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. )

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on Pinterest


  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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. :-)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. This whole discussion reminds me of the bank employee who claims she was fired for being too hot. How do you not come off like that?

  17. The other thing I would add — act kindly towards people who are wearing clothes that may not be as high quality as those you can afford. Not every intern has the money to buy an expensive high quality set of suits, or a family to support them. I know that summers make a lot, and everyone could have a credit card, but everyone’s circumstances are different, and if someone is adhering to the dress code and looking as professional as possible, then I would tend to keep my mouth shut, or casually mention places that have high quality clothes for a good value (I’m think of Lands End, but there are others).

    • AnneCatherine :

      I agree with this to an extent, but, it also reminds me of something I once read in a review of Ugly Betty, of all places. Target makes button-blouses and pencil skirts. I think (giving the OP the benefit of the doubt) that the topic is less about a fixation on a lack of Calvin Klein/Brooks Brothers suits, and more about clothes that simply fail to cover private areas. I could be wrong. But, I agree, no one should be taken to task for wearing “lower end” but still professional, or at least decently-covering-all-pertinent areas, clothing. And I have never really bought clothes on credit, and would never expect anyone to (though they are free to), but, in the past (and, hey, sometimes now), I have shopped at KMart, Sears, JCPenney, and Target, and they sell (yes, somewhat dowdy and boxy, but still work-appropriate) basics for work.

      • One of my favorite work dresses is from Walmart, and I don’t think anyone would guess it. With all the options out there – TJ Maxx, Target, etc. – I don’t think money can be an excuse to dress inappropriately.

      • I totally agree — that was my point. That if someone is dressing professionally but maybe the fiber isn’t as nice as high end clothes, don’t bag on them and don’t bring it up. They probably are aware, and unable to do anything about it, and may have other circumstances that make them feel like they don’t fit in in biglaw, or where ever they are.

  18. anonymous :

    I’m a law intern and I need a little advice. I feel like my current internship is not going as well as my last internship. At my last internship, the lawyers consistently gave me good feedback and treated my contributions as if they were valuable. Unfortunately my current internship is not going so well.

    I feel like my boss thinks I am stupid. I can’t think of a better way to put it. He once informed me that a former female colleague of his was stupid for asking a question about something she apparently should have known. Ever since that day, I have had a sneaking suspicion that if I make a mistake, ask the wrong question, or take too long to complete an assignment, I am probably going to be placed in the stupid category.
    To be fair, I have had a rough time with this internship. I have made plenty of mistakes, but I always make an effort to learn from them. Furthermore I am learning about an area of the law which I was barely familiar with when I came into the internship.

    I also take longer to do things than some other law students. I am very meticulous, thorough, and cautious. I know those qualities may make me look as if I am too slow and unable to work under pressure, but that is not the case. Once I learn how to do something, I become very efficient and good at doing it. I am also very passionate about working hard, going the extra mile, and impressing my employers.

    Today my boss jokingly said something that made me realize he doesn’t think much of my abilities as an employee. It really hurt. I need a little advice or sympathy, so I thought I’d post here.

    • I’m really sorry this is happening to you. My normal advice would be to ask your boss or anyone whom you’ve worked for to give you some advice as to how you can improve your work. However, your boss sounds like a douche and I’m not sure it would work with him. Has he only had female interns or does he think women in general ask stupid questions? Sounds like he has lots of pre-conceived notions here so that your work may not be getting the “fresh look” it deserves. Is there anyone else in the office you trust or could be a mentor-type person to you (not another law intern)? If so, I’d ask them for advice.

      • Yeah, there’s somebody else I trust a bit more than him who I can talk to if it comes to that. Sadly there are no female lawyers where I work. Honestly, the last female lawyer got fired for good reasons and I think that could have affected my employer’s outlook. Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I think I am just going to have to continue to do my best and try not to take things so personally. I think he’s from the old school and feels like he has to provoke me or push me to get me to do well. I respond to the exact opposite approach: praise coupled with constructive criticism. The environment I am in may not be ideal, but at least I am getting a lot of good experience.

        • I agree that your boss sounds like a douche. I think you have a really good outlook going forward.

