What NOT to Wear as an Intern or Summer Associate

Jun46_mini2016 Update: I still agree with all of my advice in this post, but you can also check out our most recent discussion on what not to wear to work here. – Kat

We’ve had a few great conversations on here about summer internships and summer associates (including what not to DO at your internship) and general professional fashion gaffes, but I thought we should have an open thread of advice for all the interns and summer associates starting out this summer. (Pictured: ZooBorns is a new-to-me site featuring baby zoo animal pictures.  The baby lion cub seemed relevant here…)

For my own $.02, here are some tips:

  • DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR SANDALS OF ANY KIND UNLESS YOU SEE A SUPERIOR DO IT.  Similarly, your first week has probably already passed, but take a look around your office at the women superiors (NOT the other interns): are they wearing pantyhose when they wear skirts?  If they are, do not go bare-legged.
  • How long are your skirts?  Even if you didn’t grow up watching Ally McBeal, far too many skirts that are sold as professional ones are a bit too short for the office.  Check out our diagram and poll on how short is too short for an office skirt.
  • If you wear flip-flops for the commute, get those suckers off the second you get to the office. Going to a cocktail party after work does not count as “commuting” — find shoes that are comfortable to stand in.
  • Assess your hair. I passed a girl on the street yesterday wearing a messy bun on the very tippy-top of her head (a look I wore myself in my early 20s) and thought, “Perhaps she works in a creative field.” My point here: There are a ton of cute ways to pull your hair back on the weekend, but make sure that your casual “need to get my hair out of my face right this instant” look is appropriate for your office culture.  Hint: a low pony-tail works most everywhere; any ponytail or bun that sits higher than your ears may be suspect.
  • If you’re still learning the office culture but you interviewed in a blazer, bring one in to the office. Just a simple black one or white one will do. Then, if you get called to an important meeting at the last minute, throw a blazer on top of whatever you’re wearing.
  • Don’t carry a Birkin or any other accessory or clothing item that suggests that Daddy (or your sugar Daddy) buys you things. As I advised the young woman who wanted to carry her Birkin to her internship:  Even if you’re 100% committed to your career, the first impression you’re making is a negative one, and you may not get a chance to correct it personally with every person who notices.  So don’t do it.

Finally, this isn’t a fashion tip, but a more general one: Know your place. One of the weekend commenters mentioned going to a business meeting and being shocked that her opponent’s intern blocked the exit and talked loudly about her own general studies in the field — and I found myself nodding in agreement because I’ve seen that person (male and female) a million times and it never reads well. When you’re at a meeting with anyone outside your immediate company — e.g., clients, opponents — your role is to observe. Contributions are fine, but brevity and quality are the name of the game unless whoever you’re speaking with presses further.

This should be a fun discussion — readers, what advice do you wish you could give the interns at your workplace?  What gaffes have you seen?


  1. Anonymous :

    I summered at a BigLaw firm in NYC and now work as an attorney at a small public interest firm in DC, and the best advice is what you’ve already said: Know your workplace.

    I have to say that I was rather impressed by our summer clerk who emailed me (as the junior attorney who hired her) to ask what “casual attire” in our memo to summer clerks really meant. In our case, it really does mean shorts, sandals, and flip-flops are OK, but this gave me a chance to reiterate that before she showed up, plus add some advice about selecting casual clothes that are appropriate for our office (hint: nothing you’d wear going out dancing with your friends). Even here, I’ve seen inappropriate clerk attire — specifically skirts that are too short and dresses or tops that are too low-cut. We’re casual, but it’s an office!

    Also, no matter where you work, I think it’s important to have quick access to a suit or at least a nice blazer and trousers/ skirt if there’s any chance you’ll have an opportunity to meet clients, sit in on a deposition, or go to court.

  2. Anonymous :

    Know your office goes for makeup too, both whether to wear it and how much.

  3. Texas Lawyer :

    Kat’s comment on carrying a Birkin got me thinking. What about wearing a Rolex to an interview? I’m in Texas and hoping to hit the interview scene for a senior in-house position very soon. I have a lovely gold womens Rolex (presidential) that I received as a gift from my awesome husband. Is it too much to show up to an interview wearing such an expensive watch?

    • As a practicing attorney or seasoned professional (you note it’s a senior position), I see nothing wrong with wearing your watch. As someone applying for a more senior position, it’s assumed that you’ve worked hard, done well, and probably treated yourself to something along the line (be it a bag, watch, car, etc.).

