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. )


  1. HotInTheCity :

    Current intern here, PLEASE TELL ME ASAP! I committed every no-no I’ve seen cited here before finding this blog a couple of months ago. I have literally replaced every outfit except for one suit.

    • SummerAssociate :

      Agreed. 100%. If you see me screwing up royally, puhhleeeese let me know. I’m a summer associate in my late 20s, and most of the female attorneys at my firm are between 20 and 40 yrs my senior. I know they don’t expect me to look just like they do – for one thing, I’d go broke trying to mimic their adorable burberry flats! – but if they see missing the mark on a consistent basis in my attempt to look like a less-expensive-but-equally-polished-age-appropriate-version of themselves, I really, really want to know.

      • Forestgirl :

        Side note, really, but isn’t it unusual in a firm to have mostly female attorneys who are in their late 40s to late 60s? Wouldn’t most firms have many female associates in the late 20s to late 30s range?

        • Maybe not in a mid-size firm. My firm, which has about 30 lawyers, happens not to have any men in their 20s or 30s at the moment; all the younger lawyers are women.

        • SummerAssociate :

          I’m the only one of “my” generation. A new female associate in her 20s has been hired, but she will not start until the fall, so I’m on my own trying to emulate and personalize the looks of my bosses. The women here are associates between 40 and 60, many of whom took 10-15 years off mid-career in order to have children. The youngest man in our firm is probably in his early thirties.

    • Completely agree. If I made a big fashion mistake–whether something just looked terrible on me, or was completely inappropriate for the work dress code– I would want someone to let me know. The office I am working for this summer never mentioned a dress code, and it has been incredibly difficult to determine. There are four male attorneys, and one female attorney. The female attorney rarely goes to court, so she never wears a suit. The male attorneys wear suits every day. The support staff wears business casual. So, what should I do? I wear a suit every day, but I’m the only female intern that does. Makes me look out of place, but I’ve also noticed I’m the only one asked to tag along to meetings and court.

      • “I’ve also noticed I’m the only one asked to tag along to meetings and court.”

        Keep wearing the suit.

        • 1 yr left :

          Suit stays. It’s working! If your fellow interns are smart, they’ll start following your lead. If not, better for you! I’ve never gone wrong with the “dress for the job you want” philosophy.

      • Anonymous :

        You might look out of place with respect to the other female interns and even the other female attorney, but I think you’re dead on with the group you hope to be in–attorneys who go to meetings and court.

        Keep wearing the suit.

  2. Wow this is an interesting and difficult question. I think the hardest part is making sure any advice/criticism is as objectively-based as possible (something is clearly not within the dress code) as opposed to subjective dislikes (someone dressing in a way that I find frumpy or come-hither isn’t necessarily running afoul of the dress code, or anyone else’s sensibilities other than my own).

    • I’m not a lawyer, nor do I work in the US. My big fear in telling younger women (we have a slew of new recruits who really really dress like they’re going clubbing) is that they’ll resent me (as in, we don’t report to you, what business is it of yours…). Plus the office is business casual (which is not an excuse for mini skirts at any time) so it’s really tough to set boundaries.

  3. Kristin B. :

    How about some suggestions on the best way to give this advice? I’ve got an intern who’s been flopping around in flip flops in our business dress-code office for a week. Problem is, we don’t have true “offices” here. So do I send her an email (seems passive aggressive), bring it up in the slightly secluded breakroom, or at her desk where other interns might overhear?

    • Can you suggest a walk outside of the office for a quick coffee break/chat, or during lunch? I agree, none of the other formats seem ideal

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Grrr, I tried to reply and it ended up way below. Scroll down to see my flip flop story.

    • Ask her for coffee or have her do an errand with you. I normally frame it in an objective manner – “Hey Intern, by the way, our office dress code prohibits flipflops. I know some people wear them, but Boss can be kind of a hardass and I’d hate for you to get in trouble, plus he’d probably get mad at me for not telling my interns about the dress code. Can you make sure to change into dress shoes once you get to the office in the morning?”

      • anon - chi :

        This. Phrasing it like it’s almost your fault for not telling her sooner seems like a great way to communicate your point without making the intern/summer associate feel defensive or overly embarassed.

