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. WordBlanket :

    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.

        • Congogirl :

          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!

  41. 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?

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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”

  49. We can all read, thank you very much – no need to spam every post here!

  50. 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.

  51. Spam much? I clicked your website and my spyware blocker flipped out.

  52. Tank PR Nottingham :

    I work in the PR industry so dress codes are somewhat difference and a bit of individuality is relished. However, when an industry demands that you turn up to work smartly dressed (even on Jeans Friday!) clean hair and nails with tidy clothes still isn’t enough. It is a case of showing respect for your sector.

    Even if you don’t know the intern that well, I am sure that if you took an interest in them they would be delighted. A bit of constructive criticism here and due praise there will encourage them to ‘up their game’ and if they took it the wrong way then that’s their problem. I know when I started out I know how grateful I was for any advice anyone offered.

  53. benefit, not distraction :

    Q: 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?
    A: Inappropriate attire distracts from the company’s mission; if a customer is not focused on the company but on an employees clothing. Neutral clothing/appearance is better for the company paying one’s wage than distracting appearance.

  54. This thread seems to be petering out, but I do have a question. I’m a mid-level associate at a small (6 attorney) firm, and the only woman attorney here. The other attorneys all regularly wear jeans and polo shirts to work in the summer, jeans and long-sleeved shirts in the winter, and sometimes dress even more casually.

    I regularly wear jeans and an appropriate top. No one has ever commented on my attire and I’m being considered for possible partnership this year or next year. I just want to provide an alternate perspective to some of the posters on here, who seems like they’re in larger firms or more formal firms.

    However, as a caveat, I will say that I always dress up when I’m going to see other attorneys and ALWAYS for court.

    • Kate Ford :

      I have worked at a law firm for 15 years.

      Ditch the jean immediately.

      Wear talbots slim ankle pants with cardigans around your neck and tiny pearl studs on Friday. Think Grace Kelly

    • Kate Ford :

      I accidently hit post.
      Buy a pair of Tods driving Mocs. Look like you need to make 150k because that’s your lifestyle. Men wear golf shirts to designate they belong to golf clubs, an expensive hobby.

      The ONLY thing men think of when they see young woman in jeans is that you are young and your ASS.

      Men dont judge men, they Judge women.

      Also, NEVER wear a ponytail.

      • Never wear a ponytail? Please explain.

        • Ha!! Ha!!!
          I am an attorney at a small practice firm (about 10 attorneys) as well as being the only female attorney. I’m in court usually 4 times a week. I wear a ponytail(or a bun) almost every single day!! I actually think that it is weird when I see other 30/35 year old attorneys with long ratty hair hanging halfway down their back. I’m sure it looked nice that morning, but by 11:00 a.m. it just looks stringy.
          But on the jeans issue……I do agree, you can get away with dark trouser jeans (never regular jeans!!) on Fridays, but otherwise, wear pants, skirts, simple sheath dresses ect., when you’re not in court. Ann Taylor and Banana Republic are your friend! Tod mocs and ballet flats are the way to go.

  55. I don’t have an answer to the post’s question, but I do want to say that instituting a casual day and then being aghast when someone comes in dressed casually is at best a misguided policy. The purpose of casual days generally is (as I understand it) to let people relax, help morale, etc. — making it merely a slightly less formal day sounds counterproductive.

    • Fashionista :


    • Casual at a place of business means business casual, which is actually VERY different from casual. It’s not misguided or misleading (which is what I think you meant to say), but a way for people to show their style in a way that is still work appropriate. Trendy jeans, sandals, and inappropriate shirts (halter tops, etc.) are not business casual. Some offices may vary in their dress codes, but terms like business casual have specific guidelines. Stores like JCrew, Banana Republic, Anne Taylor, and Anne Taylor LOFT have great business casual options.

  56. For better or worse, I decided long ago that inappropriate attire would be the subject of a quiet, one on one, suggestion. Although male, I work in a small firm environment. Focus of firm is client-oriented and it is important to present professionally to business clientele. Clients do notice, whether they choose to comment or not. A small embarrassment is better than continued gaffe. The firm image to clients is the overriding concern here.