          I know this is not my place, but I figure (hopefully) it doesn’t hurt to offer this advice. You are obviously free to take it or leave it. I am a member of the “millenial” generation – which I assume you are too. If I am wrong, I am really sorry.

          Anyways, I noticed you said you respond well to “praise coupled with constructive criticism” and I really think you might want to look into this. I just don’t think that is a feasible attitude going forward in a legal career. You are not always going to get “praise” and you will be lucky if the criticism is constructive. Law firms are businesses and our generation has a really bad reputation for needing to be told they are more awesome than they are.
          I am in no way saying you do this, because I don’t even know you (obviously). You very well could not have this attitude at all (you just shared it on a blog).
          I am just saying I would be careful how you approach criticism in the workplace and in whom you confide your preferred method of workplace learning. If nothing else I hope my post raises your awareness of how others might perceive a comment like that. I think if you know how you work best, you can find the right workplace for you. But I think us newbies should be cognizant of our status and should approach asking for or even suggesting that our bosses change their working style to accommodate our preferences for learning with extreme caution.
          Again, your current boss sounds like a douche and I would proceed as you have said you will–learn as much as you can from this experience and, economy willing, find a better working environment for you. But, just be careful and appreciate the reputation that our generation has as you interact with other generations.

          Anyways, again, that is just my advice. I hope I haven’t said anything to upset you while you’ve already had a bad day. I just wish the best of luck for you as you go forward. It sounds like you will be an excellent attorney :-)

          • I do not mean to imply that I want my boss to change his management style. Instead I will have to adjust to his style. I’m sorry that was not clear.

          • “You are not always going to get “praise” and you will be lucky if the criticism is constructive. ”

            That’s a great way to put it. I’ll have to bear that in mind.

            To anonymous at #153 – Please don’t let it get you down! I haven’t much advice to offer except that there will always be one partner or another whose comments are, shall we say, less than congenial. While valid criticism needs to be taken into account, sometimes all you can do is ignore/disregard either the entire comment, or the bits that are completely unwarranted. It just isn’t worth the emotional energy to be hurt or angry over something carelessly said, which might be completely incorrect or untrue.

    • I don’t have any advice, but I’m sorry, that sounds terrible. It seems like you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and that the boss IS, like lawDJ says, a douche. Best of luck and I hope the situation improves!

    • Firstly, your boss sounds like a jerk.

      Secondly, I know the type, sometimes this “type” just has no faith in anyone young/new/inexperienced. It may not be a total reflection on you.

      When I started my career I was always teamed up with a senior woman on my team. She tried to mentor me, and made it quite clear that she wouldn’t have faith in me until I paid my “dues” and had as much experience as her. I tried not to let it get to me – because really it had nothing to do with me and only to do with the fact that I was young – and yes – inexperienced. But it didn’t reflect on my actual ability to handle tasks at hand – it was all her own issue. Some people can handle inexperienced people and the unknown better than others. She had major trust/control issues, your boss might too.

      Needless to say, that particular women cracked and quit during a very high stress project I was working with her. My confidence has soared since getting to work on my own with her gone.

      • So to clarify a bit more – listen to what he says, but continue to be confident in your ability. Ask for suggestions on what he thinks you are not doing well – there may be some room to improve. But over all be confident (but not cocky) around him (these types tend to get really nervous around the first hint that someone isn’t confident in their work).

    • I’ll bite and play devil’s advocate. Are you working for a litigation partner? It sounds to me like your qualities would be an excellent fit in transactional work. Sadly, you probably won’t see any of this as an intern, and if you’re looking for an offer it’s not the side to sell yourself on. In litigation, though, the perfectionist tendencies can be a weakness (and not just a fake weakness people give in interviews). Sometimes you’ll have to craft arguments that drive a perfectionist nuts (because you know they have holes bigger than the Ozone) as possible negotiating throwaways or because you’ve got terrible facts/law and you really don’t have any other option. It’s possible your boss wanted to throw a curveball at you and see if you can handle doing litigation work knowing that you aren’t always going to be able to present perfect work. Like the other commenters said, I think this would be a pretty jerky way to accomplish this, and especially to an intern–but I did say I’m playing devil’s advocate, so there’s one way to think about it (and remember, he’s a man so it doesn’t have to make sense to us!).

