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That’s why the Atholton High School junior wore the casual outfit in a “Dress for Success” fashion show for teens yesterday: to help show her peers what not to wear to a job interview.

The fashion show was part of the third annual Teen Job and Volunteer Fair at Long Reach High School in Columbia. The free event, coordinated by the nonprofit HC DrugFree, included more than 85 exhibitors and workshops for teens on topics such as interviewing skills.

Fashion and career experts say generational trends and pop culture are among the reasons that young people have become more relaxed when dressing for work. But even if an office has a casual atmosphere, employers expect job candidates to dress neatly and conservatively for interviews, they say.

Fashion consultant Claudia Bellony, emcee of yesterday’s fashion show, said that does not include the “just rolled out of bed” look.

“They’re wearing sweat pants, UGG boots, jean skirts with leggings, hair in high ponytails they literally look liked they rolled out of bed to come to a job fair,” said Bellony, a stylist for the marketing firm Thirty 3 Productions. “They just don’t look appropriate for a job.”

One career expert said a major reason for the problem is the increased acceptance of personal style and creativity among young people.

“They tend to be more accepting of each other and differences in cultures,” said Sharon Bolling Clay, director of career services for the Art Institute of Atlanta. “I think because of that, teens tend to think it’s OK to be casual all the time and that people see them for their worth and their knowledge, not understanding that first impressions still play a big role.”

Clay said many students she works with feel they are conforming to the mainstream if they dress traditionally to go to work. She tells them it’s not about conforming but about removing “distractions.”

Nussbaum said she became involved in the show because she thinks many people her age need more information.

“A lot of teenagers really don’t know what’s appropriate to wear to a job interview,
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” said Nussbaum, who helped coordinate the show. “I didn’t know until I looked into it for the fashion show.”

“It is a very big difference, what teenagers think is trendy and cool and what adults think is trendy and cool,” she said. “A lot of adults don’t understand what kids want to wear and vice versa.”

Imani Walcott, a sophomore at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia who watched the fashion show, said some teens think wearing professional clothing makes them come off as “uptight” or that the clothing is too “fancy.”

“We’re so relaxed in this time period,” she said.

A fashion expert said young people in particular should pay attention to how they look, because their lack of experience works against them.

“The first thing the interviewer is going to look at is what you look like,” said Brenda Cooper, an Emmy Award winning image consultant from Los Angeles. “Those first impressions are very difficult to change.”

Hema Bhatt, who watched the show with her daughter, Meera Shah, an eighth grader at Clarksville Middle School, said she is glad that teens have a way to learn how to dress appropriately for the job.

“When we were young, we never had this,” she said. “It was visual. You critique it more when someone else is wearing it.”.
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