    The focus here is a true gaffe, not trying to be the fashion police. I am fully aware that some firms have very rigid dress codes, but that is not the case. However, the casual Friday approach was a failed experiment and male lawyers wear a suit every day, but leave the coat off. In that environment, the opportunity for error is not as high as trying to deal with some of the more relaxed dress codes. By the way, casual Friday did fail because of failure to draw boundaries that were appropriate (i.e. t-shirt, cargo pants and flops were not intended).

    A polite one on one suggestion can be made without making it an ordeal, when appropriate. Again the concern is client focused, and the clients do notice a lot.

    • Agreed. I was an intern myself not too long ago, and received two pieces of advice that I have since lived by. First, no boobs, no butt, no belly (rules my aunt gives to her fourth grade students which she gave to me before I started work). Second, dress for the job you want, not for the job you have (given to me by my insternship supervisor before I left). As the former piece of advice was from my aunt, I of course took no offense. And the latter was much appreciated, as she sat down with me, told me how much she’d enjoyed having me for the summer, gave me some career advice, and as an aside, made the comment about dressing.

      Having now switched over to having interns myself instead of being one, whenever I have a female intern, I make sure to do the same thing for her, and it’s always genuinely appreciated. I think the most important thing is to make sure you do it in a positive way, and that if you do, it’s generally accepted as genuine care and advice.

  57. I’m wearing cords and a polo and I’m an atty at a fed agency. On Friday it’s jeans (or shorts in this heat and humidity) and a tshirt.

    What I’m wearing says nothing about my ability to practice law.

    • Shlomo Dorkstein :

      Perhaps, but the fact that you are a fed agency drone says you are an unskilled or unmotivated lawyer.
      On the upside, as long as you wear ANYTHING to the office and do not commit murder during working hours, you can keep your dead-end job until retirement at 75.

      • Fed atty too :

        Dorkstein, I have been working for a federal agency for three years and now have better trial and litigation skills than the grey-haired male partners I go up against on a regular basis. Trading money for quality litigation experience does not make someone unmotivated, and I mean no disrespect to young biglaw associates reading this blog between hours of document review. Dorkstein, your jealousy at our job security is a little obvious. It’s unflattering. Try to hide it in a few years when I go to work at your firm as a partner, having skipped all that document review.

      • That was uncalled for.

      • Wow. Maybe the fact that you work at a firm means you have no friends and no social life so you make up for it by working all the time. Everyone has a good reason for their choices.

        • DirkJohanson :

          I’ve worked in a government agency for over six years, having spent more than 10 years prior to that in private practice.

          The incompetence of the career government attorneys I work with has not yet ceased to amaze me.

      • I am sad that this stereotype exists and is so angrily presented by supposedly fellow professionals. As a federal atty who works in an office jammed with former federal district and appellate court clerks and many former big law associates, I will happily pit my (and my coworkers) skills against any other lawyer’s anytime. And if drafting the laws and regulations that govern your clients’ business activities and lives and litigating to ensure that the public good is served renders government service a “dead-end job,” then bring it on!

        • Kate Ford :

          So, you’re a Federal Clerk? No one see you except your Judge and her staff.

          You research and write and never see clients. It doesn’t matter what you wear, unless it’s a court or conference day.

          • No – not a federal clerk; a federal [agency] attorney whose office is full of FORMER clerks, I said.

  58. Kevin the Magnificent :

    Look, some people are just trashy. It doesn’t matter what their education level is: trashy people will always be trashy.

    They will talk trashy, act trashy, and dress trashy. It’s been going that way for a three decades now. It began with casual Fridays, progressed to casual offices, and now it is what it is.

    My advice would simply be to ignore the trashy interns. Further, if you have some hand in whether or not they are eventually hired, find any reason you can to keep them out of your firm.

    • Yes! My sister, bless her, is a newly minted (and talented, likeable, smart) physician who cannot stop dressing like she is trying to mix and match her nightclub and church pieces. She is fortunate enough to be rescued, at least in part, by a long white coat. But she is, truly, a hopeless case in terms of finding a professional dress code that works for her. An added wrinkle (pun intended) is that she really needs to be able to put everything in the wash (to disinfect, in some cases fight bodily fluid stains), and realistically she does not have the time/money to dry clean.

