Can You Give Unsolicited Fashion Advice to Interns?

Ever had the urge to indulge your inner Anna Wintour and act as the fashion police?  Reader M has a question along these lines…

Can we do a story on the extent to which permanent hires (i.e. me) can give unsolicited fashion advice to interns?  I have worked in private practice for a number of years and am now at a government agency.  Many of our female interns are taking the casual dress code here to the next level – “jeans Friday” does not mean your favorite yard work jeans, a sleeveless plaid tank, and Old Navy flipflops (I’m wearing dark wash trouser jeans, a Calvin Klein polo with bloused sleeves, and Cole Haan suede/patent skimmers).  Many of our interns, let’s face it, would rather be in private practice but are spending their summer with us due to the economy.   It’s more painful because the male interns are appropriately dressed (although I know it’s easier to pick out golf attire than a female jeans Friday outfit).   Can I / should I say anything in the way of career advice?

How do you tell someone their outfit isn’t working — or worse, that their entire style needs to be rethought?  It’s a difficult question — and i think we’ve all been on both sides of the issue.  This blog partly grew from my frustration over this — both a) realizing belatedly that I’d been wearing completely inappropriate things, and b) not feeling able to say anything when I saw other women making fashion gaffes and wearing the “are you kidding me?” kind of outfits I saw at various points in my career.  With summer, the flood of interns from colleges, law schools, and grad schools makes the problem only more magnified.  When should you tell someone that their outfit is totally inappropriate?

In this blog’s early days we tried to run a poll on it, and of the whopping 35 people who voted (hey, we were barely a month old!), 51% said they would only tell her if you were good friends, 37% said you’d tell her if it was something she wouldn’t realize, and 3% said you’d tell her only if she’d embarrass the company.

What are your thoughts on what to do when someone’s dressing totally inappropriately for the office, either in the moment or on a systematic basis? (And, for the sake of a focused discussion, let’s set aside those times when it’s something the person didn’t realize, perhaps, until too late — a shirt that gapes open, a skirt that needs a slip, an unfortunate skirt-tucked-into-underpants moment — because there, we think, a piece of friendly advice or two (double-sided tape!  you can borrow the slip I keep in my office!  psst, your skirt is tucked into your underpants!) is always going to be welcome. )

Comments

  1. As a current intern, I say: Please, please, please tell them! If they’re conscientious enough to get an internship, then they probably care about the sort of impression they make while they’re at work. Be kind, but please share!

  2. Somewhat off topic, but I’m curious about the dress code of a law firm (not the one I work at) in a mid-sized Midwestern town. All female employees – support staff to attorneys – are required to wear skirts or dresses to work every day. No pants on women! I am pretty horrified by this, even though I generally prefer skirts.

    Am I terribly naive, or does anyone else find this disgusting, too?

    • That’s insane. And I’m pretty surprised — I have local counsel in a “mid-sized Midwestern town,” and I actually find their office to be more casual than ours (i.e. sandals are no big deal in the summer).

    • I’m offended by this as well.

    • I’m at a big firm in a “mid-sized Midwestern town” and don’t know of any firm with those requirements. I don’t think it’s a regional thing but rather an oddity of that particular firm.

      • AnneCatherine :

        I don’t think it’s a regional thing, either, but, as RR said, an oddity of that firm. I’ve known of South Florida firms that required skirts AND hose every day for female attorneys. No idea how it was enforced. I know at least one woman who quit specifically because of such a dress code.

    • Legally Brunette :

      This is horrifying and sounds ripe for a lawsuit. Can a firm really enforce a no pants policy for women? Seems like something from the 19th century.

      • Wasn’t there some article about a London workplace that had the skirt/dress only policy on here a few months ago? I remember I read it somewhere, but can’t remember where. Either way it was absolutely appalling in this day and age. That is definitely not a place I would want to work!

    • Whoa. This sounds like extremely old-school. I’m not sure if it’s the kind of place I’d want to work… is it run by older men?

