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Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales

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Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales
Author:  PharmaVet
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There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it. -- Dale Carnegie

It's a fact of life that the way you present yourself to others may not make your career, but can certainly break it. Landing a good job is difficult under the best of circumstances, and for each job opening there will be only one winner. It's of critical importance, then, that you control every variable that you possibly can. One of those, of course, is your choice of business attire.

For now I'll focus on appropriate business attire for women. I'd love to hear from men who have been in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly sales managers, regarding attire for men.


You must wear a very well-cut, expensive looking business suit. Expensive looking does not have to be expensive, but it won't be cheap either. I think pants suits look more current and just as professional, but some people still insist it must be a skirt suit. With a skirt, you run an exposure risk if you're sitting out in the open for the interview rather than at a table. Regardless, hosiery is essential. This is not negotiable. If you're wearing a skirt, you MUST wear pantyhose regardless of whether they're currently stylish or not. If you're wearing pants, you can wear trouser socks that match your pants and shoes. For the suit, go with something dark -- black or navy are my top choices. Gray usually isn't a good choice because the color will wash you out. You'll need an immaculate top underneath. This means that the fabric doesn't look worn, buttons do not gap, and your top is perfectly cleaned and pressed. My personal preference is a very nice knit top in a modest v-neck or turtleneck, depending on weather. You don't want anything casual or bulky, but rather a sleek, sweatery-type of top that contrasts with the suit. Either a flat knit or a fine rib knit works well. If the color of the top is light, make sure your bra is a nude color. White bras often show through your top. Everything has to fit impeccably and be tailored to fit if necessary. Your suit should be freshly dry-cleaned and perfectly pressed for every interview. Don't wear linen -- you'll look like you slept in your clothes. A dark shoe with a moderate heel, kind of a loafer/pump hybrid, works well with a pants suit and, depending on the cut of the shoe, sometimes with skirt suits as well. With pants, an ordinary pump can sometimes look a bit dated. Think stylish yet conservative -- no open toes or open backs (not negotiable), no stiletto heels, and nothing too high.

For second interviews and beyond, you could consider wearing a jacket that contrasts with your pants, but only if the ensemble looks expensive and current. This works best if your pants and top are the same color and only the jacket contrasts -- for example, black pants, top, and shoes with a contrasting jacket. In order to work for interviews, this look has to be very simple and uncluttered. A matching jacket and pants suit is safer, but the contrasting jacket can work if you're careful with it.

Go with minimal, discreet jewelry. The only exception is an ostentatious wedding/engagement ring, which is perfectly acceptable. If you have wedding/engagement rings on, don't wear any others. If you don't, you can wear ONE tasteful ring, as long as it's not on your thumb (preferably, limit rings to your ring fingers only). No dangly earrings. Studs or very small hoops (the kind that just barely clear your earlobe) are best. Discreet, tasteful bracelets are fine as long as they're silent and don't clang on the table every time you move. Although a watch is not necessary, it's a nice touch and is traditional. This should not need to be said, but I'll do it anyway -- no ankle bracelets, no facial jewelry, and only one pair of earrings. Now is not the time to express yourself -- it's more important that you express the image of the company with which you're interviewing. And in the pharmaceutical industry, that means conservative and elegant.

Makeup should be natural-looking and professional. You want it to enhance your looks without being noticeable. Check out your foundation in natural light so it doesn't look heavy. Go for subtle eyeshadow and/or eyeliner. Nothing glittery, shiny, heavy, or shimmery. Wear lipstick or subtle lip gloss (nothing too shiny, glassy, or noticeable) in a subtle color. If you wear a dark or bright lipstick it will wear off unevenly during the interview as you talk and will leave very noticeable marks on your coffee cup or water glass. And go easy on the fake tanner.

Hair should be neat and professional yet current. If it's long, it shouldn't be hanging straight and close to the face. This isn't MTV. Long hair looks good pulled back in a professional-looking ponytail (no scrunchies) or put up somehow as long as it's not elaborate or shellacked into place. Please, no tendrils hanging around, and no clippy things to put the hair up. Short or shoulder-length hair should be neat, current but not overly trendy. Color and highlights should look natural -- no chunky, stripe-y highlights or dark underneath/light on top.

Nails should be short-ish, with a clear or subtle polish. Steer clear of noticeable colors. If you're wearing a distinct color you will somehow manage to chip a nail right before you get to your interview. As a side note, when you're handling your resume, brag book contents, or anything else that will be seen by interviewers, be VERY careful about getting nail polish marks on them. You lose major points for class if there are little red streaks on the papers where your polish rubbed off your nails.

Perfume really shouldn't be worn for interviews. You just don't know if your interviewer or someone in their office might be allergic. Play it safe.


There's really no difference between interview attire and the ideal attire for work in the field. You can, however, be a bit less exacting in the degree of formality you strive for. I've frequently worn the contrasting jacket/pants ensemble in the field without giving it a second thought, whereas for an interview I'd be debating whether it was too casual.