        • I agree. I would want someone to tell me if I was dressed inappropriately, but I also don’t want to feel self-conscious all day. If it’s something that that can easily be fixed I would want to know ASAP. If not, I would want to know later on in the day. I was pretty surprised at the way the secretary and law clerk dress at my internship. It makes me feel like it’s okay for me too, but also that I’m just an intern and need to make a good impression.

    • Definitely don’t tell her via email. it’s way too passive aggressive.

      • Can you “get to know her” on some other basis first before offering the constructive criticism. Might be better received/implemented.

  4. Anonymous :

    As a current intern, I can say that the “breezier” the conversation, the better. Don’t do the whole “can I talk to you in private?” thing. Just say, casually, that this is the first summer you’ve ever had interns in flip-flops! And you’re kind of stunned! But if you keep it a tiny bit funny or fake-shocked, it gives them a chance to fix it without being singled out.
    Or make a joke about how you know it’s an unpaid internship, but that $10 pumps from Payless would probably fit in better in the office.
    (I lived in China for a year, so I’ve heard a lot of “confrontations” that are done in the nicest way ever. My favorite phrase from China was “Mr. so-and-so thinks maybe it’s a good idea…” as opposed to “You should/you shouldn’t”).

    • I don’t find breezy conversations/snide remarks to be particularly helpful. This isn’t China or Japan where confrontations must be completed in a certain way so the other party saves face. If my skirt is too short or I need to wear pantyhose, I have no problem if someone says it to my face. I remember when I first started working, I did get those comments from time to time. As an intern I think my supervisor told me more than once that my wardrobe was too conservative (she was all about the animal prints and strappy sandals), and I didn’t think that was offensive either.

      • HotInTheCity :

        Exactly, a “we usually expect our interns to wear hose” or “we usually prefer skirts to hit at the knee” is short, to the point, and impersonal.

    • Anonymous :

      I agree that kindness is always a good idea. But I think it will go a lot better if you are simply direct. The wording with the first suggestion wouldn’t get the point across. The second suggestion referencing cost of an item of clothing is going to come across as offensive (even though that isn’t the intent). I wouldn’t find that funny in the least if I were on the receiving end.

      Far better to say: “You may not be aware of our dress code and I know a lot of places can really vary, so I just wanted to let you know X.”

    • This suggested Payless joke … I would be pretty offended if someone said that to me. I’d much rather hear it straight (“Flip-flops are too casual for the office.”) than have someone intimate that I’m wearing flip-flops because I can’t afford real shoes. That goes especially if it’s coming from someone who IS being paid.

    • Consultant :

      Good suggestion about “Mr. so-and-so.” I just had this come up with a new hire, and will keep that in mind as a way to diplomatically make suggestions.

      • Anonymous :

        I still stand by what I said.

        First of all, ideally the intern is sensitive enough to look around and try to emulate appropriate wear. But if this person is wearing flip-flops and torn jeans, she’s probably not. So rather than being really direct, just get the information out there in an informal way.

        Second, while I’m a law student (and summer intern) now, I worked as a paralegal for a while after undergrad. And I had some really bad experiences with supervisors being mean, but couching it as being “direct.” I think that sometimes people use the “direct” thing as an excuse for being mean. It’s like the statement, “I’m not going to lie…” It’s just a way to be kind of cruel, but telling yourself you’re being just being honest. (Like “JD”‘s story below–ugh)

        Besides, you can start with an easy breezy comment that’s not really directed at a specific intern. If her style doesn’t change quickly, then you can pull her aside and be more specific. I figure, at that point, she doesn’t really have an excuse: it’s being somewhat insubordinate, not just clueless.


        • I respectfully disagree. When a breezy comment is said in a group setting, the meaning can be lost, and it can have unintended consequences. When I have personally seen this method used, it usually results in the conscientious and hyper-aware intern (who was dressing perfectly fine) being concerned that she is doing something wrong, and then not feeling comfortable to ask for clarification. On the flip side, if the offending intern was unaware of her problem / unobservant of office trends in the first place, it is unlikely that she will realize the comment is directed at her. Such a basic group comment (IMO) only works when you actually need to address multiple members of the group (say, the entire intern class appears to have created their own dress code and they’re all in flip-flops — it happens!)