      If this is the case, my best advice is to keep your chin up and just be determined to prove him wrong. He is most likely looking for this kind of fighter attitude. Focus on turning in your best work knowing that it doesn’t have to be perfect (you are an intern, after all). Obviously this doesn’t mean go crazy and turn off spell check or do halfway research, but it doesn’t sound like you’re likely to do that. Sometimes I think it’s stressful as an intern because during the school year, students are used to being given assignments that the professors know they should be able to handle. Some of the assignments attorneys give are not carefully thought out as to be within an intern’s realm of capabilities. Since he doesn’t sound like the person to go to if you think something might be too much, I second the above comment about finding another person in the office to go to. Just tell them you’re having difficulties with a certain part of your assignment and would appreciate some guidance or, if they think it is appropriate to ask the boss for more instruction (in other words, if they think the boss assigned too much with too little information).

      If you try everything commenters suggest on here and he still makes you this uncomfortable, then he may not be the type of boss you want to work for. I know it’s a terrible economy, but it sounds like you had a positive experience at your first internship that it could be an option if you’re a 2L. If you’re a 1L and you’re not looking for a full-time offer out of this, forget him and move on.

      • I agree that I need to work on doing things on the fly, as that is sometimes part of my job description. I have someone in mind who I can chat with about improving that aspect of my work.

        I don’t anticipate an offer for reasons unrelated to me, but I can work my contacts at my other internship if I need to. Thanks for your reply.

      • I agree with this. Litigation requires quick decision-making and turnaround. You really have to master the art of doing the best you can in the time you have – sometimes that’s a lot and a perfectionist’s dream, and sometimes you cringe and never want to read that motion again. It’s not always great for analytical types who are meticulous and slow to make decisions. That’s not a failing of the analytical types. It just means a different area might play to their strengths.

        • This. I got no-offered at a lit position just out of law school which was devastating at the time but now – working in-house – I can see that I was totally wrong for that kind of work and am almost grateful for the entire miserable experience.

    • AnneCatherine :

      I don’t really have advice, but do have sympaty. I was once told (by a clerk (when I was an intern)) that I had too much of a “scorched earth” style of writing, e.g, as she explained it, I pursued (in written orders) every argument that could be made, then shot it down. As she explained it to me, the court doesn’t really have to justify itself to such an extent. She was actually helping me/educating me, but I remember it to this day with a teeny bit of embarassment. (Interestingly, the judge we both worked for had, and has since then, told me that I was one of the fastest opinion writers/workers he has known, so I was able to take her thoughts with a grain of salt.) But it’s tough to be told, “you’re slow,” when you are trying to be conscientious.

      As for your boss, I believe it was wrong of him to use the word “stupid” in his description to you of your predecessor. The predictable effect was to lower your morale. He doesn’t seem to have good leadership or teaching skills. Use this potisiton as a learning opportunity, and keep in your mind the fact that YOU are using it, and not vice-versa.

    • It sounds as if your office might prefer speed and efficiency to meticulousness. Obviously you don’t want to be careless, but you might want to consider adjusting your output to find an optimal balance of quality and speed. A book that I found really helpful for my first job out of college (and later re-read during law school) is The Big Sister’s Guide to The World of Work. I don’t know how much work experience you have, but it’s geared to those who are new professionals and offers advice that seems really basic but can really make a difference in your personal development. One of the things that helped me was focusing on your boss’ priorities and working style, instead of trying to make him/her appreciate your strengths if they don’t fit that style. If the culture is all about speed, your meticulousness won’t win you many brownie points even if your work is the best quality.

    • Biglaw Refugee :

      Hang in there. Don’t assume that his critical comments in a moment are what he thinks of you, and don’t assume that because he criticized another woman asking questions, he thinks you’re “stupid” for doing the same thing. In my experience, people mostly share such thoughts only after they have formed an opinion that the person they are speaking with does not share the negative quality they are attributing to a third party. Probably he thought she was stupid for a variety of reasons, and thus every question rubbed him the wrong way. I’ve had people who I thought were more critical of my work later turn out to be my strongest advocates, and people who gave me praise to my face then stab me in the back come review time. People say all kinds of things in the moment, and it reflects more on their personality than it does on your work.