Your employer will most likely specify the dress code. It will often be business casual, but don't assume that. Even if they say it's business casual, bring a couple of suits just in case. You never know. No jeans, no excess skin showing. No sleeveless, ever. Armpits are on the list of body parts you don't show to colleagues. Nice pants, like your suit pants. Maybe -- MAYBE -- cropped pants would be ok as long as they're very nice and the rest of the outfit is classy and conservative. Pants should be cut high enough at the waist that there's absolutely no risk of flashing butt cleavage or lingerie. No one wants to know you THAT well. A lot of us are partial to twin sets for business casual. The bonus is that you can wear the shell part under a suit another time. (Caveat -- make sure to launder or dry clean both pieces at the same time, every time, even if you only wore one of them. Otherwise you'll end up with matching pieces that no longer match.) The same jewelry rules apply for business casual as for business, but you might be able to get away with jewelry that's ever so slightly more fun. You MIGHT be able to get away with open toed or open back shoes, but it's smarter to err on the side of conservatism. The only people who get talked about because of their clothes are the ones who aren't conservative enough.


Again, your employer will most likely specify the dress code. In addition to 'business casual', you may also see oddball descriptions like 'country club casual' or some such nonsense. Same thing.


You can jazz up your business casual if you want with jewelry that is ever so slightly more fun. Generally, even after hours when you go out to dinner as a team or have some sort of dinner event, jeans are not appropriate. Your company's meeting planners might plan some kind of hokey 'hoedown' barbecue for dinner, in which case jeans are ok and they will tell you so. (Caveat -- see above discussion of butt cleavage.)


They'll tell you the dress code. Stick with, at most, a slightly more festive version of your usual business attire, but nothing that screams 'New Year's Eve'. If they say the attire is 'business dressy', what they mean is no cocktail dresses. No spaghetti straps. You will see girls (notice I didn't say women) who are wearing cocktail dresses with stilettos. Those girls get talked about.


Regardless of whether it's interview, business, business casual, business dressy, or some other variation, the overall rules are as follows:

  • Look like you don't need the money. You want to look expensive, but not in a high-priced hooker kind of way. Elegant, expensive, classy.
  • When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.
  • Carry an expensive (or expensive-looking) purse. Go fashionable but not trendy. I prefer a bag that I carry by its handles rather than wear over my shoulder because it doesn't make my jacket hang funny.
  • Use matching luggage, not odds and ends. It doesn't have to be status luggage, although that's always a plus.
  • Never, ever cheap out on the shoes. Ever. EV-ER.
  • Fashionable, but not trendy.
  • Not sexy. No cleavage (front or back), no belly, no armpits. Never sleeveless. Ever. Unless you have something over it with sleeves.
  Author: Sanita Kapoor
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   India being a big pharma market, lot of girls are adding up in pharma sales/promotion field. The dress code is not well defined and we find girls around 20 years age dressed just like most of Bollywood actresses. It causes distraction among physicians and gives no benefit in sales.
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  Author: DiagnosticLaidOffInterloper
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   Love the messages here! I have been a diagnostics marketing manager for the past six years, and was jst laid off from a Japanese hematology firm in Chicago...where the upper management (save for me!) wears the sloppiest, most casual crap you can imagine. The higher up the ladder, the worse it becomes. All of the male VPs dress in suits but the ladies cannot be bothered to look professional. I wore a suit daily, with hose and stylish heels or boots in winter...and always got funny looks. Look the part, and you will always succeed. Go get em ladies!
  Author: Eve
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   Great information, I work in the casual NW environment and people here dress overly casual and a well dressed woman stands out. Although it takes more time and effot it is well worth it to pull yourself together.
  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   As a veteran of over 25+ years, I have had to comply with the dress codes of the past. Only full suits, skirts, no pants allowed. The blouse had to be white or cream colored, and preferably a co-ordinating scarf around your neck (think tie!!). It was horrible!! But now I think the pendulum has swung too far to the other side. I live and work in Florida now, and I have seen flip flops, and sun dresses worn by the reps. so very unprofessional. I once saw a young 20-something new rep. in an adorable backless sundress without a bra. It looked great on her, bare legs, sandals and all, but I had to ask if she was really a rep. or heading to the beach. She was indignant and said it was hot today, and she didn't want to be uncomfortable. I went in after her and everyone was laughing and buzzing about her atire. The Doc could not recall one word she said, her drug or her company, he was way too busy staring at her perky boobs. I wish managers were more vocal during field rides about atire, then they are about missing one managed care message.
Being too rigid and matronly is not good, but being conservative and professional, clean, and neat is always in style. Don't even get me started on some of the "hair styles" I have seen on reps!!! We all make enough money to get our roots touched up. If your not a natural blonde, and don't want to maintain your hair, get a good mirror. That 2 inch black stripe down the middle of your head is gross!!! I think having a quarterly dress and upkeep evaluation is in order. If you don't like being told what to wear or how to look, your in the wrong career. Go work at Wal-Mart, or Burger King.....there you can have it your way!!!! Let's keep this a respectable and professional career, and not let the few bad scraggally bimbos ruin it for the rest of us proper and decent reps. who want to attract the Doc's respect and time, and not just his testosterone.
  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   For the tall girls- I am almost 6ft. and I get a lot of my suits at "United Colors of Benneton" it is in a lot of malls. They are very nice quality suits. The pants and jackets fit perfectly.
  Author: anonymous
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   I have been in the pharma business for over twenty years. I am shocked and saddened by the dress(or Undress) of the women in the LongIsland, New York area. At some point during the day, maybe they should comb their hair? maybe some manager should talk about a jacket over their sundress?
maybe a dress code, which we had in the 70's and 80's is not so bad? The reason some MD's have no respect for the under- dressed women, is that they remind them of their
granddaughters, and not professionals. If you were a doctor, would or want to buy(not look at) someone who dressed like Hannah Montana?
  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   I have been wearing a medium dark chocolate suit. It has a long skirt with a very subtle stripe and a stait brown tailored jacket. Under the Jacket I wear a burnt orange sleeveless thin turtleneck sweater. The shoes that I selected are a pair of well-tailored calf-high 2in heal matching brown boots. The interviews that I am going to at this time are more informational and for positions in the physicians realm. Is this appropriate?
expediancy is appreciated.
Thanks, New to the Non-clinical Realm
  Author: Gauchos??
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   At 5'11" tall with a 36" inseam I have an extremly difficult time finding pants that fit correctly both in length and in the rise. In my current position (not pharma sales) I wear gauchos almost every day with either hose and heels or hose and boots that reach to my knee. I normally shop at Ann Taylor so they are all very nice looking gauchos so my look is polished. I have one jacket but have the same problem with the arms being too short but it's not as noticeable. If I were to wear gauchos with a jacket, is this look acceptable to wear to an interview?
  Author: Veronica
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   I live in Michigan. I will be attending an interview in January. Is it ok to wear nice boots (2.5 inch heel) with a business suit?
  Author: Curious
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   Really great aricle. However, I agree with Ms. Florida. You missed us warm weather gals. Things are really different down here. Inteview apparel doesn't change regardless. But day to day wear does. We wear open toe shoes, bare legs in summer, light sweater sets instead of jackets, etc... your thoughts, oh-experienced one?
  Author: PharmaVet
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post