  59. R in Manhattan :

    I admit, I haven’t read every comment in this article, but I’ve gotten through a decent amount. I have yet to see any mention of a more casual office setting. I’m a graphic design intern with a job in a design department as part of a marketing department, which is part of a larger company. The company is green/environmental-based, so the atmosphere leans much more modern than conservative. Further, designers are notoriously known for dressing more casually than their counterparts (sometimes embarrassingly so.) Every day, my male boss wears a button down collared shirt, jeans or khaki cargo shorts, and Converse sneakers. I’ve been dressing nicer than this (skirts, dresses, camisoles with cardigans, flats, etc.), but I’ve seen others in the office wearing flip flops, tshirts, etc. It’s been difficult to find a balance between looking appropriate for the setting and looking completely out of place, while also feeling confident and comfortable with what I’m wearing.

    • When I worked in a similar environment, the “production” team was allowed to wear jeans and ultra casual clothes daily while everyone else was supposed to be wearing business casual (no jeans). We had two interns at one point who dressed up a little more than everyone else in the department and I remember that a lot of people called them the Barbie Twins. We had another stylish female in her early 30s in the department, but her look was more artsy and less sorority chick, so she seemed to get more respect as a designer than the BTs.

    • Kate Ford :

      It’s not a professional environment, it’s an artistic environment. Completely different standards.

      • R in Manhattan :

        I do just want to clear up, though, that my very small department of 3 designers including me is part of a large company with offices in 2 cities. My office has about 100 people and is very much a corporate environment, but not a conservative one. When we have office-wide meetings, I often feel out of place in my flats compared to the majority of the women wearing heels. It’s difficult to balance the more casual wear of my department with the office as a whole.

  60. I would much rather have it brought to my attention, rather than have my superiors talking about it behind my back. I would much rather be momentarily embarrassed, than an embarrassment to the company.

  61. 1) congrats, Kat, on all the coverage! I’ve seen this post linked on 2 other sites!
    2) I see people talking about more casual/ artsy environments. The name of this blog is “Corporette.” Casual, artistic, labor focused jobs are super cool. But they aren’t so much the target of this site, or the province of most of it’s readers.
    3) As a person early in my career, I’d say do please say something! It’s a minefield, and asking can seem pretty unprofessional or shallow. (Do I look alright? what should I wear?). It might even open up the door for a discussion the intern would love to have! It’s difficult to read if everything is appropriate for everyone of if the right to not wear a suit is earned by partners, but not yet by interns, or if wearing the suit is going to make you seem stuffy etc.

  62. Wow! Different country (New Zealand), very different rules regarding dress codes.
    When I was employed four years ago, a copy of my company’s dress code policy was sent to me along with my contract, to be signed and initialed before I was employed. This is not unusual.
    The policy states “Employees must ensure they are well groomed and dressed in appropriate attire that reflects the company’s interest by projecting a professional image”. It then outlines attire that is/isn’t regarded as appropriate (flip flops are not), and concludes with “Disciplinary action (up to and including termination of employment) may be taken against an employee if they repeatedly do not observe the dress and presentation standards set out in the policy.”
    On the first day of work after the Christmas/New Year break each year (our summer) a memo is sent from HR to remind us of this dress policy.
    It may seem draconian, but because clear guidelines were given at the outset, I haven’t slipped up, and have never been in the uncomfortable position of having to look at the exposed flesh of a co-worker I’d rather not see.

    • Kate Ford :

      The problem is that when you tell a young American to dress professionally, they paper dressed like one of the girls on “The Hills”.

      This latest generation doesn’t have a clue. They dress like hookers and think if it’s fashionable, expensive, and pretty, it’s professional.

      • Haven’t seen “The Hills” – if this attire could be defined as “Clothing more appropriate for evening or leisure wear (such as excessively short
        miniskirts, low-cut tank or halter tops, backless dresses, sheer clothing etc.)” it’s touched on in the “Specifically prohibited” section of the Dress Policy.
        Because my employer clearly states their position on attire to every new employee (by sending a copy of the Dress Policy to be signed as “read and understood”) before employment commences – and reinforces it to everyone annually – plus the knowledge that it could lead to dismissal, everyone complies.
        Do US law schools/colleges in general not advice students of appropriate corporate attire before they enter the workforce?

