugh resounding… So that one’s out too)

Part 1: a shirt is not just a shirt

What would be wrong with this shirt???

What would be wrong with this shirt???

It’s in my panic-stricken state that a business-sector friend enlightened me about the world of shirts. There is a whole set of shirt etiquette: some shirts cannot be worn without ties, others on the countrary should not be worn with ties. I’m not sure who edicts those rules, but they seem to exist.

  • Black is a sure no-no unless you go to a funeral (and I surely hope nobody dies in the job’s mating dance).
  • Blue is supposed to suggest creativity, but the only effect it has on me is to fall asleep.
  • When going to the shop the only colours they seem to have is PASTEL!! (those colours that aren’t really colours).  There’s limits to everything, even if it involves a pay rise…
What does everybody have against flowers?

What does everybody have against flowers?

So at some stage I thought I’d wear my flower shirt I bought in Bangkok with my drag queen on our shopping spree (to look the part when I’d be hanging out with him after his performances – read here) and which I had re-tailored to fit my waist in Penang (Malaysia). But then my best friend and costume consultant put his veto, and a few hours later I was forced into a shirt of his (and I still don’t see why miserable little dots are different from stylish abstract flowers…)

Part 2: Suit’n’Tie or Shirt’n’Trousers

According to the ambient temperature the job-interview-dress codes change dramatically. If it’s warm enough there’s no need to wear a suit, nor a tie. But of course in Belgium you never know, so to be on the safe side I walked into a suit shop…

Never call it 'just a suit'

Never call it 'just a suit'

I felt a bit awkward arriving into this completely new world (a suit shop) for the first time in my life. I must have had a helpless look on my face as the salesman immediately came over to offer me his advice. So here’s what I found out:

  • there’s pure wool (which doesn’t wrinkle but which is more expensive) and then wool mixed with something synthetic (for the cheapies amongst us)
  • the main difference in cut in that shop is the number of buttons (you have the delightful choice between 2 or 3 buttons), thus showing more or less of my friend’s shirt that was forced upon me
  • in any case the lowest button should never be closed… (even though that looks horrible, or maybe it was just because the salesperson had a bit of a belly, wanting to escape from his overly tight suit)
  • the suit-seller coaxed me into trying on some (and make me more inclined to buy) thus we found out that I have a 48 in my suit jacket, but only 46 in my trousers (am I abnormal??)– so all the (cheap) shops that sell the trousers & jackets as one set are no good for me (sigh). And I dread the day I have to buy a suit abroad because there will be different number sizes again…
This suit I could (potentially) live with...

This suit I could (potentially) live with...

So I tried on some suits – and fell asleep…

It’s incredible how boring these things are: there’s black, grey and everything in between – but especially nothing creative or colourful – god forbid! Except one at Zara which was (boring) grey (I admit) with some vertical stripes (that’s as much as design goes in suit-land) and even a hoolalaaaa hint of pink/purple in it (but from a distance it would still look grey = safe). That’s as far as my compromise would go to my career in the private sector… (and 150€ for the monkey suit is still reasonable)

These trousers did the job (and the hugging)

These trousers did the job (and the hugging)

In the end the weather gods smiled at me, and because of the tropical temperatures in Brussels (who said there’s no climate change??) I would be fine with some ‘Sunday trousers’ (even on a Monday job-interview) and my friend’s compulsory shirt… Thank you H&M! They had some official looking grey cotton trousers, with a nice little fold in front and back of the leg (which I found out later has a tendency to escape, so now I need to learn how to iron as well – grrrrr). Anyway, the trousers could have been part of a suit. But they hugged my bottom so nicely that my decision was made (and savings of about 120€ for not getting the suit).

Part 3: Never buy new shoes for a job interview

I learned the hard way. You can imagine that there’s no suitable shoes in my wardrobe. So accompanied by my council of guardians of my apparel revolution I went to a discount shop for brands in Brussels, called DOD. It mainly attract wannabe people that wanna dress up in fancy clothes but don’t have the money for it. But for shoes it would do. The heavily reduced designer shoes would cost ‘only’ 75€ – pfff. Still very expensive for a job interview that I was not even sure of wanting to do.

