Friday, March 30, 2012

Quitting Smoking -- Day Nine -- Feed Me!

I'm moving on from the "hours" method of timekeeping.  It's Day 9 (I guess?  I stopped last Thursday?)

It feels like it’s been an eternity. This has been the slowest week of my entire life. I should be over this by now, finished, no more craves. Last night when I got off the train, my hand automatically went into my coat pocket to pull out a pack of cigarettes that is no longer there. Earlier today when I finished a conference call, my brain wandered into the no man’s land of “time for a quick smoke.” But it isn’t time for a quick smoke, and it never will be again.

I wonder if I can do this. My resolve is still here. I’m happy not smoking, and both amazed and disgusted at the money in the prize jar that would normally be in the hands of 7-11, but is instead still in my house. It will be $90 when I put today’s $10 in the jar this evening. (I forgot to do it this morning.) I enjoy not smelling like smoke. I enjoy not being that gross person walking down the street with cigarette in hand.

One of my coworkers today told me that it took her until about six months quitting to not miss it anymore. September. I had to remind myself that I’m still strictly on the “one day at a time” plan. I can’t think about September, or even April. She also told me that if she could do it, I could do it. She’s right – she was a heavy smoker for twenty something years. If she can do it, I can do it.

The smell of cigarettes is still luring me in. I like the smoke smell when it’s in the air, but not when it’s stuck to fabric and hair. This morning I walked behind a guy who was smoking and enjoyed every minute of it. But hey, I didn’t smoke myself. It’s odd to be grateful for second hand smoke. Why do I still want this?

The worst part is that I’m hungry all the time. Starving. I’ve been eating nonstop for a week. I know I told myself that I’d allow myself to eat for the first month if it helped avoid smoking, but now I’m worried I’ll end up gaining 20 pounds! I’m attracted to salty, spicy foods. The chips and salsa from Chipotle are getting me through the afternoons. I don’t want vegetables or fruit or healthy food or a piece of gum or hard candy. I want garbage – pizza, Slim Jims, potato chips, cheese, ice cream, McDonald’s, French fries, nachos, and peanut butter Snickers Bars. I’m going to be bigger than a house by the time this is all said and done. I’m also craving beer. I seriously just looked at my clock and wondered whether I should have a beer, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon at my office at work. (Well, it’s not like it’s unheard of…) I may go crazy. In the meantime, I’m still not smoking.

More Vacations for the Obamas

I'm so relieved Michelle Obama and her daughters got to take a Spring Break vacation.  I was really concerned that they wouldn't get the rest and relaxation that I'm sure they need.  In case you haven't heard, they went to Mt. Rushmore, are now in Las Vegas, NV, and are then heading to CA to meet Taylor Swift. 

How many vacations has your family taken since August 2009?

This source provides the following tally of the Obama family vacations since August 2009:

-- March 2012, Michelle and the first daughters go to Mt. Rushmore and Las Vegas, NV.

-- March 2012, Malia Obama goes to Mexico.

-- President’s Day 2012, Michelle and the first daughters in Aspen, Colorado to ski.

-- Christmas 2011, the first family in Hawaii for an extended vacation.

-- Summer 2011, in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., for the annual beach break.

-- June 2011, the first lady, her mother and daughters traveled to South Africa and Botswana.

-- President’s Day 2011, the first lady and first daughters travel to Vail to ski.

-- Christmas 2010, in Hawaii.

-- August 2010, the first family traveled to Panama City Beach, Fla., for some sun and fun at the beach.

-- August 2010, Obama spent the weekend alone in Chicago for his 49th birthday bash.

-- August 2010, the first lady and daughter Sasha traveled to Spain for a mother-daughter vacation.

-- August 2010, summer vacation again at Martha’s Vineyard.

-- July 2010, the first family went to Mount Desert Island, Maine.

-- May 2010, the first family had a four-day trip to Chicago.

-- March 2010, first lady and daughter spend Spring Break in New York City.

-- Christmas 2009, Hawaii again for the annual break.

-- August 2009, at Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon for a short vacation.

