It’s that time of year- school is winding down, summer is right around the corner, and everyone is asking what your plans are. Some of you might be waiting to hear back, but many of you have probably done it: you’ve landed an internship.
I did my first internship the summer after my junior year of high school. There was some confusion at the company- someone thought I was a junior in college and they’d already offered me a position by the time they realized I was in high school, so I just got to work there anyway. The week before I went shopping for professional clothing and basically tried to imitate what I’d seen in movies. A nice navy suit, a few button-downs, a sheath dress. The thing is, I felt like I was dressing up in my mom’s clothes every day and was so uncomfortable.
Which brings me to why I’m here today. How does one even dress for an internship? When you’re young, it’s hard to find a balance between professional and age-appropriate. Here’s my guide to choosing clothes as well as few favorite pieces I’ve found.
1. Know your environment. ‘Professional’ isn’t going to mean the same thing everywhere. If you’re working at a corporate law firm, you should probably think more formal and keep your wardrobe within the black/white/gray/navy color scheme. If you’re working at an ad agency or magazine, you’re probably going to have a little more wiggle room. Wait until you’ve seen what your colleagues are wearing before buying a lot of stuff.
2. Less is more. You don’t need to have a different outfit for every day of the week. Nice professional clothes can be expensive, so just invest in a few nice pieces that you can mix and match. They’ll last a lot longer, so you can just keep adding to your wardrobe rather than replacing everything, and I can promise you that no one cares if you wear the same skirt twice in one week.
3. How you present yourself is really important, so take it seriously. Whether we like it or not, people automatically judge how competent, organized, and generally on top of our shit we are by our clothes and outward appearance. This is going to be your first impression on a lot of people in your office, and for all you know one of your colleague’s best friends could be the CEO at the company of your dreams. You’re making valuable connections, so make sure you smell good, your clothes are in good repair, your nails are clean, and your hair is neat.* Make an effort to look polished and people will notice.
4. Err on the side of caution. If you’re asking yourself if a skirt is too short for the office, it probably is. If you’re wondering if you should go a size up in a top, do it. I had a friend in the office who was constantly pulling her skirts down because she didn’t want to flash anyone. There was another person who didn’t own a single pair of pants that fit him properly and the rest of us saw way too much butt as a result. Don’t be them. Think about country club attire as a general rule of thumb. Skirts no shorter than 3 inches above the back of the knee, usually keep shoulders covered, no shorts… you get the idea.
5. Make sure you’re comfortable. I can’t stress this one enough. Interns are expected to do anything and everything, from sitting in on important meetings to making coffee. Steer away from silky linings and go for breathable fabrics and non-constricitng clothes. It’s almost always better to size up a little bit in office clothes so you’ll have more room to move.
6. Keep in mind your current situation. Dry cleaning is expensive and you might not want to budget a ton of money for it just yet, so as cute as that dry-clean only dress might be, maybe look for things you can wash yourself. If you’re going to be running all over the place and then have to sit in on a meeting, make sure you opt for non-wrinkle materials that will stay looking good all day. The people wearing suits are usually high up in the company and have been working for a lot longer than you have- no one expects you to wear the same thing as the CEO.
*If you want to straighten your hair, go for it, but neat doesn’t mean straight. I’ve found that people are generally the most comfortable when they feel like themselves, so go for your natural hair! Just make sure you don’t roll out of bed and leave.
And now, some recommendations:
1. A Coordinated Set (Skirt, Top)
Why: They can look professional together, are still young/trendy, and the individual pieces can be worn with other stuff.
What to Look for: Clean lines, covered shoulders, skirt that hits no higher than 3 inches above the back of the knee, fairly simple colors and prints.
2. A Non-Wrinkle Dress
Why: This will be your best friend. It looks cute and polished, even if you just have to run 11 blocks to get to the courthouse before closing in it. Toss a blazer over it and it becomes super-professional.
What to Look for: Ponte, solid colors, reasonable hemline, classic cut (like a slight a-line), ponte. Also ponte.
3. A Fun Detail
Why: This says “I’m professional but still young and whimsical af”, and who doesn’t want to say that with their outfit? You’ll also be able to wear this one outside the office.
What to Look for: A textured fabric, fun hem detail, some contrast piping, a bow. Stick to one detail, and nothing too crazy.
4. A Comfortable Heel
Why: If you’re like me, you like wearing heels. They make that intimidating clicking noise and make you feel like a legit, grown-up, professional woman. But like, heels. Ugh.
What to Look for: Keep it below 2″, built in padding, no spots that rub, closed toe, no cheap/tacky looking material, solid colors (read: black, navy, nude).
5. A Pair of Stretch Pants
Why: They’re comfortable, you can wear them outside the office, and you can dress them up or down.
What to Look for: Slim leg, dark colors (because… you know), regular pants that just happen to have some stretch to them, higher rise, thick/heavier material.
6. A Dressed-Up Tee
Why: Ok, so this technically breaks the tee-shirt rule but this makes you feel so much more comfortable, you can wear it outside work, and it’ll be a great piece to mix and match.
What to Look for: Thick material (ponte), solid color, peplum, covered shoulders, crew or bateau neckline.
7. An A-Line Skirt
Why: They are so much more comfortable than pencil skirts and are equally professional yet a bit more youthful.
What to Look for: No prints, maybe a different material (like tweed? I really like tweed), colors that will match with lots of different tops, modest hemline (not like Duggar modest, but no mid-thigh skirts here).
8. A Classic Blouse
Why: You’ll wear this for every single thing where you usually say “Ugh I don’t know what to wear for this”. This is a grown-up person staple.
What to Look for: Solid, light color (probably white, actually), non-wrinkle material (silk or just non-wrinkle button down), covered shoulders.
9. A Unique Flat
Why: 2 weeks into your internship, you aren’t going to want to wear heels every day. Sure, deny it while you can. I know I’m right.
What to Look for: D’Orsay, ankle strap, color block. Whatever, just make sure it’s still polished, doesn’t look cheap, and is comfortable. Seriously, I’ve had flats that were less comfortable than heels, so really watch for that.
That’s all my advice! Do you have any suggestions for must-have professional wardrobe items? Let us know in the comments!
Kate “Online shopping instead of studying now someone please make me do work”