Statement Pieces and the Intern

statement pieces for internsWhen can interns wear statement pieces like necklaces or shoes?  Reader C, a law student, wonders….

I am a current law student preparing for a summer internship. I’ve been reading through a lot of your old posts trying to get a gauge on appropriate office wear. My question is about shoes.

I’m wondering how far is too far with statement shoes. If I am wearing a more muted outfit, is it okay to have a more colorful pair of shoes? For instance, I was considering a pair of shoes like these from Loft.

Would those be considered too bold for an office?

Interesting question. We get into this time and time again, but I’m always curious to see what the readers have to say. For my own $.02: Those are not first day shoes. Those are not big meeting shoes, or networking shoes. But: they could be office shoes. As in, you’re having a low key day, you’re not seeing anyone important, and you just want to mix it up a little bit. To be honest, if you’re interning at a BigLaw firm, there probably are not going to be very many of those days. So this becomes an issue of budget: if you have the money to spend for shoes that you may way a few times during the summer, then knock yourself out.  (There are very limited sizes left at Loft, but they are crazy affordable with today’s 40% off sale — they were $79.50, then marked to $69.50, with the extra 40% off they come to $41.99.  Petra Multicolored Floral Print Pumps)

(Update: If you really like the floral look, these very similar Ivanka Trump pumps are on sale at Nordstrom for $99.)

Just to back up a little bit — why, you may be asking, should the intern not wear these shoes to meetings and networking events?  Because they distract attention from where the focus should be for a young legal intern undergoing what is basically a 10-week job interview: her ability to do the job.  For lawyers, your fashion sense is not really something you want your boss to think about, beyond “I can take her with me to meetings with clients and not be embarrassed.”  It’s a subconscious, half-second decision, and as the intern you want to be firmly in the “yes” category when you’re an intern/prospective hire, and as far from the “maybe” category as possible.

can summer associates wear statement piecesBut maybe I’m being overly harsh because these particular pumps are not my cup of tea — a bit too floral, too girly, too “I’m attending a ladies’ charity luncheon today.”  (I vastly prefer the slingback version, which has much less of the floral pattern — they’re still full price at $89.50 with lots of sizes left.)  But that’s just a taste issue — and I would still say that the less floral version is a “mix it up on a casual day” kind of shoe.

Readers, what do you think — when can interns safely wear statement pieces?  When does a “fashion risk” for an intern pay off?

Comments

  1. when i started my entry level job, i didn’t wear anything distinctive for about the first year or so of the job b/c i didn’t want people to notice my clothes before they knew my work. now that i’ve been here 3 years, i feel free to rock the crazy stuff :)

  2. You’ll just be known as the girl with the flowery shoes. If you don’t mind that other people are known for their work or personality, go right ahead!

    • Anonymous :

      You sound like someone who would write off a person’s good work based on their shoes.

      • No, but those shoes are hideous. So maybe I’d question their taste in shoes! Honestly, I think you could probably wear a floral dress but those shoes are a crying shame.

        • Anonymous :

          I would wear those shoes (in the slingback version) with a black sheath dress and hot pink or purple cardigan, and I’m a senior hedge fund marketing executive/former attorney. I’m confident enough in my professional abilities and accomplishments to have a little fun with my footwear. I wouldn’t be so quick to write them off (or judge someone who doesn’t).

  3. I work in Big Law in Chicago – when I was a summer associate (seven or eight years ago), I wore suits nearly every day. Honestly, it’s hard enough being taken seriously as a 24 year old woman, I didn’t want my wardrobe to reflect anything but professionalism. Needless to say, I wore conservative shoes as well.

    I’m not saying that approach is the “right” approach, I just think you need to remember your audience. If you’re going to work at a governmental agency or a non-profit, this might be totally fine, I don’t know.

  4. I tend to disagree generally with the “you want people to remember your work not what you wore” mentality, so long as what you’re wearing is still appropriate and professional, which I think these shoes are. Honestly as a summer I maybe only worked with 10 lawyers tops, but I met about 50-60 more at receptions, lunches, etc. I’m not saying that you need to wear stand out clothing for people to remember you, but honestly what you DON’T want to happen is for people not to remember you at all because you were so boring in every way possible. I’d much rather have a person think “oh, that was the girl with the cute shoes” than have them not remember me.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. I wore crazy shoes all the time to my big law summer associate positions. The rest of my outfit would be very conservative, and the cut of the shoe was always conservative too (no sandals) but they would be interesting colors, textures, etc. I got offers from both places. I really don’t think people care that much, and it shows confidence and that you are unique.