-- August 2009, their first summer vacation as first family at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
 
That is three full family vacations in 2009, five full family vacations in 2010, and two full family vacations in 2011.  On top of that, the First Lady, with one or more of her daughters, took two more vacations in 2010, two more vacations in 2011, and two vacations so far in 2012.  The President has taken the least amount of vacations of anyone in the family.   
 
Maybe I'm the crazy one, but this seems so extravagant to me.  I'd be really curious to find out how many trips the Obamas were taking each year prior to 2009, when he was sworn in as President.  Were they going to Hawaii every year for Christmas?  Going to Martha's Vinyard and the National Parks?  Going to Vail and Aspen for ski trips every President's Day weekend?  Going to Europe?  If they were doing all this at the same frequency, that might change my opinion on this, but for now I find it really, really insulting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quitting Smoking...129 Hours In

The good news is, I still haven't smoked.

The good news is, it feels like it's maybe getting a little easier.

The bad news is, it still is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.  I almost feel like time has stood still over the past six days.  I'm not kidding -- time has never crept by so slowly in my entire life.  While this is good in the sense that I have a lot of work to do, it's a really strange feeling.  I am having a bit of trouble concentrating also, but not too badly at this point. 

I figured after the nicotine got out of my system on Sunday morning that would make things a lot easier.  It certainly has been easier to not have the gnawing physical craving.  However, the psychological habit is really unbelievable.  It almost feels like a physical craving to my body, but I know it isn't.  It occurred to me that I am trying to break a 20 year habit.  (Roughly, not counting the few months here and there where I quit in the past.)  Twenty years of having a smoke after a meal.  Twenty years of smoking when I have a few minutes to kill.  Twenty years of smoking when driving somewhere, and calculating in my head whether I had time for one last cigarette.  Twenty years of smoking after finishing getting ready.  Twenty years of smoking right when I get up in the morning.  Twenty years of "one last smoke" before bed.  Twenty years of cigarettes with my coffee.  Two and a half years of a cigarette while walking to and from the train each day from my house.  Eight years of smoking at lunch, smoking after finishing a brief, taking smoke breaks every few hours or so at this job.  Twenty years of having a smoke whenever I happened to go outside.  You get the idea. 

Mornings are getting easier already.  I don't miss the smoke while walking to work because I'm enjoying so much more not having to worry about smelling like an ashtray when I sit down next to someone on the train or cram into a crowded el car.  Ditto for actually being able to still smell the shampoo in my hair at the end of the day.  I still am having the spontaneous thoughts about having a cigarette when I finish this or do that.  Not surprising, really -- it hasn't been that long.  It's going to take a lot of time for those to go away, if they ever completely do.  It is getting easier to remind myself that no more cigarettes are the way to go, although the creeping thoughts about "no more cigarettes EVER" are still there, which brings me down a little.  I'm hopeful that after I've been smoke free for six months or a year that won't seem like such a horrible way to live.  (It isn't a horrible way to live, is it?  It certainly shouldn't be).  Another positive thing is that I'm getting a lot more done.  I never realized how much time I killed by just smoking a cigarette.  Now, rather than do that, I do something else.  I'm getting to work earlier and everything. 

I also don't know if I'm imaging it, but I feel like I'm breathing better.  I never realized I wasn't breathing well, but something feels different.  I'm coughing up phlegm here and there, and can almost feel my lungs clearing out all the gunk.  Even my mouth feels cleaner.  It's weird.  Yet good.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Will Not Smoke Today

I've been smoking on and off for the past 20 years.  It's not something I'm proud of.  For years, I've claimed that "I love smoking" and practically bit anyone's head off who dared suggest I quit.  Why should I?  It's my choice.  Who are you to tell me what I can and can't do?  It's not because I'm stupid.  I know how bad smoking is for me.  It's taken awhile to admit it, but I am an addict.  I'm addicted not only to nicotine, but to the act of smoking.  The habit.  Do something, smoke a cigarette.  Need a break?  Smoke a cigarette.  Bored?  Smoke a cigarette.  It's the prize at the bottom of the cereal box.  I look forward to it.  If I'm being honest with myself, I'm about a pack a day smoker, slightly less.