          I agree that directness can be, at its most inappropriate, masked cruelty, but as other commenters have pointed out, I think that a person can still be direct and kind. For example, I like what Anonymous @10 used. You don’t really even have to accuse them of not being aware of the dress code, just when you are addressing other issues with the intern, say “By the way, I know a lot of places can have varied dress codes, so I just wanted to recommend X. Feel free to ask me if you have any questions.”

          We girls have to look out for each other, especially these days when dress code descriptions get more and more inventive (party casual? boating formal? dressy casual?)

          • AnneCatherine :

            “When I have personally seen this method used, it usually results in the conscientious and hyper-aware intern (who was dressing perfectly fine) being concerned that she is doing something wrong, and then not feeling comfortable to ask for clarification. On the flip side, if the offending intern was unaware of her problem / unobservant of office trends in the first place, it is unlikely that she will realize the comment is directed at her.”

            Yes! This happens so much with any “group” message, like, “be on time,” or “don’t take long lunches.” The conscientious of the group go home in hives, thinking they are in trouble/about to be fired, and the clueless or reckless or uncaring think, “Oh, that wasn’t about me, or someone would have talked to me personally” (or they hear it and forget it and don’t even get to the “that wasn’t about me” part).

    • I would not make the Payless joke, especially if she’s not getting paid. The joke sounds like you’re saying “You look poor.” I’d be really offended if someone said that to me, especially if I was having trouble affording clothes for the summer.

      Plus, have you ever tried to wear a pair of $10 pumps for more than 10 minutes? You’ll want to cut your feet off they’ll hurt so much. If someone suggested them to me as an alternative, it would make her seem even more out of touch that she thought they were a viable option.

  5. Legally Brunette :

    Having committed numerous fashion sins in my earlier years as a summer intern, I would have appreciated it if someone gently pulled me aside or popped by my office and mentioned my clothing to me. Sending an email seems overly formal and I think it would probably freak me out getting something like that over email. I’m sure they will be very embarrassed but will ultimately appreciate your advice.

    As an aside, we just had a high school intern in our office (she works in another office). She was wearing a ridiculously tight pencil skirt about 4 inches above her knees, open toed stilettos, and a gray ruffle blouse. She looked straight out of a Bebe catalog. Sadness.

    • At my old company (non-law), we had a receptionist who dressed like your high school intern. She got a promotion. :)

  6. Blonde Lawyer :

    I guess I would caution that someone might have an accomodation you are not aware of – like, flip flops b/c of a broken toe or something. I used to wear flip flops to commute and change when I got to work (back in law school). A co-worker pulled me aside and said “x partner HATES flip flops, so try not to let him see you in them.” That approach worked great b/c I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong, I felt like it was old fashioned partner’s problem, not mine, but I changed my behavior to stay in “his” good graces. I’m sure in reality the issue was that they had clients in the lobby at times as I arrived mid-day (on school schedule) and they saw me in my flip flops heading up to my desk and it wasn’t professional. I liked that approach though.

    • This is very true — any comment that makes you seem like you’re on their side and trying to help, which is essentially what we are trying to do here. We’ve been there, and had those ah-ha moments later on that we wish we had been able to correct earlier.

  7. At my current workplace, no one says anything except that person’s direct manager, because the mindset is that “We have an official dress code, so this should be an HR issue.” Problem is that HR doesn’t enforce the dress code, so you have people in one department wearing jeans and flip-flops, and people in other departments being told they cannot wear jeans. The environment is very corporate, so anyone who is perceptive will look around and see that the higher-status people dress much better every day than the lower-status employees (we don’t have “casual” days), but if we’re going to have an official dress code, it should be consistently enforced. Otherwise, get rid of it!

  8. Try not to do it at the beginning of the day – that just leaves them feeling self conscious all day which is miserable.

    Be casual, and even if the whole outfit is horrible, try to mix in a compliment on their work so it’s not an entirely negative experience

    • Agreed. It might be wise to tell them toward the end of the day, when the office is emptying and they feel at 5 p.m. that they can redeem themselves the next morning (rather than at 9 a.m. that they are disgracing themselves for the rest of the day).

