2016 Update: I still agree with all of my advice in this post, but you can also check out our most recent discussion on what not to wear to work here. – Kat
We’ve had a few great conversations on here about summer internships and summer associates (including what not to DO at your internship) and general professional fashion gaffes, but I thought we should have an open thread of advice for all the interns and summer associates starting out this summer. (Pictured: ZooBorns is a new-to-me site featuring baby zoo animal pictures. The baby lion cub seemed relevant here…)
For my own $.02, here are some tips:
- DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR SANDALS OF ANY KIND UNLESS YOU SEE A SUPERIOR DO IT. Similarly, your first week has probably already passed, but take a look around your office at the women superiors (NOT the other interns): are they wearing pantyhose when they wear skirts? If they are, do not go bare-legged.
- How long are your skirts? Even if you didn’t grow up watching Ally McBeal, far too many skirts that are sold as professional ones are a bit too short for the office. Check out our diagram and poll on how short is too short for an office skirt.
- If you wear flip-flops for the commute, get those suckers off the second you get to the office. Going to a cocktail party after work does not count as “commuting” — find shoes that are comfortable to stand in.
- Assess your hair. I passed a girl on the street yesterday wearing a messy bun on the very tippy-top of her head (a look I wore myself in my early 20s) and thought, “Perhaps she works in a creative field.” My point here: There are a ton of cute ways to pull your hair back on the weekend, but make sure that your casual “need to get my hair out of my face right this instant” look is appropriate for your office culture. Hint: a low pony-tail works most everywhere; any ponytail or bun that sits higher than your ears may be suspect.
- If you’re still learning the office culture but you interviewed in a blazer, bring one in to the office. Just a simple black one or white one will do. Then, if you get called to an important meeting at the last minute, throw a blazer on top of whatever you’re wearing.
- Don’t carry a Birkin or any other accessory or clothing item that suggests that Daddy (or your sugar Daddy) buys you things. As I advised the young woman who wanted to carry her Birkin to her internship: Even if you’re 100% committed to your career, the first impression you’re making is a negative one, and you may not get a chance to correct it personally with every person who notices. So don’t do it.
Finally, this isn’t a fashion tip, but a more general one: Know your place. One of the weekend commenters mentioned going to a business meeting and being shocked that her opponent’s intern blocked the exit and talked loudly about her own general studies in the field — and I found myself nodding in agreement because I’ve seen that person (male and female) a million times and it never reads well. When you’re at a meeting with anyone outside your immediate company — e.g., clients, opponents — your role is to observe. Contributions are fine, but brevity and quality are the name of the game unless whoever you’re speaking with presses further.
This should be a fun discussion — readers, what advice do you wish you could give the interns at your workplace? What gaffes have you seen?