  63. Kate Ford :

    I tell them all, every one of them, every time.

    Into my office they go, door shut.
    I make them write it down.

    No sexy clothes, no cleavage, no open back shoes, no mid-thigh skirts, nothing cling, no evening looks, no large earrings, no massive up-dos, no, no, no black nail polish, no unlined jersey shirt dresses, and no scrunchies!!

    I also, say, I don’t want to see their pedicures except on Fridays.

    Then, I tell them, they should wear polished clean natural makeup, ALWAYS be well groomed, including nails, brows, hair, cleanliness.

    If ONLY their mothers did their jobs, we wouldn’t have to!

    • I’d be out of an internship so fast if someone told me what type of makeup I should be wearing. I can’t imagine working in a place where someone might think less of me if I wasn’t in the mood or couldn’t put on makeup regularly.

      • Kate above could mean something differently, but I think this just goes toward looking clean and well-groomed. The conversation may be necessary to AVOID certain kinds of makeup, not to emphasize that makeup needs to be worn. No raccoon eyes, neon-iridescent eye shadow, bright purple lipstick, too much blush, etc.

        It’s also very individualized — while you may be able to look completely professional without makeup on, let’s face it — not all women can. It sounds like this advice is intended to be a catch-all up front, so it’s just easier to tell them to keep their makeup clean, natural and polished. May seem a bit draconian, but it cuts down on those awkward pull-em-back-in talks later.

  64. Catherine :

    I am shocked by what a common problem this is. I am 29 – too old to be an intern but young enough that I (think) I still understand the youngest employees.
    Work wear rules of thumb:
    1) When in doubt, err on the side of conservative. No one is going to think less of you for wearing a knee length skirt on a Friday but they will judge you for a low cut tank top.
    2) Note what your superiors are wearing and emulate their style
    3) Refer to rule #1

    This is your career. You are working hard to establish yourself as a professional and how you look is an important part of that image.

  65. wow, I’m just surprised by the negative and judgmental comments here. Glade I didn’t intern with most of you.

  66. I recently went to a group interview for volunteering at a non-profit.
    Two girls who needed to fulfill internships showed up. They were attired with sandals, tank tops and short, shorts. Just covering the tush. I still think either I or they are from another planet.

  67. All I can say is “Know your audience”. This particular piece of advice works in all situations. If you know that your boss is conservative, but then you have a casual outing or day at work, then dress casually but conservatively (this means no underwear should be seen, no body parts should be peeking out that show what gender you are). If you have a casual day but know that you still might see clients, then dress conservatively but casually (this means nice jeans, no holes, or better yet, some khaki pants, and not skin tight) and plan on having a jacket on hand to cover up too much “casual”.

    And no, this is not judgmental (aimed at the person who said that so many comments were judgmental), this is common sense. It would seem that common sense is in short supply with interns, sometimes.

  68. The point is not to berate or belittle if someone has a clothing gaffe. Frankly, a law firm is a service business. If you are dealing with the clients, or in a firm where a professional environment is expected, then dress to the part. If it is not a fit, then so be it.

    Clients and providing good service to them is why a law firm exists. While I fully respect the individual right of someone to dress in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops on the individual’s own time, it does not present well to clients. You can be a top flight, brilliant attorney and dress like a slob, but it is still not appropriate to the business of providing good service to business clientele. The clients notice and question it. Business owners have their own standards in their own businesses. A law firm that serves them sets an obstacle in its path if the employees do not maintain a professional image.

    If you do not present well, it is difficult for people to overlook, even if you are very effective otherwise. Personal choice needs to yield to appropriate standards if a job is required, to a certain extent. If you value your appearance over your job, so be it.

  69. Senior lawyerette :

    As my name implies, my starting experiences were a while ago. In my first job as a lawyer [what was then considered a medium size firm], I was asked to tell another woman in my same year to dress better. This from males who wore huge plaids, pony briefcases, with belts to match, and white patent leather moccasins.