Most of the time I skip the suit jacket in the winter because I've got my winter coat on all day.  It depends somewhat on where I'll be...if I'm spending a large chunk of time in an enclosed medical building with many offices in it, I might go ahead and wear the full suit.  If I'm going to be in and out of the car constantly, I'll wear the $$ wool coat with suit pants and a nice sweater.  I don't mind spending a considerable amount on a really good coat because I wear it so much.

A side note for those of you in the snowbelt...keep some salt stain remover at home so you can dab it on your leather shoes or boots where the salt has stained them white.  I found that I had to use it several times a week, even after having my shoes treated to repel salt stains.  You can also use a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water.  And buy some boots with decent treads and without high heels.  If you look hard enough, you can find winter boots that aren't too ugly that will look ok with your work clothes and still be sensible.  Wearing slippery shoes in the snow and ice is really dangerous, especially when you're loaded down with samples, literature, and a laptop.

  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   Wonderful blog...and all so true. Here's a question for you- In the winter month's during snowy/freezing weather do you wear a suit under your winter coat? Or do you wear a nice turtle neck sweater with the suit pants (no jacket) under an $$ wool coat? Thanks!
  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   Ok, from the snowbelt to the Sunbelt: I would like to hear your opinion of what is proper attire for women in the hot and humid states. I live in Florida, where it can be 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. I tend to go with lightweight blazers that match my pants (with a sleeveless top underneath), or a sleeveless dress (expensive, conservative, classy Ann Taylor type). No one wears pantyhose down here except for the occasional Merck rep. You should see how some of the female reps are dressed down here in the summer!
  Author: Anonymous Medzilla Reader
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   This is great I wish all companies would use this as part of their protocol. I am so disgusted by some of the Female Reps in the industry that do not realize they make women look unprofessional by wearing drapy clothes or outfits that are just to casual and should be left for the Stay at Home Moms. If we women want to be considered equals to our male counter parts we should look professional while at work.
Thanks for taking time to write this out. I'm copying and sending it to a few collegues who need to get a clue about work attire.
  Author: case
    Re: Your Image Matters: Appropriate Attire For Women in Pharmaceutical Sales   Log In to Report Post
   This was a great entry! I think you addressed every dress code question a new employee or potential employee could have.

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