      Not to mention the fact that almost no one will get close enough to you to scrutinize your watch in interviews. If someone recognizes your Rolex when they shake your hand or something, they only would because of their familiarity with the brand and styling.

    • I wouldn’t worry about it.

      L’Affaire Birkin Bag was a total sh!tstorm of different opinions, and any subsequent discussion here about luxury goods usually reopens the wound.

    • I wouldn’t recognize a Rolex if it jumped off your wrist and hit me in the face. No one’s looking at your watch unless it’s wildly tacky or something – wear what you like.

      • Anonymous :

        It matters more for males, I think. Same with pens and cuff links. Alpha male markers.

  4. [email protected] :

    I work in IT at a large law firm… Our summers just started this week.


    Be nice to IT, secretaries, file clerks, everyone. A lot of people have been here a lot longer than you have and, even though we are staff, we do have some say in whether you get that offer at the end of the summer. That woman might “just be the receptionist” but she’s also worked at the firm for 35 years and is very close with a lot of influential people.

  5. Corporette, not Ranchette :

    Wardrobe advice really needed. How do you dress for the summer associate events that involve, say, horseback riding (100+ degrees in the shade), or a water activity in which you are expected to get in a pool, lake, with co-workers and future co-workers of all ranks (and often, their families)? For the latter, I know what I’m supposed to wear but am just not willing to put my post-baby severely-out-of-shape self into even the most conservative swimwear in front of coworkers. For the former, I don’t know what to wear. Jeans seem the most appropriate. I’ve no idea what kind of shirt to wear. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to smell all that great after a 100+ degree one-hour horse ride, yet we still have to ’roundup at the corral’ when it is over, with no time to clean up. Whoever plans these themed events should be tortured.

    • I’ve been horse riding once in my life (for an hour) and the advice I’d give to you is “breathable”. You will sweat and feel grimy and completely not put together. A breathable cotton top – t-shirt or blouse with neat (but not your best) jeans. Wear shoes that completely cover your feet. Put your hair in a ponytail beforehand (no pun intended).

      For the pool/water activities, I’d suggest a tank or other form-fitting tee with shorts/capris and sandals, with a brightly colored cover-up/kurta/sarong on top. It gives that breezy look while still covering up.

    • For the former, you’re in luck b/c I grew up on a horse ranch in Nevada. Definitely, definitely wear jeans. If you’re going on a trail ride you’ll be riding in a western saddle and any fabric besides denim will not provide enough protection from it. You do not want to chafe and bruise. Wear full-length jeans, not capris. Make sure you can move in the jeans – mounting a horse entails putting your foot up in the stirrup, which may be as much as 3 feet off the ground, and pulling yourself up. Tight jeans will rip at the seam. Wear substantial sneakers that will protect your feet and won’t slip in the stirrups (assuming you don’t have cowboy boots or functional work boots like Doc Martens – if so those would be great). I have weird feet and hate wearing cowboy boots so I always ride in sneakers, to the mockery of my family, but they work fine. On top, whatever you want is fine – a t-shirt or polo shirt is fine. Wear a hat that will stay on your head in a stiff breeze.

      For the latter, wear a swimsuit with a cute coverup and floppy hat, and park yourself in a lounge chair. Just because it’s a pool party doesn’t mean you have to go in the water. No one will coerce you – I guarantee you there will be several other women there who don’t want to get in either.

  6. I like clothes and I work in a professional environment, but reading through these comments, my main reaction is: how somebody’s underwear fits is really not that big of a deal. Let’s try to keep an open mind about what makes a person valuable.

  7. Here are five thoughts from a rainmaking litigation partner at a Biglaw firm who has both dated and hired a share of summer clerks:

    1. Most of the male partners (including myself) jokingly refer to the female summer associates as “the menu.” If a successful partner starts to take a unique interest in you, politely redirect all conversation to work.

    2. Never, ever “go out for drinks” one-on-one with a male partner who wants to “hear more about your thoughts on the summer program.” Guess what: he doesn’t care about your thoughts on the summer program.

    3. There is typically an inverse corrolation between the female summer associates that I want to date and the ones I want to hire. The qualities in the ones I want to hire are: hard-working, thorough, intuitive, and detail-oriented. The qualities in the ones I want to date are: flirtatious, spontaneous, and fun. Know which category you want to find yourself in and act accordingly.

    4. The recruiting coordinator has far more say in your success than does a senior partner. In fact, many firms take it as a very negative sign when a successful partner takes a unique interest in an attractive summer clerk, as it usually leads to very foreseeable problems down the road.