      • Agreed. I think the key is that you have to dress like a grown-up professional in your field and appropriate for your office. In my big law office, a certain amount of statement wear (bright shoes or jewelry) was perfectly appropriate) and in fact made me feel more confident – whereas wearing all black or like a suit everyday would make me look like I was trying to hard.

        I think your best bet as an intern is to save your statement pieces for the second week but overall to try to look like you belong and like you know how to dress yourself.

        • Diana Barry :

          +1.

          Times change! I was a summer in biglaw at the tail end of the tech boom – 2001 – and smack in the middle of the business casual boom. We wore twin sets constantly in those days. I only owned a couple of suits and didn’t wear them to work, and I only wore my black blazer when I “sat in” in court. Otherwise we were just in the office – most summers only got to observe one real “thing” (court/depo/meeting) during the summer.

        • +100000000

    • I’m not a lawyer, so that probably negates any authority I have in this area, but I agree with roses and Anonymous. As long as what you’re wearing is classy, professional and appropriate, then I see no need for it to stay within a very constrained box. Should you rock the 5″ platform gold and lucite sandals? Eeeeeiiinnnn….I’m gonna say no on that one, but a cute pop of colour, or a nice pattern shouldn’t detract from your ability to be recognized for good work, and if it has the added bonus of making you stand out, I don’t see that as a negative. Mind you, I personally couldn’t foresee pursuing a lifelong career in a milieu/firm/office where something like a brightly-coloured shoe would have me judged, tarred and feathered. Says the girl wearing red and blue flowered pants. :p

      • TexasCorporateLawyer :

        My rule is simple. Would I wear it (the flowery shoes, the crazy jacket, etc.) on the most important day? If not, don’t wear it to work, ever. Never fails that when you think your day is going to be low key something unexpected happens. Save the pretty shoes for non-work hours.

        • Honestly, that seems like a ridiculous rule. Keep a suit in your office for when something unexpected happens. I would definitely think that a summer associate who wore their “most important clothes” every day was trying way too hard.

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      If the reason people remember your clothes is that you looked fantastic, well, props to you.

      If you do bad work, people will be looking for any and every reason to criticize you. If you do good work, you can do almost anything (within the bounds of professional conduct) and people will not hold it against you.

      There’s “inappropriate” and there’s “bold” and that Venn diagram has a lot of space on either end before you start trending into the intersecting circles.

    • Veronique :

      Completely agree. For years I wore glasses that had conservative plastic frames, but were a dark red. One of my coworkers told me that when I applied for my current (in-house) job, they noticed my glasses enough that afterwards they referred to me as “the one with the red glasses.” Obviously that didn’t prevent them from offering me the job (at the depth of the recession), and hasn’t prevented them from promoting me, giving me good work, etc.

      As long as an item is professional and your overall outfit is appropriate, I think even a summer has some flexibility beyond navy suits and pumps.

  5. Ann Taylor, how dare you mock me so with your “now shipping to Canada” and “duties and taxes included” promises. Considered buying a suit online just now, only to find that you wanted to add $83 in duties at checkout. Cancelled my order. Fooey, I say! Fooey!

    Tip to Ms. Taylor: open a warehouse in Canada.

  6. I think those shoes would look nice with a simple sheath dress, but yes perhaps for someone more mature. However I really like the black and white version: http://www.loft.com/loft/product/product%3A300719/LOFT-Style-Closet-tees/Petra-Floral-Print-Pumps/300719;jsessionid=58BBFE026E054C6ED615046E22B02CBB?skuId=12833832&catid=cat1220004&defaultColor=6600&productPageType=&productType=relatedProduct
    Also, saw a new take on the intern with a birkin – the gym-goer with the Louis Vuitton bag.