But in some dodgy corner we found the special deal for 40€ for the type of shoes that usually stimulate my gagging reflex, but my councilors blackmailed me into black shoes. They are a bit pointy shoes, so they give my feet some kind of elegance (euh, am I really writing this???). Anyway, 40€ was acceptable to spend on shoes I would only wear on the few job interviews, maybe at the odd wedding (nobody gets married anymore) and hopefully never at a funeral (I don’t like funerals).

They also had shirts at DOD but since they did not have any X-factor at all (nor any other attraction factor) I had to re-resort to the obligatory shirt of my fashion consultant in chief. The only shirt that was to my liking in the whole 4 floors of shop was a flashy but reserved purple fitted shirt… from Dolce & Gabana. It was perfect. It accentuated the sand clock shape of my body (ok, sand tube, if you want), the colour was at least a colour but still formal enough at the same time. I would just take off the big D&G label stitched on the front pocket !! And pay only one fifth of the price: 90 incredible euro!!

PS and then the bag – I completely forgot about a suitable bag. To avoid complications and more panic from my fashion assistants, I did hush the subject and just went with my usual bag – risking my chances to a job (and loose my friends), but hey, one has to live on the wild side…

Part 4: Doing the deed

D-day was arriving quicker than I expected, and because of all the clothing challenges I had hardly prepared the job-interview. So secretly I was hoping that the fashion advice was as vital in life as my friends made it seem,

Job interviews are dangerous for your health

Job interviews are dangerous for your health

and that I would get a job based on the hug-factor of my trousers and the glitter of my new shoes.

Getting to the company in Vorst was not that straight-forward. There was a bus going there, but because of traffic works it went a different road. So I follow the signs to the temporary bus stops, but obviously road workers never follow their own signs, because then they would realize they lead nowhere. I couldn’t find the fxxxing bus stop! Inevitably the bus drives by, but doesn’t stop, so I run after it – in my new shoes, tight trousers & borrowed shirt – in the tropical weather.

By the time I caught the bus and arrive at my first ever business job interview, I was handicapped and smelly. The shoes had been carnivorous on my heels (luckily I was early enough so I could regain some forces in the park nearby and stick 2 bandage on my heels where the skin was gone – and when I say gone, I mean gone – only reddish flesh grinning at me for running after buses in new shoes). Add to that the (for once) lovely Belgian Summer temperatures of 30° and plus, and you can also imagine what that does to the cozy region between chest and arm… A subtropical rainforest climate was nothing compared to my armpits.

I got a new job, except…

The job I actually applied for was that of event manager/communication officer/ commercial staff/ copywriter/ trainer/ consultant for a communication & event company in Brussels. Needless to say they were looking for a polyvalent (multi-tasking) colleague. And I completely fit the profile ;-)

So the boss was delighted to find someone suitable for the job, so delighted that he didn’t stop blabbering on and on. I only had to interject an ‘of course’ or ‘I understand’ every once so often. He was so happy to find someone of his generation, because the young Generation X sharks were just out to make promotion and if they didn’t like something they would simply move on – no sense of loyalty or commitment like in the good old days.

On top of that being a Dutch speaker was certainly in my advantage in a Francophone office that has to deal with mainly Flemish customers… (having said that, even though I replied to a Flemish job add, the boss took me by surprise conducting the whole interview in French… typical Brussels).

The problem arose when he went on to the subject of salary. Since the company is a small family affair with a couple of young employees, I was too expensive for him (my future colleagues would earn about 800€ gross less). He is not used to paying what I would earn at my current employer, and what’s the point taking a new job if I move down rather than up? He went as far as offering to take me at a lower rate and give me a raise ever few months so that I’d come to the money I’m earning now after a year…

  • So where does that leave me? I have to give him an answer next week…
  • HEEEEEELP – any advice welcome

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