    5. Be friendly with the other female summer clerks. One of the telltale signs of a potential problem is a clerk who does not get along with the other clerks or who is catty.

    • I need to take a shower now. I don’t care how much rain you make, it is disrespectful to treat women this way.

    • Wow. WOW.

      I’m speechless. The only word that comes to mind is “douchebag.”

      But thanks for that horrifying glimpse into your brain, and for the reminder of what professional women are still up against.

    • Anonymous :

      I love this post. There’s some great advice and insight here and it’s meant in a helpful way. Sincere thanks for posting it (I work in an EXTREMELY male-dominated field and have thrived, if I may brag).

      • Oh, I think it was extremely helpful, too — a good reminder that the world is full of ill-intentioned, selfish people. But the sentiment expressed was, nonetheless, vile.

        • Bex, you should take yourself a bit less seriously. I venture to guess that anyone who was seriously interested in this topic learned a great deal more from my post than from your’s. And “vile” — really? Hitler was Vile. Saddam Hussein was vile. My comments were, at most, indelicate. But don’t worry — I’m 99% certain you would fall into a third category of summer associates — people I would neither date nor hire.

          • Oh, the hilarity! My friend, I’m not disappointed for one second that you don’t want to sleep with me. [I hope you’re trolling (and I’m pretty sure you are, because why would you be on a women’s fashion blog?), because if you’re real, that last comment is too sad! Am I supposed to me rending my garments or something?]
            Yes, vile: highly offensive, unpleasant, or objectionable. That’s what I think sexism is (along with racism, homophobia, etc.). I take those things seriously, not myself.

          • Try “yours” instead of “your’s.” All that rain must have washed away some brain cells.

            Sexism IS vile.

    • None of this is news to those of us who weren’t born yesterday (or after 1985, anyway), but thanks for the comment – I think a lot of young women really don’t get what goes through older men’s heads and this kind of blatant remark should give them some insight (see, e.g., Bex and mo’s reactions).

      • I really don’t mean to harp on this, but just because something “isn’t news” doesn’t mean it’s right (it’s f**king NOT), and it doesn’t mean that we should let this douchery go unchecked when it’s expressed as if it’s no big deal (it IS).

        You’re right, though: I was born in 1985, heh.

        • Anonymous :

          I truly wish you good luck on your quest.

          FWIW I believe it’s important to understand how your coworkers think and react, rather than just making the work experience all about you and how you feel and what you think things should be like.

          • I think it’s fine to put your foot down and say you are not going to cater to the whims of people like that. If my personality doesn’t fit in with the firm because I don’t want to deal with sexist pigs (trust me I’ve worked at those places before), then it’s my prerogative to do so. The reality is that along as women accept it and go along with it (instead of protesting or refusing to work at places like that), the behaviors will continue.

        • I agree that it’s douchery (and that’s my new favorite word). But I’m old now and I have accepted that it is going to go on, so we need to learn to work with it. Now that I’m a senior manager, if I caught my male colleagues talking about which interns they want to bag, I’d tear them a new one. But I also want our interns to be aware that men like this not only exist but are ubiquitous.

    • Yup, that’s a pretty clear window into the minds of *some* of the male lawyers at firms. And frankly, it’s good to know that people think this way. I learned it the hard way and got myself into two really dicey situations with male superiors involving me and older male lawyers, plus alcohol, alone at a bar. I was too naive to realize that when a male coworker is effusively, drunkenly, telling you what a good lawyer you are, and you are alone with him, you’re probably about five minutes away from him trying to take you home. And yes, this happened to me twice. The first time taught me to avoid the guys who were known womanizers. The second time taught me even to avoid that specific situation with people I would otherwise trust.

      One word of correction though. I still think you can be spontaneous and fun and be taken seriously. You just need to avoid being in situations where someone can get the wrong idea. Like the above.

      Agree mostly with #4 and #5, though I think #4 depends on the partner.

  8. I could make a list of 10 things, but they all boil down to this: pay attention to your supervisors, and to office culture, and act accordingly. When in doubt, ask your supervisor or mentor how to proceed. I’d rather have an intern come to me and say, “What should I wear to the bbq at the managing partner’s house tonight?” than have her show up in something inappropriate. Or, better yet, I’d rather hear, “My school told me to use this internship to network as much as possible. Is it OK to introduce myself to all the court staff and opposing counsel when I attend a hearing with you?” so I can say, “No, please don’t do that, I’ll make the appropriate introductions for you” before you start doing it.