Over the past few months, however, I've been getting this stronger feeling that I need to quit.  Not only need to quit -- want to quit.  It smells and it's likely killing me.  If that isn't enough, there are reasons like this:

1.  What sane person stands outside in frigid weather to inhale smoke into their system?
2.  I look forward to seeing my friends and family....and then after a few hours I sometimes can't wait to go home so I can smoke as much as I want without judgment.  Who does that?  An addict.
3.  I want dates to end so I can smoke.
4.  I've missed game winning touchdowns because I was out smoking rather than watching the game.
5.  I'm tired of calculating time in terms of how many cigarettes I can smoke.
6.  The panic at a delayed flight, wondering when I will get my next cigarette in...is bad.
7.  I'm embarrassed to admit I smoke.
8.  The amount of money I've spent on cigarettes is astounding.
9.  The cigarette is the friend that completely controls my life.  Do I have enough?  What if I run out?  What if the gas station doesn't carry my brand?  What excuse can I give to sneak out for a smoke?  Panic.

There are more.  The shame is real.  The absolute ridiculousness of it is real.  This little stick that I carry around and suck into my mouth?  Why?  I've finally been able to admit it to myself, and ask myself "Why do I do this?"  Over the past few months, I've had days where I've said "I'm not buying any more cigarettes."  And then I go anywhere from 24-36 hours without one before breaking down and buying a pack.  That showed me that I can do it...to a certain point.  What will make me stronger?

Last Wednesday night, around 9, I looked in my pack and saw two cigarettes left.  I decided to smoke one, and to leave the other for morning.  So, on Thursday morning at around 8 a.m., I smoked the last one, and then, for whatever reason, decided I didn't want to buy any more.  Done.  I didn't know how long I would make it this time, and was without a plan, and somewhat spur of the moment, but we'll see how it goes.

That was 84 hours ago.  You measure time in hours when you quit smoking.  My last cigarette, Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 8 a.m.

All of the nicotine is now out of my system.  That happens between 48 and 72 hours in.  To nonsmokers, that may seem like nothing, but every minute feels like an hour when your body is screaming for nicotine, and the "habit" part of your brain is wondering why you finished eating lunch but aren't smoking a cigarette.  Think of a bad habit you have and do throughout the day, like biting your nails, twirling your hair, chewing on a pen.  Then tell your spouse or coworker to punch you in the face every time they see you doing it for 72 hours.  Try to stop.  It's second nature to smoke.  It's damn hard. 

I didn't use any Nicorette or Chantix or anything like that.  I just decided to do it.  In previous attempts, I've used Nicorette.  It served it's purpose, that's for sure.  It took the edge off, gave me the nicotine my body was craving.  But, at the end of the day, all I was doing was feeding one addiction with another.  I decided I had to just get the nicotine out of my system to get rid of the physical cravings, and then I could possibly deal with the psychological habit. 

It wasn't fun.  I had numerous strong, strong cravings.  I wanted to smoke.  All I kept thinking on Friday and Saturday was "Oh, when I finish this, I'll grab a smoke...oh, wait."  I felt weird.  My vision seemed a little off; I felt out of it; I had a slight headache.  This time, though, I didn't cave in when it got too bad.  Why?  Well, two things. 

First, I started what I have named my "Prize Jar," which is a jar where I am putting $10 every morning.  That's the money I would've spent on a pack of cigarettes that day.  It's at $40 already.  Crazy.  I'm going to buy myself a prize when I keep this up -- like Christian Louboutins -- and remind myself that I could've had cigarettes or the shoes.  I could have a pair of cheaper Louboutins in two months.  Or a new Chanel or Gucci or Vuitton purse within six months.  It's crazy when you think about the money spent on cigarettes in those terms.  The second thing I did was go to the trusty Internet and print out about 5 pictures of people dying of lung cancer.  It sounds gruesome because it is.  At this point, I need gruesome.  I made two copies -- one for my purse, to bring with me everywhere, and one for at home.  When I feel like I'm going to crack, breakdown, and buy a pack of cigarettes, I look at them.  Unsurprisingly, every desire I have to smoke instantly disappears.  Whatever works, right?

I've also had to accept three other things:

1.  I will likely never be a non-smoker.  I will be a smoker who doesn't smoke, much like alcoholics who are in AA.  I'm not a person who can bum a cig off someone one night, smoke it, and not think about cigs after that.  If I smoke, I'm going to start rolling down the entire hill and could easily be smoking a pack a day immediately.  It's just how I am.  I envy my friends who can just smoke every now and then.  I can't do that.  Along the same lines...