    • Holy s***! I had no ideas this goes on. I am @ midwestern “big”law. Please name names–what firm is still doing this?

    • Funny you say this. I have southern relatives that were in town one day. As I was getting ready for work my MIL said “oh, they let you wear pants?” Um, yes.

    • When I clerked we were specifically discouraged from wearing pants, even in chambers, and pantyhose was required. Never heard of this level of formality at a firm, though, unless all the staff are in court every single day.

    • To clarify…it is a mostly male firm, with one or two female partners in its long history, in addition to just a couple female associates. It has a reputation of at least thinking it’s the “best” in town, though those of us in other firms pretty much think they are arrogant you-know-whats.

      The skirt/dress rule applies, even though the attorneys are certainly not in court or client meetings every day. I happen to know local judges who cringe at this rule, so I wouldn’t understand that justification anyway.

      At first I thought this was an urban legend, but I confirmed with one of the few female attorneys at the firm.

      I’d better not name, names…but if you lived in my town, you probably already know who I mean.

    • I prefer skirts/dresses, so this wouldn’t bother me except that our office is FREEZING! The men all wear pants and long sleeves, so for a woman in a dress, it can be very cold. No blazer on my shoulders is going to stop the cold breeze on my legs. It’s 100 degrees and more humid than a Florida swamp outside, so hose as insulation aren’t really an option. A lot of the women in my office have space heaters, which is just ridiculous energy use and a little dangerous around computers and important paperwork.

    • I worked at a Big 4 accounting firm where they had that policy (10 yrs ago). Casual Friday = pants suit!! I interviewed in one, though and got the job.

      Just after I bought skirt suits, they switched & women could wear skirt suits!! The worst was having to wear hose (90% of women at the firm wore hose with skirts) in hot & humid Singapore!!!

    • I am going to date myself – but when I first began practicing (in California in the early 90s) my firm had a skirt only policy for all women employees. They finally dropped it, but only after a court ruling (and any SA or intern hoping for a job was well advised to wear a skirt with hose and closed toed pumps every day except Friday – when you could skip the hose and closed toed pumps if you wore a longer skirt.)

  3. It’s the interns’ supervisor’s responsibility to address the issue, if in fact, it really is an issue. Are the interns’ outfits truly inappropriate (i.e. slutty) or just a bit more casual than a 40-ish career woman would wear? I know my nieces think nothing of wearing flip-flops with dresses. Are the jeans ripped from over-wear, or “distressed?” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think flip-flops, tank tops, or 4-inch stilettos are appropriate intern wear, but unless the interns are violating a written dress code, or falling out of their tops, there probably isn’t anything you can do about it.

  4. I am an attorney in a VERY casual office with no dress code for within the office. But no one seems to get that they might want to up the standard a bit when meeting with witnesses or other attorneys from outside the office. There are times when I have to go to court with support staff, paralegals, investigators, and other associates, etc. How do I tell them that they are not appropriate for MY case and MY client even if the office is okay with how they dress? I flat out said to one investigator that he should dress up a little bit because he might have to testify but he chose to leave his tie in the car and wore black sneakers with his pants, and long sleeve shirt. Please help!

    • I think you literally tell them: you need to wear a suit and appropriate dress shoes if you’re going to work for my client. That’s it. If they don’t wear it, send them back (with the exception of court, although you might want to approve court-wear ahead of time or ask about it — that stuff matters!).

    • Do you have an office hierarchy that would allow you to tell them what to wear? If so, I’d just flat out say that this is the dress code for this meeting. If they don’t follow it, send them home to change (and no they can’t bill for time spent changing); if it continues, note it in their personnel file. If you aren’t above them on the hierarchy, talk to a partner and get her/him to implement a rule. If your clients perceive your staff as rude and inappropriately dressed it’s costing the firm and the partners should be interested.