    At another job [regional commercial bank], I was asked to tell my secretary to dress better. Now, she did dress poorly. But I told my boss, a very nice guy, BTW, that if there was no written dress code, I couldn’t suggest how she should dress. Later, when she moved on to another job, after learning that she was among the lowest paid of the secretaries, although one of the best], she ran out and bought some “nice” clothes.

    In each instance, dress codes should have been in place. They wouldn’t have to specify Brooks Brothers suits, pumps, pressed white shirt and tie – and I’m talking about for the women – but the code should describe with enough specificity what does and what doesn’t fall within the appropriate guidelines.

    On my own time, I dress as I please, but since I live in the business area of the city, I use some discretion, because I might always run into a business associate.

    OTOH, I had one client who said he wouldn’t work with me if I weren’t wearing jeans! meaning casual, not ass-conscious.

    I’m with everyone else who said
    err on the conservative side
    dress to fit the environment you’re working in
    there’s a difference between judgmental and mentoring.

  70. If your intern has any brains, he or she will adopt approximately the same sort of dress style worn by the rest of the staff. If they don’t pick up on this go ahead and give them some constructive criticism (privately). If they still don’t shape up, perhaps you don’t want to hire them long term.

    A lot of people in my office are very confused about casual Fridays. Most of us wear clean, non-ripped jeans and decent shirts and shoes, but I have seen a woman wearing sweats and an old Simpson’s t-shirt, and several people in ripped jeans and flip-flops. If you’re working anywhere outside your own home, I don’t think that’s appropriate.

    The worst to me is the clothing that reveals too much skin. Even if your blouse is by a designer name and otherwise really nice, I simply don’t want to see cleavage at the office. We also have a staff member here who routinely wears jeans that show the crack of his ass… not something I ever want to see, let alone at work. For something that bad, I say send the employee home.

  71. Senior lawyerette :

    Oh, and did I mention the partner who was interviewing a classmate at BigLaw? At the end of the many individual interviews, the last partner walked classmate to the lobby, went into the convenience shop and bought and presented classmate with a deoderant…. I don’t know if classmate got an offer from that firm, but hopefully got the message.

  72. Congogirl :

    I have had a discussion with a female fellow that I work with in a government context, based on this website and several links that I followed a few months back, addressing how women’s dress is viewed at work by men. I’ve also had this discussion in less detail with several other women recently. By and large, women think they should be able to wear anything they want and not be judged by men. I counter by asking whether they want to be remembered for their work or their cleavage.

    I took this more anecdotal approach as a way of saying that this person’s skirts are too short, jerseys are too casual, and necklines are too revealing. They are not intended to be, but if I notice cleavage, you know her 90% male office is noticing it, too. From what I can see, she may or may not have absorbed the commentary but hasn’t changed her wardrobe much. She’s very cute, and I assume that she will be remembered primarily for that attribute.

    • Kevin the Magnificent :

      “I counter by asking whether they want to be remembered for their work or their cleavage. ”

      Exactly. Sadly, many women want to have it both ways.

      And, even more sadly, many men in the legal field are so inept socially that they won’t deter the cleavage showing because they never have (and never will) see anything like it in their personal lives.

      To me, the duty is to the client. You want a good reputation not only in your own office, but with the community at large.

      You want to dress like a stripper, go work at a strip club. You want to provide top notch legal services to your clients and have them refer you because of your professionalism, dress the part and make sure the only goods you are revealing are your legal labor.

  73. I agree that there is a petty clear problem, seemingly unique to the young women, with a lack of understanding about what is appropriate attire in a conservative profession. But I’ve noticed another trend that is at least as troubling, and not entirely limited to the women: weight. In the past 5 years the average associate weight gain has easily exceeded 10 pounds per year. Rightly or wrongly, substantial excess weight is both a perceived and an actual negative. Combine it with clothes that are inappropriate and you have a professional disaster before your very eyes. And a partnership bar that the young employee is much less likely to reach.

    • LawyerLady :

      Wait…so is it the excess weight that’s a partnership bar, or the inappropriate clothes? It’s not hard to understand how the hectic but mainly sedentary lifestyle of your typical associate might lead to weight gain. Of course it’s not good health-wise, but as long as you are still dressing professionally, why should that bar your career advancement?