      I will also concede that while I would want someone to tell me, I wouldn’t take the news well, AND if I were to notice someone grossly misdressed, I would probably be too embarrassed to say anything (even though in theory I think professionals should give interns, etc., feedback/guidance).

  9. It might be too late in the season for this, but consider holding a short workshop for the interns at the beginning of their stint with your company on the dos and don’ts of business dress, casual office, and casual Fridays. It could be the best way to clear up any confusion over what’s appropriate and if an intern comes in too sloppy, you can just say “Remember that workshop on dress we held?” and gently remind said fashion-don’t that their raggedy jeans and flip flops aren’t up to par.

    • When I clerked, my judge would leave a note for each new clerk that laid out their responsibilities, etc but also specified the dress code. It wasn’t super detailed, but it was enough to head off most problems.

      • That was one really great thing that my office did this summer: set things out from the beginning. I’d worked at a firm last summer that just said business casual, wayyyy too confusing. Here, they sat us down and were very point-blank: wear a jacket everyday, wear hose when you will be in court. We got the picture and it solved any potential for us to feel awkward about not knowing what to wear.

        That being said, another female summer has pretty tacky taste in clothes. Shorts 3-4 inches above the knee, sky-high patent heels, low cut blouses, etc. That is where it gets more awkward: I can’t imagine an attorney telling her that her interpretation of the dress code is tacky, especially seeing as she is complying with what was spelled out to us at that meeting. As much as I would appreciate someone telling me if I’m totally off-base with what I’m wearing, I don’t think you can seriously tell her “you have a serious taste issue.”

        • I’m in a statistical agency so the interns aren’t law students, but they have luncheons and cross-organization events and that’s where they get told stuff like the dress code.

          For the most part they’re decent looking, the skirts may be snug but they’re always a decent length.

          I did have one male intern who was leaving his dress shoes in the middle of the floor in his office. I guess he’s wearing his athletic shoes to commute. First time I saw that I, channeling my best mother instincts, pointed at them and said – under your desk or behind the door. We may be in the basement but we do have some standards!

        • Wait, the dress code requires a jacket but allows shorts? That’s some fashion-y stuff right there.

  10. When I was a summer associate, there was a 35-ish female partner that I really respected. While I have always been a conservative dresser, it would not have bothered me if she had ever pulled me aside and/or given me fashion advice. Now that I am a 35-ish lawyer in a conservative company, I actually have been in the position recently where I had to let a new female lawyer know that she probably should not wear sandals/bare toes to a meeting with the CEO of a large public company. I did it rather casually, as in, “while some people may not mind, there are plenty of the executives who may form an opinion about you based on how you are dressed, etc. Since the company is pretty conservative, you may want to wear close-toed shoes, in particular to meetings.” I think she appreciated it, and if she chooses not to follow the advice, then at least she is making an informed decision regarding her corporate footwear.

    • Biglaw Refugee :

      I like this approach. There are a few things we talk about on this site (flip-flops and perfume among them) that I think people shouldn’t wear because it can annoy other people, but mostly the person who suffers from dressing casually is the dresser herself. So I’d put it in terms of “if you want to make a great impression on clients/CEO/etc., you might want to….” followed by “we don’t typically see interns wearing X, and some people might assume that your work habits are sloppier just because you’re dressed more casually than they are used to.” (I use a similar message when someone gives me work product with typos in it…”it may seem silly to spend a lot of time proofreading a binder index, but when the client sees it….”)

      I think the company policy is sort of irrelevant, and putting it in terms of “Partner X hates” might give the person the impression that it’s fine as long as Partner X isn’t around.

      • Summer Intern :

        As a college student working at my first summer internship, this is the approach that I would most want to hear. It is not something that would cause me to become embarrassed or upset, yet it is direct and comes across from almost a mentor perspective–someone taking an interest in my future and wanting to help me succeed. Hearing something along these lines would lead me to respect the person who approached me about the subject even more than before they took action.

      • Anonymous :

        My concern with this approach is that it could (depending on how it’s done) feel very condescending or preachy…. if you’re not in a position of authority, and it will feel like genuine, peer-to-peer advice, then go for it. But I would much rather have an authority tell me that something is not acceptable than be given “advice” that made it sound like she was questioning not only my fashion sense but my judgment.