  5. Somewhat related – I was recently a plus-one at a recruiting event and was horrified by the amount of swearing by the summer interns. I am not particularly grumpy or worried about my virgin ears, but it is NOT appropriate for you to talk like a sailor, even if you think it is only a social event. Perhaps they felt comfortable with me because I am in the same age range and do not work there, but they need to realize they were still being judged.

    And nope – I didn’t say a word to any of them because they aren’t my subordinates and I don’t even work there, but I’m posting here in hopes someone will think twice before dropping F-bombs, etc. in the middle of a dinner party. :)

    • Wow! I normally curse like a sailor but I have yet to utter “heck” in front of my bosses even though I have heard them curse A LOT! I keep my mouth clean in anything even marginally work related… unless I have known said work related person for a long time and know that its ok (aka my boss I worked closely with for 3 years)

    • Chicago K :

      I have two women in my office (not my department, just happen to sit by them) who act like this. I will be honest, I don’t know their line of work or if they are good at their jobs, but with their constant banter injected with “F that, F you, F this!” I have ABSOLUTELY no respect for them. Like you, it’s not like I am shocked by this type of language, I am shocked by this type of language AT WORK. It’s unprofessional, and really totally unnecessary.

      The same two women wear jeans and flip flops daily. Everyone else is in suits or the pencil skirt/slacks cardi combo and quite often people make comments about why they are dressed this way. I even heard that HR talked to them. But because they aren’t client facing, and they manage their own area, they just don’t care. (Disclaimer, I am in banking, not law).

      This woman’s staff is in suits and she is in faded jeans, tshirts and flip flops, screaming and swearing and she thinks anyone is going to respect her? WOW.

  6. Back when I was a college student intern, I would have LOVED it if someone had given me dress tips. I come from a family that has many folks working in various creative industries and went into the buttoned-down world of law, so I had no clue what I was doing. A kind and helpful mentor is much less expensive than trial and error on a student budget!

  7. In my opinion, it depends on what the criticism is directed at, and what role you have in relation to the intern. If it’s related to style, I don’t think you should say anything unless they ask for your opinion.

    If you are supervising the intern on a project, I think it’s fair to point specific issues if the intern is dressed inappropriately, like, “I want you to make a great impression on partner X, so I think you should wear a collared shirt rather than a tank top,” or “I know flip flops are more comfortable, but I think flats or heels look more professional.” I would try to couch the criticism in language that suggests I am supportive and looking out for their best interest. And hopefully the rapport I’ve built with the intern will carry through.

    But, if you’re not supervising the intern, or have no other relationship with her, I wouldn’t say anything. Let someone else (her supervisor, or HR) do that. At most, I think it would be fine to mention something to her supervisor or HR.

    I know some people have suggested being direct, and I agree that there are situations where that might be a better route to take, but I don’t know if I could handle embarrassing a person like that, regardless of how well-intentioned.

  8. Octopussy :

    Be honest with yourself: do you want to tell the intern what not to wear because you have the intern’s best interests at heart, or just because you are annoyed that somebody gets away with wearing flip-flops while you have to sweat in a suit, hose and pumps? If it’s the former (which is probably when you have some sort of personal relationship with the intern, e.g. you are supervising her work), then it’s fine to give her a piece of fashion advice in the same way as you would give her any other career advice. It’s also completely fine to tell somebody what not to wear if they have client contact or are representing the organization at some sort of external event.

    If the two above are not the case, then it should be the intern’s problem, not yours. By wearing mini-skirts to the office she is hurting her own career prospects, and is making her own, individual choice in this regard (especially in the case of a college-educated adult, not a high-school intern). Maybe she really is trying to find herself a husband in the office – that should be her problem, not yours.