2.  I will always see people who are smoking.  (For whatever strange reason, when I was smoking, I felt like the only one.  Now that I'm not smoking, I'm seeing smokers all over the place.)  I can't look at them and think "Lucky them, they get to smoke."  No, I have to realize and understand that they are smoking because they are addicted.  They have to be standing outside of that bar, restaurant or store, away from their friends, stinking up their clothes, because they are addicted like me.  That's nothing to be jealous about.  And finally...

3.  This is a one day at a time process.  Every day, I have said to myself "I will not smoke today."  So far, so good.  I even went out for drinks last night and survived.  That told me that I can do this because in the past alcohol has been my big trigger.  What's killed me in the past is thinking that I can never again for the rest of my life smoke another cigarette.  It sounds bizarre, but that depresses me immensely.  No more cigarettes ever?  So, I don't think about five years, two years, six months, forever, whatever.  I think about today.  I think about not smoking today

We'll see how this goes, but I'm feeling really good about it.  I already feel better.  I still want to smoke, but the physical cravings appear to be gone.  I just have to work through this psychological aspect.  I've decided to allow myself to eat whatever I want for the next month, provided it helps me break the smoking habit.  So, I might be a little chubby heading in to spring, but that's fine.  I can lose the weight.  I just have to kick this smoking habit!              

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Break At Age 13 Without Parents

I'd like a show of hands. Who, here, went on Spring Break to another country without their parents at age 13? Anyone? I never went on a Spring Break vacation with my friends, period, until I was 20 years old and in college. And then I went to Crested Butte, Colorado to go skiing.  Oh, and I rode a bus from Michigan to Colorado to get there.

One of President Obama's daughters is reportedly on vacation in Mexico for Spring Break with 12 friends...and accompanied by 25 Secret Service agents. Of course she needs protection and Secret Service agents when she travels. I'm not disputing that at all. The problem I'm having with this is why do taxpayers have to pay for a 13 year old to go on Spring Break with her friends? Why do we have to pay for 25 Secret Service agents for Spring Break? If she was with one or both of her parents, I'd have much less of a problem with this, because likely it would be some kind of a state or official visit, or at least a family vacation. But it isn't. It's a 13 year old going on vacation. (And to be fair, it's not like she hasn't had a number of vacations in the past year.) I'm sure there are adults around supervising. I certainly hope we aren't paying Secret Service agents to supervise a 13 year old, because that, too, I have a problem with. That isn't their job. But, who knows?

News of this little trip started hitting the media yesterday, and then it was promptly scrubbed from a variety of outlets. There may be valid safety reasons for not disclosing her location; that's fair. However, there's probably a good argument that she shouldn't be in Mexico without her parents to begin with, particularly since the federal government is warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico. I don't recall Chelsea Clinton taking Spring Break trips when she was a young teenager living in the White House. The Democrats like to claim that Mitt Romney is "out of touch." Well, isn't President Obama equally as "out of touch?" Our economy is in the crapper, spending is out of control, and gas is spiraling toward $5.00 a gallon. Yet, somehow, it's okay for us taxpayers to pay for his young teenage daughter to take a Spring Break vacation in Mexico with her friends. I don't get it. The cost of this trip must be astronomical.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Can You Just Call Me?

I don't know if the right word for this is "entitled," but I just saw the strangest thing at Walgreen's.

I went over to pick up a prescription, and ended up in line behind a guy who looked to be around 22.  He was dressed in dress pants and a button down shirt, so presumably he works at some semi-professional job in the Loop.  He was dropping off his prescription, and the pharmacist told him it would be ready in about ten minutes.  Then this happened:

Him: Can you call me?
Pharmacist:  (looking confused)  You can just wait.  It'll be about ten minutes.
Him:  Can you just call me when it's ready?
Pharmacist:  (still confused)  You can wait?
Him:  I'll just come back.  Can you call me?
Pharmacist:  Ten minutes.
Him:  Can you just call me when it's ready?