  11. Advice from an intern to other interns: when in doubt, overdress!! I am a summer law clerk at an all women firm and I have been working very hard to dress carefully and conservatively, including panty hose in the Alabama summer with my appropriately long skirts. I knew I was doing well when one of the partners called me into her office and told me that I was making a great impression and I could start wearing jeans and sneakers on days that I don’t make court appearances with them. I proved my competence and earned the right to wear whatever I want! :) But I still would never wear t-shirts or tank tops – collared shirts, even with jeans, projects authority, I have read.

    • anon - chi :

      An ALL WOMEN FIRM???? I cannot even imagine that. Is it tiny? Do they intentionally not hire men (and if so, isn’t this an obvious employment discrimination suit waiting to happen)?

    • Very true. If you have doubt about the dress code, wear a suit for the first day or so until you can get a good feel for what women in your firm or office should wear.

      Also, as an intern, don’t dress to the lowest common denominator. First off, don’t look to your fellow interns as your only guidance. Also, if you see one superior wearing a questionable item, that does not necessarily mean you should follow suit. They could be the person that the office considers to dress inappropriately. Wait to wear the item until you have seen two or three superiors wear a similar item.

      I would personally argue that this advice even holds when the office’s expectations for their iterns’ dress code is considerably different (read: more casual) from the expectations for their other employees’ dress code. Dress to the employee dress code, unless you feel horribly out of place. You may find that (among other benefits in perception) your bosses are more likely to bring you into last-minute meetings, and this will provide you with more opportunities to learn and absorb during your internship.

      Mini-soapbox: Didn’t this used to be the norm? Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. When did dress code become a race to the bottom? I really shouldn’t be that old-fashioned – I’m in my mid-20s – but I consistently see peers, interns, and even some superiors pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with until a supervisor is forced to say something.

      And these are professionals!

  12. I like Jelodi’s idea of a workshop on how to dress. That way no one is singled out.

    I haven’t ever told anyone what not to wear, bc I figured if they were at my level, anything that would reflect badly on them would reflect well on me by comparison (biglaw, survival of the fittest!) and there were no interns etc below me, other than summer associates who generally dressed pretty well.

    • That raises my issue — I have a fellow associate, a few years younger than me, who wears REALLY short skirts. Like mid-thigh, which is short for Biglaw. I have struggled for a year over whether I should say anything, but I always think not, because (1) she’s a colleague, not an intern / summer associate and (2) she’s been here long enough that it might be especially hurtful (the idea that I think she’s been dressing inappropriately for almost two years now). But still, I worry that she’s not taken seriously here in part because of how she dresses.

      • Maybe you could frame your opinion in a roundabout kind of way, like suggesting this blog (although your name is in the comments, which might make it awkward) or just bring up that dress code post everybody was talking about a month or so ago and ask her what she thinks of it (the one about X company listing its summer dress code, I think).

        The other thing I’d suggest is maybe when you two are talking to each other in a more social manner (as opposed to directly work related stuff), you could bring up how hard it is for you to find work appropriate clothing because they’re too short, too tight, etc. You’d have to be super subtle with this technique but it’s something I resort to when I need to speak to someone at or above my level regarding something about them that I find awkward to discuss openly.

      • At this point, I think it might be too late. She’s got to have noticed how short these things are, especially when sitting down in a meeting or something.

        • Yeah, she’s noticed, she just doesn’t care or thinks that she has nice legs and can get away with it. I have a similar colleague. It affects others’ perception of her, but she doesn’t figure it out and would be offended at the suggestion that it does. Not much you can do besides never let her be in a position where she represents the company in public.

      • It probably won’t do any good. I went to law school with a woman who was very intelligent and made great grades. We both had jobs at conservative firms during our third year, and so wore work clothes to class frequently. Her clothing was incredibly inappropriate, low cut sundresses, short tight skirts, high stiletto heels. I tried once to tell her that I thought the dress she was wearing would be lovely to wear out to dinner, but might be a little too evening-ish for work. She got very offended, and proceeded to ask every guy in our class if he liked her dress, because I didn’t like it. Surprisingly, all of the guys liked it, and she failed to ask any of the girls. Go figure. Anyway, I learned my lesson about keeping my mouth shut, and she did not get a permanent job at her firm. But, if a summer intern at my firm wore flip flops to work, I would have no problem letting her know that was not allowed. The difference being she’s an intern, not an associate. But someone who’s been there a while and still dresses inappropriately probably isn’t going to listen to you.