  9. This is kind of a thread hijack:
    I am an intern in DC, so i know impressions matter big time. That being said my office is on the casual side of business casual (no jeans unless trouser cut dark wash, no flip flops but dressier sandals are okay, skirts should be knee-skimming or close to it at minimum, etc). I usually err on the side of caution and dress more formally than most in my office; I do occasionally go onto the Hill for hearings etc to take notes, so I like to fit in there if I need to.
    My issue is: I have freckles on my legs… Lots of freckles. Because of this I can never wear hose that look natural and almost skin-like, it looks tacky and cheap. What do I do? No one in my office wears hose but I would like to wear skirts on the Hill (even in my knee-length skirts when I sit down thigh is exposed due to my generous behind). Does anyone else have freckles? Anyone have a miracle brand of hose?

    To relate back to the question… Tell them. If they are sincere and want to move forward they’ll understand that you didn’t have to tell them (you can just let them make a fool of themselves) and you are going out of your way to help.

    • I dont think you need to worry about freckles. It’s sort of common & I don’t think anyone would mind. But if you’re exposing your thigh when you sit down — whether b/c of your generous behind, as you put it, or what — you need to rethink your skirts.
      Depending on a woman’s shape, some things will look less conservative, which can be somewhat unfair; but, it’s up to you know what works for your body & to ensure that you are not overexposing yourself. Maybe opt for A-line skirts or less constricting pencil shapes.

      • I think you’re right, it is unfortunate because what I think I look best and most professional in, high-waisted straight pencil skirts, are also the most prone to sliding up because the waist is higher. Or at least that is how I explain it to myself.

        • I find that pencil skirts ride up when the waist isn’t small enough. You may need to have them taken in a bit so they fit your waist correctly. I find that it makes a huge difference in the fit of the skirt and whether it stays in place.

          • AnneCatherine :

            Yes, you need the waist taken in, or the waist will slide up under your bust and make the skirt seem too short. If you do have a “generous” behind, you probably also have a corresponding “generous” hip measurement in relation to your (probably at least somewhat smaller) waist measurement, which may be causing your skirt to ride up. Get the waist nipped in.

    • I have freckles, although maybe not as dense as yours seem to be. I would recommend wearing off-black or black hose (not tights) rather than skin-tone hose. That should work with anything except a brown suit – maybe save your brown suit for tights weather, if you have a brown suit.

      • That is a great idea. Darker hose completely slipped my mind. I’ll stop by CVS soon, thanks!

        • I think that darker hose are just awful and dated looking, especially in the DC summer. The point of hose is to conceal flaws, not to draw attention to your legs.

          Spanx makes some fantastic hose which are of a thicker material than your run of the mill drug store ones. They also help with the behind area, trust me!

    • I don’t see why freckles would require hose. If no one else is wearing them, I don’t see the problem. But if you are wearing hose to try and hide the fact that your skirt hikes up too much, I think you need to rethink the type of skirt you are wearing. In the winter I have worn slightly shorter skirts than normal (black skirt/black tights) because the monochromatic conceals the shortness but that is very rare and when I say “shorter” I mean maybe by an extra inch. Always practice sitting down in a skirt before you purchase – I love tulip skirts but they have this shortening issue when seated as well that I have to be cautious of.

    • jumpingjack :

      I work on the Hill; as long as you’re otherwise dressed appropriately, you don’t need to wear stockings in the summertime. Especially if you’re just sitting in the back at a hearing taking notes.

    • You might try Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs in Light Glow. I have a lot of freckles, and while this doesn’t cover them up completely, it does minimize them, this stuff really doesn’t rub off, and looks very natural. I thought I’d never go without hose because of my splotchy legs, but this makes it easier.

      • AnneCatherine :

        I don’t have freckles, to any great extent, but I admire them on others, and don’t consider them “splotches”! They are cute (but I understand that I say that as a non-freckedly and you may be sick of hearing that . . . )

    • Chicago K :

      I am not sure the purpose of wanting to wear hose, but I am a fair skinned red head who gets a few freckles on her legs in summer time. I don’t wear hose anymore as noone else seems to. But I do agree that people seem to look a bit more put together without hose when they have evenly tanned skin (I’m so pale my legs look purple half the time!).

      During the colder months, I swear by Calvin Klein nylons in “Shell” color. They look natural on me.

