Top three tips for interns: 2. Dress for the job you want

Posted on 11/1/2013 by Lydia Baehr Public Relations in Internships Students Career Advice

“Top three tips for interns,” offers expert advice to find your dream internship and turn it into a job offer, from someone who graduated with both internship experience and a full-time job. In part two of our series, “Dress for the job you want,” find out how to present yourself in the best light.

Our first tip, “Take the path of least resistance,” involved hunting down your dream internship and following through on what you’ve promised. Now that you’ve discovered what you want and what you are good at, what’s next?

The next step in being taken seriously, “Dress for the job you want,” involves investing in yourself.

Dress for the job you want

While I was still a college student, I worked in retail for several months.  I quickly learned that even though the store where I worked sold high-quality clothing and work-wear, the cropped pants that were in fashion weren’t appropriate for the most high-end public relations clients. When discussing interns with colleagues, two of the biggest complaints Lydia has heard from her wide network of high-powered contacts is that interns may not behave in a mature manner or do not dress appropriately. Do not be that intern!

Shoes made from real leather or that look like leather are best. Oxfords are a professional, comfortable choice for men or women.

So what is appropriate? Here are some guidelines to follow if you are confused:

  • No cleavage, no short skirts (anything more than about an inch above your knee is too much,) no clothing that is so tight or sheer that it exposes your undergarments.
  • A button-up, collared shirt and pants that don’t expose ankles will work for most meetings.
  • All of your clothing should be tailored and hemmed if it does not fit perfectly off-the-rack. A good tailor is worth every penny.
  • Nice leather shoes with leather soles or nice dress shoes that look like leather, if you’re vegan.
  • Look for 100 percent natural material fabrics, (cotton, linen and wool,) in conservative colors and patterns.
  • Do not wear super high heels or heels that are too flashy – no one will tell you, but you will not be taken seriously. There are fashionable heels that are appropriate for work – save your wildest knockoff Louboutins and Manolos for when you are not at work.
  • You will likely need a matching suit jacket for the most formal meetings.
  • You will need something to wear to formal business meetings and something to wear to evening events – what you might call “business cocktail” attire. If you shop wisely, you should not need more pieces in your work wardrobe than you can count on one hand.

    Natural fabrics are hard wearing and usually look more professional than synthetics.

Quality is more important than quantity in your work wardrobe. A high-quality wardrobe says that you are discerning, can budget money and are willing to invest in your self-presentation. It shows that you value quality labor and craftsmanship. Most importantly, it shows your understanding that long-term investments are more economical than short-term quick fixes.

You may also find that learning to value quality saves you money long-term. You lose interest in fast-fashion when you pay attention to the fit of a garment, how it was crafted and by whom, the quality of the material, the story it projects and how it fits into your life.

Suits are a classic wardrobe choice. This man from 1915 would not be out of place in a modern office.
Suits are a classic work wardrobe choice. This photo was shot in 1915, but the man pictured would not be out of place in a modern office.

If you are struggling to get ahead, save the exciting clothes for your free time. You must establish your reputation. If you are even remotely unsure if something is appropriate, it is best to err on the side of caution.

This doesn’t have to condemn you to a boring existence! It is much more of a challenge and a compliment to your intelligence and creativity to cultivate your own personal style within limited parameters. If you still feel restricted, consider finding a less conservative line of employment. You do have options, though it may be a harder row to hoe!

For further reading, I would recommend following the advice of Project Runway guru Tim Gunn’s Guide to Quality, Taste and Style, for women, or Esquire’s Handbook of Style, for men.

In need of more help landing your dream internship? Check out part one of our series, “Take the path of least resistance.” Stay tuned to the LBPR Blog for our third and final tip.