        • As I said around #230, the question shouldn’t be whether someone likes an outfit, but whether a person is being (or wants to be) recognized for her work or her wardrobe reputation. It was your classmate’s choice not to see that perhaps people weren’t recognizing her for her work.

  13. I say go ahead and tell the intern. If I am ever dressed inappropriately, I want someone to tell me. Another possible way to approach it is that you’re just giving the person a heads up. Also, try admitting that you made some gaffes when you were first starting and were either: a) so thankful someone told you or b) that you wish someone had told you. The intern can take the advice or leave it. If she is receptive, great. If not, its her problem, not yours.

    • I should add that when I was an intern at a big-4 firm we were given a post-card sized list of what was acceptable and what was not. It was very detailed (there should not have been ANY questions about what was appropriate/inappropriate) and did not require much planning or time spent away from work that a workshop would require.

  14. Why not go through the intern’s assigned mentor (assuming your agency has a mentoring program for interns, which I assume most government agencies do)?

    • I’m the poster with the miniskirt + leggings outfit summer associate. After the first time I saw The Outfit, with the bright-color cotton cardigan, knit miniskirt, leggings, and ballet flats (appropriate if you’re 16, but not at all appropriate in a law office), I mentioned it to one of the hiring partners I am comfortable with. She said she’d heard about it from several others, including male associates, and said she’d tell the SA. The outfit showed up again last week, so either the SA didn’t get the talk or didn’t listen. She’s been here for weeks and no one else wears anything remotely similar. She either has a lack of observation or sense, and I’m not going to stand in her way of demonstrating it.

      The other risk I’ll point out is you don’t know how someone got hired, so you have to be really careful. Leggings girl has family connections to higher ups at my firm, so she may be untouchable and get an offer anyway.

      • anon - chi :

        Ugh … you told the hiring partner? It sort of sounds like you really hate this girl. I think most summers would just about die of shame if they realized an associate had spoken to the hiring partner about their inappropriate clothing – and they might also hate that associate forever.

        • This hiring partner is probably the kindest person at the firm and would be best able to handle it delicately, and is appropriately knowledgeable about things above my head regarding the hiring process.

      • She probably thinks she’s untouchable and doesn’t care what she wears. If she’s right, not much you can do; if she’s wrong, then you won’t have to worry about her after this summer. Either way you did your best and it’s not your problem anymore.

        • Let’s give the girl the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible the hiring partner meant to bring it up to her but got distracted with actual work. Or maybe the hiring partner is waiting for the end of summer evaluation session to speak one on one with the SA. Who knows? Either way, you seem personally offended by the SA’s wardrobe choice. I doubt that her choice of leggings and a mini skirt have anything to do with you and just exhibit her lack of judgment/sensibility/recognition of social norms. That type of character flaw also tends to exhibit itself in many other arenas and others on the hiring committe are likely already aware of this particular SA’s shortcomings.

          At this point, if you don’t feel comfortable addressing it with the SA directly, I agree with the poster above. It’s not your problem – let it go.

  15. Every intern has a boss or someone that’s in charge of them (even those offices on Capitol Hill have someone in charge of interns)…and it’s up to the intern’s boss to tell the person what the appropriate dress code is.

    When I worked on the Hill, my former office used to tell our interns when they were wearing something inappropriate (racerback tanks, bra straps showing, flip flops as regular shoe wear, thong/underwearing showing above the waist, inappropriately dyed hair color, fishnet hose, you name it, we pointed it out). Granted I worked for a conservative member of Congress, and our dress code came directly from him.

    When I was a young intern, I would have wanted someone to tell me that my wardrobe choices were wrong. I wanted to make a good impression on the office and the only way of learning is by someone teaching me and telling me what is appropriate and what is not. Even if it’s told to me on my first day, perhaps a refresher is needed every now and then.