Eventually, he gave the pharmacist his cell phone number, and she told him she'd call.  But how strange.  Why not just come back in ten minutes?  Is he that Busy and Important that he can't waste a single minute waiting for his prescription?  As if the pharmacist has nothing better to do than call him, even though he could just come back in ten minutes?  I just would never dream of doing something like that. 

Ah, The Boomerang Generation

This is one of my favorite kinds of articles – more for what it doesn’t say, than what it does say. It’s titled “Three in 10 young adults live with parents, highest level since 1950s.” Yet another article about the lack of jobs for young adults. However, while it sounds frightening at first blush, the examples provided don’t particularly help the cause.

Here is their prime example number 1:
After graduating from Brown University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and completing a Fulbright scholarship in Brazil, [Example] was left with a few dollars on her stipend and no job in sight.
You already know I’m biased toward STEM majors, but I’ll ask the question again. What kind of job exactly does one expect to get with a bachelor's in comparative literature? How much money do you expect to make? From my brief research online, it appears this is one of those majors where you need a PhD to make any worthwhile money.  I suspect most companies aren't going to pay $100,000 a year to compare Twilight and Dracula in Italian.  Maybe a quote from her cousin, who also hasn’t been able to find a job since graduating in 2009 (in an unmentioned major) makes things more clear:
“The choice is to go out and be in debt or to pursue your dreams and save up money at home, in a safe, stable environment.”
Ah, yes. The “pursue your dreams” argument. We’re seeing this one a lot nowadays, from all the special snowflakes who seem to believe that work should be fun. Rather than think logically about supporting themselves, they want to “pursue their dreams.”  The other, unmentioned choice, is to act like an adult and take a job in a field that actually might pay decent money, whether you enjoy it or not.

The point of the article is this:
“The rise in the boomerang phenomenon illustrates the effect the recession and the weak economy are having on young adults,” says Kim Parker, a senior researcher at Pew and the author of the study. “Young adults were hit particularly hard in the job market and are having to delay reaching some basic financial milestones of adulthood because of this.”
I happen to believe there is more to this than the recession and the weak economy, although certainly that contributes. The fact is, there are jobs out there. In fact, there is a shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing, so much so that U.S. companies are being forced to import workers to do the jobs. See here, herehere, here, and here.  I understand that manufacturing isn’t as glamorous as some other fields, but a job’s a job. Why aren't more people going into these fields?  My brother is a machinist and he loves his job. He also makes very good money without a college degree. We also have a shortage of STEM graduates in this country.  See here and here.   If you make a decision to go into a field like comparative literature, don't complain because you can't find a job.  And yet people keep majoring in these vague liberal arts fields, many of which require a PhD to do anything with, and then complain because they can't find a job, or the ones they can find don't command high starting salaries.  Talk about sealing your own fate. 

But let's get back to our special snowflake:
Because well-paying jobs are hard to come by, she says, “a lot of people are going where their heart is and trying to have a good experience. In the past, they would have been content settling for a [traditional job]. Now no one’s willing to make pennies at a job they hate, so a lot of people are pursuing the stuff they really love.”
I remain stunned that well paying jobs in comparative literature are hard to come by.  Stunned!  This circles back to the notion that a brand new college graduate who has no skills should be well compensated out of the gate.  I don't subscribe to that.  You have to earn your bones, so to speak.  But, when you have a generation of kids who have won trophies for doing nothing and been coddled, this idea that you might have to actually start at the bottom and get paid pennies seems to be a foreign concept.

So, what does our special snowflake want to do?
In [Example's] case, that’s journalism and music, which the 24-year-old is exploring with internships at Philadelphia’s CITY newspaper and at R&B Records, a mecca for audiophiles, which stocks one of the country’s largest collections of 45s. [Example] says she’s been “blown away” by the experience and is planning to return to graduate school soon for a master’s degree in journalism.

Of course.  She is going to go back to school to get another degree to accumulate more debt.  That sounds like a smart move to me.  (Especially since the newspapers in this country are doing so very well.)  In another few years there will be an article about her complaining about all of the student loan debt she accumulated that she can't pay back because she can't find a well paying job in journalism.  Another interviewee said this:
“I don’t think I'd be working 3.5 part-time jobs if I nailed down one that paid well enough and was something I really enjoyed,” says Brunner.
See, it has to pay well and has to be something you really enjoy.  Sometimes you can't afford to be so picky.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Business Casual: Women's Edition

Teeing off my previous post on suits, it's come to my attention that some women don't know the meaning of business casual. We allow our clerks and secretaries to wear business casual. I see all kinds of crazy shit. Don't be the woman everyone giggles about behind your back.