      • Because we have a society that sees fat people as lazy. It is not true in many instances, but if you are not taking care of yourself (presumably the most important job in the world to you), then you might not do other jobs that well, either.

        I am not saying that this is right, just answering your question.

  74. Kept mum to keep my job :

    In a former (pre-bar exam) job with a boss even worse than Michael Scott on “The Office”, I knew when to keep quiet. I noticed the young bleached blond lady in questionable attire was rather smart, but I bet the men noticed other things. She made it clear to her coworkers she would play the boss to be the favorite, and if that took wearing stripper shoes so be it. They went on “dates” together, which were met with flimsy excuses for the daytime excursions to art museums and such because “he had to make it up to her because she was sick the day of the company picnick.”

    I almost couldn’t look at her without blushing. I swear I could see the bottom elastic on her underwear even when she stood. (Her thighs were heavy, too.) I walked into the room and right back out again when the consversation led to the boss thanking her for the nice veiw of her breasts.

    Miss Floozy was able to drum up one complaint after another of me, as I protested to racist videos being played at the desk next to me, that of course she had emailed to the employee sitting at that desk. A workplace that allows such tacky attire will also allow other tacky behavior. A workplace full of innapropriate attire ON PURPOSE is full of low employee morale for many other reasons as well.

  75. It’s difficult to comment when a coworker is wearing something that doesn’t work, but on the one day that person DOES wear something appropriate, a good strategy is to complement the heck out of that person. This works for significant others too!

  76. I had to do exactly this – as a first year associate I had to tell a summer student that what she was wearing was too casual, although it technically fit the firm’s written policy on casual Fridays. I thought that it was better she know, so she would be remembered for her work (which was excellent) and not for her choice in fashion. I figured if I had a booger hanging out of my nose, I would rather be told about it and embarrassed in front of a few people rather than walk around with it all day…. She took it well, and thanked me for it (although I found out later that day at happy hour that she had told the other summer students that she was in trouble – which she certainly wasn’t!).

  77. I’m a woman partner in a big law firm. Here’s the worst story I have: a young woman associate was wearing a purple lace thong at work. I know this because about two inches of it showed above her low-rise, cropped cargo pants. She complemented these with a midriff-baring t-shirt and flip-flops. This was not on a weekend day.

    Okay, that’s an outlier (a really far-out outlier). But the mistake young women attorneys make is dressing so that they will remind the senior partners of their daughters rather than their peers. Even the most forward thinking, liberal senior attorney will think twice about sending someone who looks like his or her daughter to depose the other side’s executives or to meet with a client’s executives to advise them on the risks of their case.

    Dress for the job you want. Dress to inspire confidence that you are the person to whom multi-million dollar problems can be trusted. You don’t have to shop at Talbots, and you don’t have to be frumpy. There’s considerable distance between frumpy and Lucky magazine. Cute as the Lucky look is, save it for the weekend.

    Here are some specifics. Wear one trendy item with an otherwise quiet outfit. No flip-flops, period. No underwear showing (that includes bra straps). No scarves wound around your neck like a neck brace. No fussy clothes that require constant readjustment. Jackets convey the impression of confidence and authority, and cardigans are not a bad stand-in. Keep a dark jacket in your office. If you wear really high heels, make sure you can walk in them confidently and (seemingly, anyway) comfortably.

    Things I wear occasionally: platform sandals; trendy jackets; statement necklaces; bags the size of my car; sweaters without jackets; t-shirts under suits. Things I don’t wear: fingernail polish (but toenail polish is OK); ruffles, especially with frayed or unfinished edges; pink; and did I mention flip-flops.

    If you want to be a lawyer, express authority, confidence and maturity. If you want to wear trendy, fun looks that call attention to themselves, find a job where that kind of self-expression is valued.

  78. Never wear jeans in a law firm, no matter “day” of the week it is (e.g., casual something)—wear attractive grey, black or khakis—it’s OK around the office. In court, dress conservatively—-if in doubt, go to the federal courthouse and observe what the attorneys wear. You can’t go wrong with conservative in a law or accounting firm.