      As for being slower than the others, are you sure about that? I always thought I was way too slow as a summer associate, but my employers didn’t complain. Generally slow is fine for a junior person, as long as you are meeting deadlines and communicating about your progress on longer-term assignments. The one thing you want to avoid is spinning your wheels because you don’t really know what the assignment requires.

      That said, I think for any perfectionist it’s a good idea to try to distinguish between work that really warrants your best effort, and work that only warrants 80% effort, especially when 80% will take 50% of the time. As a summer, you are trying to impress, but try to at least think about whether a specific assignment warrants the full effort before you put it in. Once you are in a permanent job, being able to be careful when warranted, and quick when not, will be a useful skill, even if your employer generally appreciates methodical work.

  19. I would phrase it as career advice. Say that, while you think the intern is a great worker, “other people”will make snap judgments based on how someone is dressed, and you’re worried if she doesn’t dress up (even dressing up jeans) it could keep superficial people from seeing her talent.

    I can tell you as a new attorney working for a government agency, it can be hard to figure out how to dress. Attorneys in my office never go to court, and our “clients” are all over the country, so meetings are on the phone. As a result, we’re really casual. I’ve tried to model my dress based on my supervisor and another woman in my office, but if I had picked the wrong person, I would appreciate someone pulling me aside. I’d rather know now if I’m hurting my career, instead of 10 years when I’ve been passed up for yet another promotion.

  20. My opinion is to be conservative for the first time. Be yourself. some young people wear something that doesn’t flatter themselve, although they are designer’s dress.
    Clearance! 90% Off on Louis Vuitton handbags at Buy 100 get 100 free.

  21. I usually confer with other female coworkers and we select who to do the deed- usually a mid-age, so they don’t seem to old out of touch or young too close. We once had an intern with flops and those ribbed tanks with size G boobs sticking out- and gently told her- and she defended herself with the I’m broke excuse. Please, those tanks cost the same as a pack of white T shirts at Target. We did not hire her. I tend to agree with the others about ‘why bother’ unless they are special= UNLESS I have to take them to stuff, in which case I just won’t tolerate it because it’s my impression they can then impact.

  22. I actually have had to tell an intern that she was dressed inappropriately (spaghetti strap tank tops, flip flops, very tight T-shirts). My passive-aggressive boss made me do it instead of her. Oh, wait, the boss was delegating work. Right.

  23. I’d like to second (fourth?) the suggestion to make the dress code clear on the first day. As someone who has always been conscientious and rather conservative in her dress, I appreciate being told straight up what is what. Especially for things like open toed shoes, the policy for which can vary a lot from office to office – and a permanent employee might prefer them but keep a pair of court appropriate pumps in her office just in case (a luxury an intern might not have)

    • I totally agree. When I started at my company, noone could tell me if opened toed shoes were OK or not. There was only one women in senior leadership – and she wore them – so we tended to use that as an excuse for us to as well. My male boss told me he had no idea if they were allowed, but personally, he hated having to look at people’s feet so he wished they weren’t. It was so unclear!

    • “Especially for things like open toed shoes, the policy for which can vary a lot from office to office – and a permanent employee might prefer them but keep a pair of court appropriate pumps in her office just in case (a luxury an intern might not have).”

      This is completely legitimate, even if you’re a broke intern. You can keep a pair of court-appropriate shoes in your desk drawer and a black suit coat hanging up in your cube or on the back of your chair for unexpected court appearances, even as an intern. If you don’t have an assigned desk, then get a large purse (there are cheap versions — try eBags or Target) and carry them back and forth with you to work. It’s completely understandable that you can’t afford to leave a drawer full of shoes at work as an intern, but you can get cheap appropriate shoes at Payless, Marshall’s, Walmart, wherever for $15. They may not be very comfortable and they may not last very long, but since you will only be using them for emergencies, it doesn’t matter. Think of them as shoe insurance.

  24. We had the same issue with people starting to wear tshirts on jeans Friday.

    The head of our area sent out a memo reminding us that Jeans Friday does not equal Casual Friday. While jeans are allowed, the regular dress code for shirts/shoes was still in place. And no faded/colored/ripped/sandblasted/distressed or cargo jeans were allowed.

    That makes it pretty clear. Really, you should just spell it out and send out a memo. I agree with people should know not to wear tees and ripped jeans to work, but well, sometimes people start to stretch it. And when one person sees it, the rest just start doing it because it seems to look okay.