    Also, don’t raise your hand in court. It is not school.

    • Mo, as much as I dislike your reference to me as a “douchebag”, your comments above are pretty solid. One exception: in many courtrooms — particularly in state court rooms in law and motion in complex cases where the well is filled with lawyers — it is expected that attorneys raise their hand when they want to be recognized.

  9. I have a question. I am a law clerk at a small firm. I’ve been here for 3 months. We have “casual Fridays,” and I have yet to take advantage because I see my job as an extended job interview. Some of the attorneys wear jeans on Fridays and some do not. Should I keep dressing up, or is it OK to wear jeans on Fridays?

    • It’s probably ok to wear nicer jeans with a business-style top. You don’t say what the dress code is the rest of the time… if it’s business casual, then it’s probably ok to wear trouser-style dark jeans (no skinny jeans, nothing too tight, nothing ripped) and a button-down and a cardigan and still nice jewelery.

      But if I were you, I would only switch to nice chinos or something instead of full jeans. “Casual Friday” doesn’t mean jeans-only. It means that if you normally wear a full suit, you could wear a button-down with a cardi and slacks instead. If you’re normally biz casual, don’t feel like you need to do jeans.

      (And still remember not to wear flip-flops and beachy-wear, no matter how casual everyone else gets.)

    • I would wear trouser jeans or a nice denim skirt (dark wash only) on Fridays with a dressier blouse and dressy pumps or sandals. You can also top the look with a blazer to make it look more business-like. You can wear skinny jeans also, but make sure that your top is long enough and not too tight to balance the look out. With skinny jeans, I’d definitely wear a blazer and flats. This way, you look casual but still smartly dressed. The key is to keep the look business like and not look like a going-out type outfit.

  10. Have a professional, clear, and concise voicemail message on both your work phone(s) and personal phones.

    My judge almost didn’t hire a very qualified intern because his voicemail was basically “uggghhhhhhhhh, I’m not here. Message me. Click.” Which did not go over well.

  11. Summer associates, please, please don’t complain about how totally swamped you are, then in the next breath talk about your exciting weekend plans. It makes you look a little silly when most of the junior associates at our firm are currently working 7 days a week and will probably be in the office for most of the weekend.

    Of course, I’m not saying that you should be working 70 hours each week — you’re a summer, enjoy yourself. It just comes off as a little whiny, and might grate on the nerves of the cranky, sleep-deprived associates in the elevator with you.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      OMFG that happened to me yesterday and it was all I could do to not scream. You are not swamped unless you put in double-digit hours all week and will be doing the same all weekend. If you 1) have weekend plans, and 2) will be able to keep them, then you are not swamped, and lucky you. Enjoy the sunshine. Agreed on your second point, E, summers should not be working 70 hours a week, they should be having fun. But I swear to god, the next one that tells me that they are “swamped” is going to get a PDF of my timesheet from the past two months and a little talking to about the realities of being an associate.

  12. I think that in this day and age it’s time to become a bit more liberal with the dress code. I am not advocating shiny-leather-minis at the office, but I think high heels, sleeveless tops, city shorts, ponytails higher than ears, and skirts above the knees are TOTALLY fine. For crying out loud, this is the 21st century!

  13. Do not wear louboutins to work. Go crazy with your shoes during your own time. At the office, keep it classic professional. 3 inches is the max

    Use your common sense.

    When in doubt, go with the more conservative option.

  14. Um, please no fishnet stockings. Particularly not with really short tight mini skirts. I’m a lawyer working in a creative field and my department is business casual (with an emphasis on the casual side), but oh my goodness, fishnets? Really? And they were ratty ones too, so that some of the holes were quite large. I know law students don’t have a lot of money, but that one completely floored me.

  15. I haven’t noticed anyone mention this, so I will – be careful with your social networking. Be very careful about friending your co-workers. What you consider appropriate may still cast you in a negative light (i.e., the conversation above about telling an associate you’re swamped, then posting pictures of you at the beach). You also can’t control what other people post about you – it make take a few hours before you can untag a picture or hide something on your wall.

    Consider setting your privacy settings so that only friends of friends can find your page if they search for you.

    Even if you don’t friend your co-workers, don’t post anything about your job. A lot of companies run searches of what people are saying about them online – you don’t want your name to come up in that search.

  16. Screwing up is worse than sounding stupid, but it’s best to do neither. Why not ask something like this: I know the standard form is blah blah, but since this case involves yak, yak, should I include a section on Ooga booga?

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