    • FinanceMe :

      I don’t see anything wrong with freckles and don’t think they need to be covered up, but if you do, consider leg makeup. I’ve had great luck with the Sally Hansen Leg Airbrush. If you get the right color, it just smoothes everything out and the freckles are not nearly as noticeable.

  10. I would approach this issue as follows:

    Day 1 induction – give copy of dress code and elaborate with conversation about x means *this* and y means *that*, and explain that it is best to err on the side of caution. If the intern has any questions they can talk to you and you will be happy to advise on appropriateness. Also say that if you notice that they are wearing anything either truly wonderful and appropriate or staggeringly awful and inappropriate you will tell them nicely and that they are not to be offended or upset. Explain that this is because they are here to learn, and part of that is they need to learn what they do right as well as do wrong in terms of dress code. In the UK appropriate attire is part of a bundle of skills we call ‘employability skills’ which is a useful phrase.

    Week 1 review – include dress code review and pick up any issues you’ve noticed. Again, complement the good outfits / items and mention the not so appropriate ones.
    Month 1 review – ditto

    I think that positive reinforcement really works, it also makes more negative comments easier to bear. When someone says to me ‘You look really good / smart / nice / professional today – that outfit really works’ it makes me feel confident and I want to wear it again and again.

    I’ve moved through different types of office with different dress codes (including uniform, safety wear etc), and am still getting to grips with my latest job role move from ‘casual approachable’ to ‘smart consultant’. This blog has been absolutely amazing in bringing me up to date!

    • The fact that appropriate attire is part of ‘employability skills’ in the UK really speaks volumes.

    • YMMV but if someone told me “You look really professional today” I’d probably freak out that the rest of my wardrobe was unprofessional and become a bit paranoid. The education system here is a bit different from how it is in the UK and many legal interns here may have been in the workforce for a few or even many years before becoming an intern at that organization. Something that may be helpful/positive reinforcement to the 23-year-old intern may seem condescending to someone who is 33 and switching careers.

      • ah…. thanks MelD. My comment was with the much younger age group in mind, I was thinking 18 – 23 yr olds. I would have thought that 33 yrs plus should be able to read a dress code and follow it reasonably well as well as easily take their cues from those around them as a guide.

        • I think here in the US business casual varies a lot from one place to another. It can be hard to tell who is pushing the boundaries and who is dressed professionally- at least in my part of the US. Unfortunately I don’t think age is necessarily going to be helpful. Yes, if you are wearing a micro-mini, lucite platforms, and hot pink leggings, it should be obvious that you’re straying, but for more subtle differences like whether bare arms or peep toes are allowed, it might be more difficult.

  11. I take a lot of pride in my work attire and it frustrates me that others can be so blind and aloof when chosing what they wear to work. Why isn’t it obvious to be aware of your own surroundings to see what you should be wearing? I think there are tactful people within all organizations who can be responsible for breaking the news to an intern, or permanent employee. My suggestion is to seek out that person and loop them in. If you’re that person, just try not to act like a schoolmarm about it. Interns are there to learn about the job, and they should also be learning about the business etiquette aspect of it too.

    • HotInTheCity :

      Frankly, what may seem obvious to you may be completely out there for others. I had no idea that I should never, ever wear pants in court (or that one judge, with whom I’m applying for a clerkship and who I see often, thinks women should never wear pants, ever.) In the current economy, I hate the idea that I may jeopardize what few opportunities I have by wearing pants.

      • Ditto. I remember wearing a pantsuit for a clerkship interview. I still prefer pantsuits to skirtsuits based on comfort, but after reading this blog, I would never take the chance on that sort of interview again (absent reliable info on the judge’s preferences).

        That being said, I would probably still go on non-clerkship interviews in pantsuits, absent other information… I wonder if that’s a bad choice? I always just assumed that less could go wrong (awkward height of chair / crossing legs fiasco) with a pantsuit. An interview is already likely to be a high-stress situation even without the complications of wardrobe malfunctions.