What is Business Casual?

1. Dressy pants, not lowrise enough to show your entire buttcrack when you bend over to get a file. Try this in the fitting room. Trust me, no one wants to see it.
2. Sweaters and cardigans.
3. Button down shirts with no more than the top button unbuttoned.
4. Skirts and dresses no more than two inches above the knee.
5. Closed toe shoes. While the females in the upper realms may wear peep toes, you should not. They've earned it; you haven't.
6. Tops, shirts, and dresses with sleeves. Sleeveless is not appropriate unless you are wearing a cardigan or blazer over it. Dressy t-shirt type tops are fine, as are a lot of the cute tops you see out these days, provided they aren't low cut.
7. Blazers are always welcome.

What IS NOT Business Casual

1. Flip flops.
2. Mules.
3. Low cut shirts. No cleavage, please. V-neck can be fine, provided it is high enough.
4. Almost anything you would wear to a club. There are obviously some exceptions, but generally business casual and club wear do not go hand in hand.
5. Sleeveless tops or spaghetti string tops or one shoulder tops. I don't care if it's 100 degrees out; those of us above you are wearing suits, so suck it up.
6. Capri pants. See above.
7. Sandals. Again, your toes are not appropriate for work unless your company advises you otherwise.
8. Mini skirts. More than two inches above the knee is not work attire.
9. Jeans. I don't care if they are dark washed and cost $200. Don't wear them.
10. Jean jackets. See above.
11. Concert t-shirts. T-shirts can be fine if they are nicely cut and plain, and paired with a nice skirt or pants.
12. Sling backs. No.

Can You Wear What Women With Higher Ranking Than You Wear?

This depends on your company. In my opinion, no. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. The women at the top tier of wherever you work have put in years and years of professional attire, and they are in a position to wear peep toes or a sleeveless dress on occasion if they feel like it. They aren't going to get reprimanded for a dress code oversight. You will. They might even come in one day after a long night of work wearing flip flops and jeans. Don't think this is your in to wear whatever you want. Dress appropriately. No matter where you work, people gossip and talk. It's not hard. One day, you too will be able to flaunt the dress code on occasion. For now, be a professional.

How To Buy Your First Suit: Women's Edition

My younger sister is graduating from college -- finally, at the age of 30.  She and I have had numerous conversations over the past year about professional attire, and in particular, how to buy a suit for a job interview.  Since my sister is a Rocket Dogs, jeans, and hoodies type of person, the entire experience was terrifying for her.  I started thinking back to when I first bought a suit.  I was around 20 years old, and the idea of buying a suit was foreign.  I didn't even know where to buy a suit or what I needed.  My mom took me shopping, and because she was a high school teacher, she didn't know much about buying suits either.  I ended up with a serviceable navy suit from Liz Claiborne, but I never particularly liked it.  It did get me job offers, but somehow I think we could've done better if I had known more about the entire process.  I'm going to gear this more toward college women who need a standard, professional suit for interviews, since my experience is in corporate and law.  If you are interviewing in a more creative field, you may have more leeway to go outside the lines.

What is the Goal?

Don't just run out and buy a suit at the last minute.  If you are in college, you will need a suit for interviews at some point.  Start shopping early.  Try on a lot of suits.  You want a suit that is not only professional, but looks good on you and that you are comfortable wearing.  The latter will be the biggest challenge, because chances are, wearing a suit is going to initially feel strange because you aren't used to it.

Where Can I Buy a Suit?

If you've never needed a suit, you may not have even paid attention to them.  You can find suits at all major department stores, in the suits section.  This can be overwhelming.  There are racks upon racks of suits that may appear "old lady" to you.  Many are "old lady" but a lot aren't.  You may have to do a little digging and step out of your comfort zone.  Try on a variety of different styles and brands.  You can also find suits at stores like Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, J. Crew, Marshall's, and T.J. Maxx.  The Limited and Express can be hit or miss, but occasionally they also have suits that would work for job interviews.  Generally speaking, avoid buying suits from trendy labels, such as Guess or Bebe.  These usually are not appropriate suits for job interviews.   