    • well, the gym goer may be going to the office after the gym or you’re spotting them after office/gym but before home. as in, you may have spotted me.

      what I don’t get is when people pair the birken bag with a professional blouse and then tights and a puffer jacket; like running compression pants, but not actually running pants because you’re wearing professional shoes at 930AM. Like, I know you can afford real pants, or a skirt, so why is your behind hanging out on Park Ave??! (no gym bag in sight)

  7. Hmmm. I think Kat’s advice with respect to braids also applies to these shoes. You’re the right age to wear them and have them look young and fresh, but they will remind others of your age — so wear with caution. I’d only wear these with trousers (I can see them looking great with navy pants) to play down the girlishness, and as Kat says would definitely not wear them for “major event” days. And keep a spare pair of conservative shoes around in case your day turns into one of those “major event” days.

    For “major events” that are more networking (event) vs. conservative (sitting in at client meeting or court), feel free to wear statement shoes, but I’d just advise picking a pair that’s less overtly girlish. For example, dark purple or green leather slingbacks.

  8. Imo, I’d stay away from “statement shoes” entirely. I work in consulting and it’s less conservative. I also wear flats mostly, but the farthest I’d go is leopard print flats. Statement jewelry is something entirely different. I think there’s a little more freedom with this, but don’t make it too gaudy/obnoxious.

  9. viclawstudent :

    I want these so badly, but they’ve only got the 6 left! Hate it when that happens. Anyone seen anything similar in colour/print? (I wouldn’t be getting them for work – I’m looking for something fun for law school graduation ceremony … since the shoes are the only thing you can see on stage, I think these would be a snappy choice.)

  10. I could see these shoes with a pencil skirt that’s the same shade of purple as in the shoes, a white button down, and pearls. To me, that would be professional, even on an intern.

    • Agreed. BUT here’s the thing that I think makes this such a difficult subject: it’s hard to say where the appropriate line is when you’re starting out or what constitutes otherwise conservative/appropriate clothing to pair with these shoes. This is one of those topics where it just comes down to, some people will pull this off smashingly and others won’t and you have to be able to honestly self-assess which camp you’re more likely to fall into.

  11. For lawyers, your fashion sense is not really something you want your boss to think about, beyond “I can take her with me to meetings with clients and not be embarrassed.”

    This. x1000000.

    As for these shoes, they are too girly and too ladies-who-lunch to be an appropriate statement piece for a law clerk. Even for me (and I’m wearing a bright pink blouse and metallic flats today). Depending on the office culture/geography/etc., clerks can get away with shoes beyond black pumps or flats but that still veer professional. I’m thinking burgundy patent leather pumps, snakeskin-textured flats, or wedges with a bow/buckle detail. But save those for “office days” as Kat says.

    A better statement piece for a clerk is a “signature” piece of jewelry (e.g., earrings or a necklace that you wear every day).

    Clerks shouldn’t count on having “office days”. When we have clerks, the lawyers in my office try to give the clerks good, client-facing experience and will ask if they can join a meeting with very little notice the day of. So I’d tell our clerks to be ready to meet clients every day.

    • Anonymous :

      Too girly? Really? God forbid a professional woman be ‘girly.’

      • Word. It’s 2013. If I want to wear flowery pumps to the office as a professional, I will, no apologies necessary. I don’t need anyone’s permission or approval on my work appropriate attire.

        Dear young ladies, stop listening to women or men who say you can’t be stylin’ at the office. Don’t apologize for being you.

        What is up with the gremlins commenting on this site?

        • Diana Barry :

          These flowery pumps would set off your green scales admirably!

        • I loathe the concept that things “feminine” or “girly” are not “professional”.

          RAWRRRR.

          I’ll GIRL IF I WANT TO.

        • It’s not gremlins. Some of us work(ed) in offices where summer associates got dinged for things other than basic pumps because partners think it is a 10 week interview and they should treat it as such but being in interview attire every day in case there is a big meeting/court appearance they can sit in on with a conservative client or judge. It’s unfair to tell those summers that they can wear whatever they want with no consequence.

          I completely agree we don’t need anyone’s permission or approval on office attire, but you have to admit we all get judged on what we wear every day. It’s not wrong to take that into account when choosing your personal office style.