        • I went on lots of clerkship and job interviews wearing pants and wearing skirts without hose, didn’t seem to matter one bit. I really wouldn’t worry about that.

      • I think the “never, ever wear pants in court” is far from universal. Skirts are obviously the most conservative option, and I always interviewed in skirt suits, but female attorneys in my area wear pants to court frequently.

        • AnneCatherine :

          “Skirts are obviously the most conservative option, and I always interviewed in skirt suits”

          This. While I wouldn’t WANT a job where a skirt every day was the requirement (says I who (thank goodness) has a job–I might be singing a different tune if I was job searching . . . ), I just think, for interviews, skirts are safer. It’s an hour of your life. Opini0ns will vary. Dress for the curmudgeons.

          • I was never aware that pantsuits were a no-no, so I’ve worn pantsuits since I interviewed during and graduated from law school, over 10 years ago. I have received an offer from virtually every job I have ever applied for, I have worked at 2 big law firms and am now in-house at a very conservative company. I cannot imagine being judged for wearing pants. But perhaps I live in a bubble.

  12. I think a nice way of couching it would be “I think your work product is excellent, and your [insert specific skills] are impressive. I want you to go as far as you can in this firm. Dressing appropriately is important to senior leadership, and I would hate for a little thing like wearing a tanktop to hold you back. When I was starting out, I had a hard time figuring out what was appropriate. Do you have any questions for me?” The only caveat to this approach is that you genuinely have to think they are doing good work and you have to want to mentor them, rather than just criticize.

    • I tend to agree with this. If it was someone I genuinely liked/felt did good work/had potential and the wardrobe was hurting their image within the firm (or company), I’d tell her. If I was in charge of supervising the intern(s), I’d tell them. If it was someone I knew nothing about and her outfits annoyed me on occasions I happened to see her, I’d keep my mouth shut.

      I also think the suggestion above of making wardrobe corrections/suggestions towards the end of the day is a good one. Nothing worse than having to walk around all day a) feeling scolded (even if your intent is not to make the intern feel scolded, it’s difficult; and b) knowing that people are looking at you and disapproving of your clothes. Better to mention it at the end of the day, or even bring it up in the context of complimenting the appropriateness of an outfit on another day.

  13. Just out of curiosity, what is everyone referring to when they talk about flip-flops? I’ve always associated the term with the flat thong sandals that can be bought for $2.50 at Old Navy, but someone recently referred to my flat slides as flip-flops, so now I’m confused. I wouldn’t wear either type of shoe to a professional job, but I would like to know what the correct terminology is.

    • LOL, I’ve been assuming everyone meant the flat thong sandles, and was wondering how anyone could think it was okay to wear flip flops to any law office. Either a lot of offices are much more casual than mine, or maybe I’m thinking of the wrong thing.

    • To me, flip flops are flat thong sandals, regardless of material or embellishment. So, the rubber $2.50 flat thong sandals from Old Navy are flip flops, and so are the $100 leather flat thong sandals from Nordstroms with the sparkly doo-dad where the thong parts meet.

      • If your shoes make a sound when you walk because they slap the soles of your feet, then they are flip flops, or at the very least, inappropriate for a corporate work environment. They don’t necessarily need to have a thong part that goes between your toes.

    • Chicago K :

      Due to the apparent rise in popularity of flip flops at the office, our division head sent out a memo reminding people not to wear them. He defined flip flops in the memo as, “Open backed sandals with a thong between your toes.”

      I do have some open back sandals that are slip ons…I am not entirely sure where they fall either. But they are more platform and have nothing between my toe so I’ve been wearing them.

  14. former summer intern :

    If this was any other sort of career advice, I don’t think there would be any question about whether or not to give it. If you want to help the intern start their career, advice about appropriate dress is no different than any other advice.

    That said, if you are going to tell her, you should tell her in private, to avoid embarrassment or misunderstanding.