How Much Will This Cost?

Unfortunately, suits aren't cheap. However, you should be able to find a nice suit for $300 or less.  If you are lucky enough to find your dream suit at Marshall's or T.J. Maxx, or on sale, you may spend less than $100.  You don't need to spend $500 or thousands on a suit.  If you start early, you can scope out the sale racks during the major sales and get a deal. 

What Type of Suit Should I Buy?

This is a matter of personal preference.  It's no longer a requirement for women to wear skirt suits to job interviews, although you may prefer a skirt suit over a pants suit.  Either is fine.  Remember that you can get pants and skirt lengths and cuffs tailored if they are too long off the rack. As far as skirt length, don't go shorter than an inch or two above the knee.

There are many different cuts and styles to the pants, skirts, and jackets.  You should try on a lot of different styles to see what looks best on you.  With jackets, there are many different cuts -- shorter, longer, boxy, tapered, double breasted, single breasted, etc.  Determine what looks best on your body shape.  (As an example, I'm a pear, so I liked skirt suits with a single breasted jacket that hits around mid-hip.)  This may take awhile, especially because different brands are cut differently also.  Try different styles across different brands. 

You can (and will!) find a suit that is flattering on you, and that you are comfortable wearing.  Don't view this as a miserable process.  Consider this as your attempt to redefine yourself.  Suits can actually be fun.  (And let's face it -- they are easy to wear.  Your entire outfit is picked out all in one shot.)  And after all, you do get to go shopping...

What Color Suit Should I Buy?

It's a job interview, not a party.  You need something neutral.  My favorite interview suit color is a mid to dark charcoal gray.  It's neutral, not too harsh, you can wear black heels, and have a variety of options for the top you will wear under it.  I prefer darker suits, but if you live in a place like Florida, a light gray suit can also work.  

Other safe bets are black, navy, or chocolate brown.  Just beware that black can at times be a little harsh, so you'll need to lighten it up with the top you wear under it.  Navy can be very difficult to match with shoes, tops, and bags, and I feel is a little dated.  (I don't know any women who regularly wear suits who have a navy one hanging in their closet.  Navy is such an "interviewing only" color.  But don't let me dissuade you if the suit of your dreams only comes in navy -- it is a perfectly fine choice.)  Chocolate brown has become a more popular color in recent years and can work, but make sure the color doesn't look too feces-like. 

You can branch out a little, depending on the color and shade.  For example, I wore a dark olive green suit when I interviewed for law jobs.  Although it was green, it was still very neutral.  There are no hard and fast rules, so use your best judgment.  If in doubt, go with gray, black, or navy. 

Do not buy a suit for interviewing that is red, bright blue, pink, bright green, orange, or any pastel color.  This may sound obvious, but I interviewed a woman last year who wore a "smurf blue" suit to the interview.  It was odd, to say the least. 

What About Patterns?

Thin pinstripes are fine, as are occasionally some types of plaid.  Again, however, think neutral, job interview, not party.  While you want to invoke your style into this process, this is not the time to get too trendy.  There are some beautiful plaid wool suits, but many would not be appropriate for job interviewing, although they would be perfectly fine once you have the job.  If in doubt, go with plain or thin pinstripes only. 

What Do I Wear Under It?

Once you've bought the suit, you have to find a top to wear under it.  This is where you can get a little creative.  Your choices essentially are a button down shirt with collar, or a collarless shirt in knit or silk. 

The easiest option is the collarless shirt, because then you don't have to worry about how the collar will lay either underneath or on top of the collar on your jacket.  It should go straight across your neck. No v-necks or anything low cut. I have a number of short sleeve, knit shirts in varying colors and patterns that I wear under my suits.  If you buy a collared shirt, be sure to try it on with the suit to make sure it lays correctly and doesn't look awkward.  Do not do this the morning of your job interview.  You don't want to be worrying about whether your collar is bunching up during your job interview.  Some women can really pull off this look; others can't.  If in doubt, go with a collarless shirt.     
 