          • Then these shoes would not be work appropriate for that particular office or work position. But it’s not inappropriate for every office. So when some of the ladies come rawring out of their batcaves clutching their pearls about these horrifying shoes, please pause and realize that there are different types of offices out there.

            I am Godzilla for a reason. My personal style is way out there. An office that is not okay with it is an office that does not get the pleasure of having me as an employee. It goes both ways.

          • Nonny to Godzilla :

            “My personal style is way out there.”

            And now I will forever picture you as Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds.

            Which, don’t get me wrong, is a fantabulous thing. Love it.

        • Can you stop doing that? The poster is not a gremlin because she disagrees with you. It’s annoying when people try to dismiss a poster’s view by essentially claiming they aren’t a “regular”. Her viewpoint is as valid as yours and it was politely put. Your response was rude, however.

          • Ummm, no. I am not claiming that the poster is not a regular. I have nothing against senora. I am claiming that her type of office isn’t the only type that exists. Lots of women on this site make a certain judgment about attire (or food or whatever) and apply it on everyone with the same paintbrush, which is a bit immature. That’s my point.

            Yeah, I’m annoying. I’M A MONSTER. DUH.

        • I think there’s a difference between “girly” and feminine. To me, girly implies young-looking, like something a child would wear when getting dressed up, and is not professional. On the other hand, something feminine, like a nice silk blouse or tailored dress, can be professional.

          • Yes, I was about to say the same thing. “Girly” has a much more youthful and playful connotation to me that doesn’t really go with “professional.” Feminine, womanly, etc. can certainly go hand-in-hand with professional dress and demeanor.

          • Anonymous :

            Exactly.
            I can’t for the life of me figure out why adults want to be seen as frivolous children.

    • Anonymous :

      You don’t think you could wear burgundy patent leather pumps to meet a client? I am a big firm lawyer, and burgundy patent leather pumps would be extremely conservative for me. I would even wear them to court or argument. And I don’t want to practice somewhere where I couldn’t.

  12. I am currently sitting in my office in a large law firm and I could not tell you what anyone else in the office has on their feet. Maybe other people care about how other people are dressed, but honestly, the only time I notice someone else’s clothes is (1) when they are wearing something cute that I want or (2) when they are dressed completely inappropriately (e.g., boobs falling out of clothes, wearing shorts or capris, wearing gym clothes on a weekday, jeans with a hole in the upper thigh (yeah, we had a associate who did that intentionally), etc.). So IMHO, I see no issue with a pair of shoes in a professional shape and more interesting color/pattern.

  13. Clearly Speaking :

    I would have a hard time taking an attorney wearing shoes like these seriously. I would not have the same problem with something in fashion or the arts. Know your audience.

    • Clearly Speaking :

      Should be “someone”, not” something”. Lunch is really good. Perhaps I should spend more time eating it instead of posting.

    • Clearly Speaking :

      My correction to self went into limbo? Make that “someone” not “something”.

  14. I would not wear these as a summer associate. They would be fine for an attorney in my office (on a non-court/client meeting day, of course) but a summer position is really an extended interview. This is not to say you have to wear a suit every day, but you should definitely stick to the more conservative and professional end of your office spectrum. I think a general rule is “if you have to ask, you shouldn’t wear it” as a summer.

    • I think your general rule is not so clear cut. How many times has someone here asked if she should wear hose? Pants or a skirt? Pumps or flats? Which of these are more conservative? These are not intuitive issues. Women’s dress is complicated.

      • Agreed that it can sometimes be tricky to tell which of two options is more appropriate for a given setting but her question wasn’t “which is more appropriate?” it was “are these too bold?” and my belief is that if you have to ask that question about a particular item you should avoid wearing it as a summer. Nobody is going to ding you for dressing too conservatively as a summer, so if you are speculating whether something is too bold or not appropriate, the safer option is to not wear it. I’m not saying you have to be boring your whole career – just for 8 or 10 weeks of what is really an extended interview (especially in this economy).

  15. recent grad :

    Going to dinner at a partner’s house this weekend, along with several other partners/associates and their significant others. Invitation says casual – no jackets or ties. What should I wear? Are jeans acceptable? I am not sure what the female equivalent of khaki’s. We are in the Northeast and it’s a larger regional firm. I am thinking dark wash jeans and a blazer.