  16. This probably makes me sound like an old geezer, but I probably wouldn’t bother unless the intern had demonstrated to me that she had talent, humility, and I was concerned that her clothing choices might keep her from succeeding. I say “she” because I would not give a male wardrobe advice, although I might suggest that a male collegue do so.

    I’m probably just bitter because I’ve encountered many many summer clerks who came in here with a sense of entitlement and think that they are better/smarter than those of us who have been here for years and that the firm should be throwing money at them. You would think that the economy would put a damper on this, but not from what I’ve seen. They don’t give a rats patootey what I have to say. I’m so tired of wasting my time rying to be a mentor to them that I save my efforts now until they show me they’re something special.

    Again, old geezer speaking. For the right person, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d probably take her out to lunch or drinks after work and talk about a lot of “big picture” things so she wouldn’t feel bad about it.

    • spacegeek :

      I find myself agreeing with you, Carrie. I am now at “old geezer” stage too, and it seems as though I’m encountering more than my expectations of younger interns who feel entitled to the jobs/promotions/salaries we oldsters worked so hard to get. I’m pretty free with advice to those who ask about resumes, etc, but unsolicited–less so these days.

    • These posts makes me sad. When I was a summer associate, one of the “old geezer” female partners took me aside and suggested that even though our office was business casual, since I wanted to be in litigation and looked particularly young, it would probably behoove me to wear a suit every day. It was uncomfortable for the moment, but I took her advice and and to this day at the same firm, I still wear suits at least 4 days a week. It helped out numerous times as a young associate when someone would ask me to handle something in court at the last minute. I am grateful that she spoke up and really do feel that I owe some of my success to her early unsolicited advice.

      I hear what you’re saying about the sense of entitlement; it drives me crazy. But I still like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t know any better. I give unsolicited advice and make my judgments based on who handles constructive criticism well.

      • It makes me sad too, K. And I am not saying that I wouldn’t take the time for the right person. I used to love mentoring and only wish that I’d had a more experienced female partner to guide me along the way.

        I have just had too many bad experience from summer clerks and/or young associates, both male and female. Now that I have young kids, I just can’t justify taking part of my day to mentor someone who is likely to just give me the middle finger because they think they are the best thing since sliced bread.

        • I hate to say that I agree. I have more or less given up being a proactive mentor. Too many associates come and go, most can’t do the work anyway, and in my experience, sadly, they just don’t listen. I momentarily stepped out of my old geezerhood last summer and tried to help out a couple of interns who were making classic mistakes and was completely ignored, and neither got offers. It just isn’t a market where you can blow off deadlines, for example, and expect to get a permanent offer of employment. If someone (a) shows interest in my area AND (b) shows him/herself to be very smart and capable AND (c) is a hard worker, then I happily give them my time. I’ve come across exactly two people who met that description in a decade.

      • This is pricely the sort of targeted advice that I wish more people would give to their interns/summer associates/new recruits. So helpful. It just puts you on the right track that much faster!

    • AnneCatherine :

      I kind of agree with you, Carrie, esp. your first paragraph . . .

      • Carrie is SPOT ON. ‘Nuff said. Except, part (most) of what we get paid to do is exercise good judgment, which leads to the question of what kind of judgment lets a young professional woman think it is okay to wear tight sundresses, brastrap revealing clothes, skirts halfway up the thigh, stilettos, etc.? It strikes me as a judgment issue, which calls into question the propriety of the employee’s ‘fit’ in the first place.

        Battle axe-y, I know, but true, I’m afraid….

    • Another old geezer, not in a law firm but I feel the same way about interns. If you are really looking to work and move ahead, show me what you can do and I’ll help you. I have met too many interns in recent years who are just killing time before they can get Mommy and Daddy to pay for an extended trip to Europe/grad school for their MFA in basketweaving, etc., or alternatively, are trolling for a rich husband to take care of them so they don’t have to work. I don’t have the time or inclination to drag someone up from the bottom of the pack. If an intern is smart, motivated, receptive and humble, and they actively seek my help, I’ll help. Otherwise, the intern can languish at the bottom, until they decide office life is “too hard” and they go become a barista or something. Sorry, but after wasting a lot of energy on girls with no work ethic or ambition, and seeing my efforts essentially flushed down the toilet, that’s how I feel.