This is where you can add some color or pattern, but nothing too garish.  In fact, this is where you should add some color or pattern.  Again, don't do anything too bright.  Stay away from red and orange.  Pastels here are fine.  For example, I like light blue and light purple a lot with charcoal gray and black.  Avoid a plain white shirt with a black suit; you'll look like a waiter.  Navy suits can be slightly hard to match, so keep that in mind when you are picking out your suit.

Whatever type of top you buy, be sure that if you take off your jacket it looks good with your skirt/pants.  While chances are you will not have to remove your jacket, you never know.  Don't buy a skin tight knit top that makes your chest look enormous without cover of the jacket. 

If you are buying a skirt suit, I hate to break the bad news, but you need pantyhose.  Do not ever go to a job interview in a skirt without pantyhose.  The good news is, there are some wonderfully sheer pantyhose now, where it barely looks like you are wearing them, but still gives that smooth, clean, line on your legs.  Find the shade closest to your skin tone.  You may have to try out some different brands and colors to find the right one for you.  Look for the type labelled "sheer" or "ultra sheer" with names such as "barely there."  Do not wear tights or patterened pantyhose. 

What Shoes Do I Wear?

I'm not a fan of flats with suits.  I'm also not a fan of four inch heels with suits.  Find a somewhat neutral pair of leather (or fake leather) heels with a 1-3" heel.  You really cannot go wrong with black, unless your suit is brown.  However, you do not need to buy a boring, unadorned shoe.  This is an area where you can let your personal style shine through, although don't go too crazy.  There are many cute Mary Jane style, and shoes with a little bit of bling and style that are perfectly appropriate.  Buy a closed heel, closed toed shoe.  While peeptoes are adorable and trendy, it is not appropriate to show your toes at a job interview, nor does anyone want to see your heel in a slingback.  No mules.     

What Purse/Bag Do I Need?

Don't forget that you are going to have to carry your things into the job interview.  If all you have are canvas messenger bags and backpacks, you might find yourself in a panic on interview morning.  You likely have a black, leather folder that contains your resume, transcripts, a pen, and a pad of paper with your questions.  You can either bring a purse and carry that along, or go with a larger bag that serves as your purse and a bag for your folder.  Either is fine.  A simple black leather (or pleather) purse or bag, over the shoulder or handheld, is all you need.  In my opinion, Coach level is the most expensive purse or bag you should bring to a job interview.  Don't show up with a $2,000 Gucci or Louis Vuitton bag.

What About Jewelry?

Avoid the dangling earrings.  All you really need are diamond or cubic zirconia studs.  A simple necklace is fine, if you've chosen a solid, plain shirt, but not necessary.  A watch.  That's about it.  If you are married or engaged, you can certainly wear your engagement and/or wedding ring, but don't wear more than one ring.  If you are single, you can wear a simple ring, if you are a ring wearer. 

Weather

If you are interviewing in the winter, consider what type of coat you will be wearing over your suit.  Do you have an appropriate coat?  Even if you do, does it fit well over your suit jacket?  I basically buy all of my work coats a size bigger to accomodate for suit jackets.  They take up more space than you might think. 

A plain wool coat works best, length depending on whether you have a skirt suit or a pants suit.  (Shorter is fine with a pants suit, longer can work with either pants or skirts.)  Black is always a safe option, as is charcoal gray.  Think ahead on this, because you can often buy very cute wool coats during after season sales for $50 or less.  Remember that you don't need the warmest, most quality coat there is.  You just need something that looks nice and professional, and that can get you through interview season.  

There may be rain or snow.  Make sure you have a black umbrella.  You might even want to have one of those plastic headscarves you can buy at the drug store handy.  (Set aside your ego -- better to look good in your interview than on the way to the interview.  If it is pouring rain, you might be thrilled you bought this.  Just take it off before you walk into the office.)  If it is snowing, avoid at all costs having to wear snowboots in to your interview that you have to change out of.  This is awkward.  Park as close as possible and change out of the snowboots in your car. 

I think that about covers it.  Hopefully this will help someone.  Never fear -- you will find the perfect suit!  And look at it this way -- when you need Suit #2, you will know which brands and styles work for you, so the entire process will be that much easier.