  15. In my first few months working as an associate in a small firm, I wore open-toed heels (basically, leather flip flops with heels) with a pant suit. I followed a male partner attorney to court but just sat in the back of the room. At the time, I knew it wasn’t appropriate for a court appearance, but I wasn’t really appearing… or so I thought at the time. During lunch later that day, the male partner made a casual comment that his wife works in fashion and she was adamantly opposed to wearing open-toed shoes in a professional environment. His disclaimer was that he didn’t know much about fashion and he didn’t always follow her advice, but maybe I should consider it. I thought it was a nice way to point out my mistake. I didn’t feel embarrassed, but I clearly understood his point. No one has seen my toes since, especially in a courtroom! I much appreciated the advice. I would have figured it out eventually on my own, but been much more embarrassed later on.

  16. I am generally not crazy with unsolicited advice. I’ve noticed that females senior to me generally do this while males basically do not. Not crazy about getting them, hence not crazy about giving them.

    On dress, lots of people here seem to appear willing to accept constructive criticism. I hope (but wonder) if this is true in reality, or that those responding may not be representative of the entire population. In my view, if someone (especially not under my authority) is dressing inappropriately, that’s their problem. They will learn sooner or later, and if not – well, that in itself is telling. Dress can be very telling about the personality/maturity of the person.

  17. associate :

    I think it depends on how bad of a dresser the intern is in relation to how much you want to keep them. If it’s a matter of correcting someone with inappropriate footwear I’d tell them. However, I’ve had experience with an intern who was so far from acceptable that management collectively decided it wasn’t even worth trying to fix when we considered the intern’s average work and average personality. I’ve had another experience where the individual (not intern) was so crucial, the office paid for a shopping spree and a personal stylist. Harsh but reality–also why Corporette is so great.

    • AnneCatherine :

      “I’ve had another experience where the individual (not intern) was so crucial, the office paid for a shopping spree and a personal stylist.”

      Whoah, now I want to dress crazy just to score a shopping spree and stylist. Just need to fiture out if I’m crucial first, I guess. :-)

  18. petitecocotte26 :

    Please tell the intern. Many times, the intern may be afraid to ask about the workplace dress expectations for fear of seeming superficial. But let’s face it, determinations of credibility and competence often come down to the individual’s physical appearance. I think that dressing appropriately for the work context is far more difficult for women because of our competing goals (i.e look professional but not matronly, stylish but not vain, etc) and how easily we can send the wrong message via choice of handbag, hairstyle, skirt versus pants, shoes. Men have it so much easier.

    It took me a couple of years (and earning actual income) to develop a work wardrobe that looks professional, but still feels true to my sense of style and makes me feel like a confident, attractive female lawyer. A helpful hint along the way may have expedited the process (or at least helped me make better choices) and helped me to feel more confident about my personal appearance in job interviews and networking events during law school.

    I echo the earlier comments–if the intern cares about getting ahead, she’ll appreciate the advice.

  19. If it’s an intern who works with me, I definitely guide him/her on what to wear at work among other career advice that I give. If it’s a colleague AND a friend, I will mention, “pull up your shirt, I can see…”, “I can see through your shirt”, etc. Now if it’s just a colleague, it has to be a big fashion faux pas like a shirt inside out or fly is down.

  20. I am really glad to hear other women admit their mistakes. Thanks Kat for sharing. I myself wore inappropriate attire to the office…not leather miniskirts…but skirts that were a hint too tight, blouses that were slightly low cut, etc. I wasn’t trying to be provocative…I was just a clueless kid who stumbled out of law school and into the corporate world, which I knew nothing about. My boss (who is perpetually clad in St. John, Burberry, Armani, etc.) talked to me about it during my first performance review. I left red-faced and angry at myself, but it was thoughtful and kind of her to let me know (nicely) what others were thinking. And she did in such a way that I knew how to fix it. I still feel embarrassed about some of my choices, but I never make the same mistake twice. Now, I am clad in uber-professional gear, and I feel great about myself and my career.

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