  79. I work at an office in nonprofit public health (which is notorious for being underdressed). A lot of my superiors (women) wear jeans, t-shirts, or those ungodly capri khakis. As an intern/entry-level, I still try and dress professionally, which includes button downs, skirts that come to my knee, never sleeveless, nice cardigan sweaters, etc. If I do wear jeans, and only on Fridays, they are either black or dark grey trouser-cut. I’d much rather my colleagues think I overdress a little than underdress. That being said, there is another intern who works in a cubicle right across from me that wears short shorts, tank tops, and sandals all the time. Even though we are on the same level, she works in a different department and I don’t think I’d feel comfortable telling her she needs to dress a little more appropriately.
    It frustrates me that she doesn’t even realize she’s dressing inappropriately, even for my casual office.

  80. Andrea Mercado :

    As a young-side baby boomer former-practicing-lawyer-turned-headhunter, I can say that there is nothing positive to be said about being frumpy or dated in these fast moving times, still age-ist times. I would sooner slit my writs than wear man tailored skirt suits and floppy bow ties again– even if a boss wore them. Tailored clothing with one or two fashion twists in colors that favor your skintone and cuts which favor your body type–and which fit properly (neither skin tight nor swimming) — will never hurt you. It’s just that what you wear should not be revealing or loud so that its’ more memorable than your work. I certainly tell candidates all of the time when something I see seems inappropriate. When I was in a firm, I could never tell my peers, whether male or female, when they dressed badly–whether inappropriately or just unattractively. Years later, I have the confidence to do so.

  81. Business casual was invented by men who did not want to wear ties, wool trousers and heavy leather lace-ups. It was not invented to let individual fashion tastes run free. So wear clothes that are comfortable for a long day in an air-conditioned office, but otherwise close to business wear.

  82. I would love to be told, but just as a note many interns who are college students do not have corporate wear. So while I understand the frustration its not always possible to find Cole Haan a 19 can afford. Also their parents may not be able to help in such a way too. So yes only if you know the person should I feel you say something because you may not know the interns background. I say this as a current intern

  83. Do not share your opinion unless she is your best friend

    A new employee wanted to sue because we suggested a more conservative touch will be better to advance her career. We tried to do it politely but when she could not performed the job she decided she could use this comment against us. Well, good thing we document non-performers and after reviewing her results she quit on her own.

  84. There is an intern at my firm who has hooker-hair. She has naturally curly hair, which she tries to straighten, but it doesn’t really work. The result is a head of hair which looks like it’s been teased out. It doesn’t really help that it’s really long, and not tied back, and that she wears heavy eye make-up to boot.

    Should I say something? Or let it go? She’s not here much longer and she won’t be coming back. On the other hand…she may not get a job at another firm looking like that, and I’d like to help her if I can.

  85. 3L law student here. I think the answer, from the intern side, is a solid “it depends.” If you think it’s the kind of faux pas that could materially impact whether the intern gets an offer, then definitely YES.

    If you decide to go for it, know that she’ll probably feel a lot better if you (1) mention that you did the same thing or something analogous and wish someone had told you and/or (2) throw in some kind of compliment or positive feedback (e.g., “You’re just doing really great work here, and I wouldn’t want anyone to overlook that because they [are distracted by/got the wrong first impression from] your [cleavage/short skirts/casual clothes etc.]”).

    For common/widespread issues such as the overly casual Fridays, I think the ideal approach would be to send an e-mail to all the female interns (or those you’re in contact with) or all the interns (if that’s a lot easier) suggesting guidelines for jeans Friday (or the standard dress code) and perhaps directly addressing the issue. Obviously this doesn’t work if only one person is messing up since everyone will know it’s addressed at that one person, but otherwise the mass email accomplishes your goal of informing these girls of their no-nos without making anyone feel singled out (and also saves you the time of speaking to individual interns).

    Even better would be to preempt the most common gaffes by sending a group email at the beginning of the summer, before any fashion faux pas occur. I think everyone feels like they’re flying blind for the first week in a new office anyway and would greatly appreciate the insight. Maybe even just tell them about or send them all links to the most relevant and helpful posts (e.g., Dressing Professionally for Summer, What Not to Wear to the Office, What Not to Wear as an Intern or Summer Associate).