  17. If I’m directly supervising an intern, I’ll tell her if she’s dressed inappropriately, and I tell her nicely and constructively. If it happens repeatedly I’d ask her to go home and change, which is what our company policy says to do (for both employees and interns) but I wouldn’t do it the first or second time. I’d do the same with any employee I supervise.

    If it’s an intern (or any underling) I’ve worked with but don’t supervise, and I feel comfortable doing so, I’ll tell her in a friendly, mentoring sort of way that our dress code doesn’t permit X or that Y is perhaps too casual for the office. If I work with an intern who’s dressed inappropriately at a situation where it could cause the company embarrassment (e.g. flip flops in court) and her supervisor isn’t present, I’ll ask her direct supervisor to handle it in a more direct manner.

    If I don’t work with the intern but her dress is noticeably bad, and I know her supervisor to be a clueless type who probably won’t mention it, normally I’ll say something to the supervisor along the lines of “hey, I know you aren’t a fashion person, but I’ve noticed that Intern is wearing a strapless top today and I’d hate for her to get in trouble with Big Boss if she runs into him in the elevator. Maybe you could remind her of the dress code?”

    I always remind interns of the suggested dress code before inviting them to a work event or meeting outside the office. A lot of them just don’t know what’s appropriate. I also tell the interns I supervise about the dress code on their first day. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – I’d hate to have to leave someone out of a meeting because she didn’t know what to wear.

  18. I’ll take the other side I guess. It sounds to me like the original poster has 2 problems. 1.) level of formality insufficient, and 2.) level of style insufficient.

    For level of formality- do you have anyone in an HR/Intern Coordinator/Office Manager capacity? Have them deal with it. Or, if no, send out a global email specifying (no flip-flops, shirts must have sleeves, no ripped jeans) and only after that, say something.

    For the level of style- button your lip. If they just don’t look “right” but are wearing suitable clothing, I don’t think it is your place to say anything.

    Finally, the original poster seems to be dealing with 2 splits, he’s older than the interns, and male. I would have been very uncomfortable with an older man commenting on my physical appearance in anyway beyond “new haricut?” and would strongly encourage you, for your sake and theirs, to find a way of dealing with this that doesn’t involve you making one-on-one personal comments.

    • How do you know he’s male?

    • I really don’t think a man would wear “Cole Haan suede/patent skimmers” as the original poster said …

    • I shudder to think of a man wearing a “calvin klein polo with bloused sleeves.” I think the poster is a woman :)

      • Ha ha, I don’t even know a man who would describe a polo in such terms!

      • Anonymous :

        First laugh I’ve had all day. Thanks for the image.

      • AnneCatherine :

        lawDJ and Anon at 2:52, thanks for the laugh. I am cracking up at the image of a man in bloused sleeves and patent skimmers . . . that is great.

  19. I don’t think you can change anyone’s taste or style of dress. The only thing you can do is compliment the person when she does dress appropriately, set a good example yourself, and hope for the best. I think we can mention things that are an overt safety hazard, but only for that reason.

  20. When I was an intern at a media company (with a fairly casual office dress code) I was asked one day to move some videotapes from a shelf in one room to a shelf across the hall in another room. Because I was climbing up and down chairs to reach the tapes, I took off my shoes and walked back and forth across the hall while moving the tapes. One of my bosses came in and told me that what I was doing was “really inappropriate” and didn’t try to soften it in any way. I felt awful and still remember it to this day (10 years later!). I could see a similar situation coming up when an intern maybe wears her commuting shoes a little too long in the office, perhaps to go to the bathroom or the copier. In that situation, I think it would soften things to acknowledge that you know the shoes are for commuting, but it’s best to switch immediately when you get to the office before doing anything else. It helps when being told these sorts of things if you feel like the person giving you the advice doesn’t think you’re a total moron.

    • yikes, were you able to defend yourself?! “I’ve been up and down off office chairs for my assignment and I didn’t want to put a hole through the upholstery with my heels”…? mortifying though.

  21. 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!

  22. 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 definitely know a firm that fits that description, but I don’t think we are in the same town (and it’s not a smaller sized firm).

    • 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.)

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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. :-)

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

    • I would have felt really embarrassed as well, but so glad that you took the well intentioned advice and are thriving!

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