    If I saw someone wearing flip flops, who I worked with or was above, I would probably ask, “Why are you are wearing flip flops?” That way they can say, “Oh, I am heading out to lunch and don’t want to walk in my heels!” Or, “Why, what’s wrong with flip flops?” Or, “These aren’t flip flops they are $500 Tory Burch sandals!”

    As long as you know the person, I think it’s fair to ask and then respond with something like, “Well just so you know, flip flops are against the dress code – so don’t forget to change them when you get back from lunch”

  25. Been there done that :

    Many of these comments have a harsh or dismissive edge to them that really disturbs me. Why wouldn’t you want to help out an intern in this situation? The situation may be somewhat more complex than “kids these days simply don’t care enough and aren’t professional enough.” Becoming a professional is something you grow into and, depending on your upbringing, may require more or less growth on your part. I grew up as a 2nd generation American, whose mom did not work outside the home. I knew very few professional women growing up. My mom is a very elegant, pulled together person in her way, but I had virtually no role models for how a professional should dress or otherwise comport herself in this country and business culture. I did not know what was or was not appropriate to wear to work and made many mistakes, within certain bounds (no flip flops or visible bra straps or jeans, but uncoordinated outfits, corduroy pants). Nor did I know what a *big* deal it was to some people; in fact, the comments on this blog regularly surprise me because others’ mistakes seem so often to be taken as personally offensive. I think I still make mistakes. I get the “rules” but I’m not that great at putting together outfits and I really struggle with that overall professional look that I see on others. Having kids has compounded that a thousand times over as have no time to shop for myself and I prefer to wear clothes that are washable as much as possible. In fact, next week I’m meeting with a personal shopper to work on my wardrobe and professional image. Rather than judging someone as not caring or being hopeless or clueless or stupid, consider that they may have other, invisible limitations and may be willing to work on overcoming them. Learning business etiquette is not that easy. I also think young people get many mixed messages — “find yourself”, “be yourself”, “be creative”, “don’t become a corporate tool”, etc. — that don’t really work in the real world. The fashion media certainly doesn’t help as I have rarely seen a work appropriate outfit in any fashion magazine. And more senior professional who have paid there dues may have more lattitude in how they dress, but a young intern may not realize that they can’t emulate the senior partner wearing the leather jacket to work. (in fact, a lot of problems arise from younger professionals not realizing that more seasoned professionals have earned certain rights, like maybe dressing a certain way or setting their own hours; they just think “it’s the culture, I can do it too!”). Given all that I think it takes time to develop a professional image. Going back to the original topic — I would try to build a rapport with the intern and discuss the situation conversationally/as an informal mentor.

    • delurking :

      I’m 25 and a second generation immigrant and completely disagree with you. Today’s young workers are more connected and more informed than ever. We are perfectly capable as a generation of sifting through the conflicting messages to find the truthful nuggets. The ability to google the phrase ‘work appropriate clothing’ and the mass production of cheap clothing in today’s society essentially remove every barrier to appropriate dressing that any intelligent young person can face.

      I am frankly surprised by the hesitancy and willingness to bend over backwards displayed on this thread by presumably, highly qualified and successful women. I don’t think that men would be so lenient on subordinates who are so clearly ignorant as to the norms of a professional work environment.

    • Legally Brunette :

      Your post resonates a lot with me. I’m a first generation American and we don’t have any professional women in my family. My mom to this day wears saris to work, which is perfectly fine for her work setting but obviously not appropriate for most of us.

      When I got my first job in consulting, I wore a variety of clothes that technically was appropriate – pants, skirts, blouses, etc., but in retrospect I realize that there was something a bit off with most everything – the skirts were a bit high, the pants were too low, the blouses were a little low cut, etc. I think everyone knows the basics on what to wear but it’s sometimes these nuances that get lost in the details. I also think that women’s magazines often do women no favors in what they promote as “work appropriate clothing.” Often times it’s really low cut and inappropriate clothing that is more suitable for a Bebe catalog than BigLaw.

      All this goes to say that I do think women owe it to our female interns to say something about their clothing, in a kind and compassionate manner.

Comments are closed.