    • If the invitation says casual and specifies no jackets, I would not wear a blazer. I’d probably wear a summer dress to the knees, maybe like this http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/product/clothes-dresses/27863661.jsp with wedges and a cardigan.

    • Anonymous :

      I would probably not wear jeans, but black trousers and a cardigan or a dress with sleeves/cardigan would be perfect.

    • I like the idea of a summer dress too. I think a pretty, casual dress that is too casual for the office (because of the fabric and/or cut, not because of how revealing it is) but not as casual as a swim coverup/beachwear is sort of the equivalent of wearing khakis as a guy. If people are in jeans you won’t stand out but it is also nice enough that if everyone is more dressed up you won’t feel under dressed.

      • And I would definitely bring a cardigan if you’re wearing a dress. Partly because I’m always cold but also because if you get there and people are wearing trousers, etc, it makes the outfit more formal. Big a big purse and if everyone is in jeans and its warm, then you can just leave it in your purse.

    • I would definitely wear a casual dress to an event like that. Or a cotton maxi dress.

  16. question: if you wear feminine looking outfits with bright colors or patterns that means you are not very professional and presentable?
    conservation and safe outfits with no personality shows I’m not in to fashion, I’m just care about my profession?

    • I think bright colors and patterns are more casual than muted/dark neutrals and non-patterned clothes. How casual someone can dress depends on their field and office–so for instance, I wouldn’t wear these shoes to my law firm job, but if I worked in a more creative field they would be fine. There are plenty of fashionable but still conservative outfits, and it’s certainly possible to add personality to a conservative outfit–it’s just going to be little pops of personality, like a bright blouse or statement necklace, rather than head-to-toe bright patterns.

  17. Meg Murry :

    If C is trying to justify purchasing them by thinking “I could wear them to work AND out on weekends … ” then I would say save your money for something more work appropriate, or buy them with the understanding that you don’t know whether you could wear them for work for the first couple of weeks until you get to “know your office”
    May I also add, in addition to the floral print – they are 4 inch heels, which is too much for me personally. If you can work these into an appropriate work outfit, fine, but don’t be “the intern that can’t walk in her 4 inch flowery shoes” (stumbling, walking at a snail’s pace, hobbling due to blisters or clomping down the hallway = not work appropriate)

    • These are good points.

      Also, I have to suppress an extremely strong urge to run after women and let them know that their heels are slipping and are in dire need of repair. The heels bend at a 20-30 degree angle when weight is applied to that shoe. Do women really not realize how precarious their balance is? It looks awful.

    • hoola hoopa :

      Excellent thoughts here.

  18. I’m all for standing out at work with professional but unique clothing choices but probably would not have worn these as an itern. There is something about this specific pair of shoes that is too much for me.

  19. TO Lawyer :

    I agree with a lot of the comments already made – if the rest of your outfit is REALLY conservative, I think you can pull it off. My own personal addition of personality into my outfits tends to be statement necklaces. But I also agree – on first days and big days, I think you want to stay fairly conservative. But on an in-the-office day, why not make your outfit a little more fun? I find when I have a fun pop of personality in my outfits, I tend to feel better about myself and more productive.

    • SydneyBristow :

      I agree with you. I probably wouldn’t wear them during the first half of the summer and would focus on doing an awesome job. If I was getting good feedback, then I’d go ahead and wear them occasionally on days that wouldn’t have anything big going on. If the firm dresses more casually on Fridays, I’d probably wear them then. I’d also have a pair of black pumps as a backup in case something came up.

      And I pick statement necklaces over statement shoes almost every time.

  20. These shoes are very pretty. That being said, the heel is higher than my (conservative Big law) views of what an office appropriate heel height should be, the color is brighter than a conservative color, and then the shoes have flowers. Someone who has a full time job in conservative big law can get away with all three style points, but a summer associate? I would recommend not.
    But I am conservative, have big law taste in clothing, older, wear pantyhose every day, and would never wear pants to the office, but don’t think less of others who do. A dinosaur, admittedly. And the more your decisionmakers are like me, the less advisable these shoes are in your office.

Add a comment.

Questions? Check out our commenting policy. Tech problems? Please report it to the tech team.