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What To Wear to the Internship: 4 Interns, 4 Wardrobes

Congratulations—you got an internship! Now, what to wear? MM.LaFleur’s own editorial intern, Hailey Cosseboom (pictured above), tracked four friends through the sartorial quagmires of their respective summer jobs in finance, law, and philanthropy.

Last spring, I overheard two of my friends debating the office-appropriateness of wearing a white blazer as a summer analyst at a financial firm. One was adamant that it was too flashy; the goal was to “lay low” and “not mess up.” The other believed it to be a statement piece that would come across as “sophisticated.” Personally, I had no idea. As rising seniors in college, we were excited for our summer jobs (and, in some cases, hoped they’d lead to permanent offers), but unprepared for the wardrobe conundrums that would follow.

First Day Outfits

Mary, a digital communications intern at a philanthropic organization:
“I had a crisis the night before my first day,” said Mary. “Whether or not it’s right, I know that women are far more scrutinized for what they wear in a corporate setting, and nothing I owned seemed appropriate or would make the perfect first impression.” She’d heard that the company’s media branch embraced a more relaxed take on business casual, which only confused her further; she finally opted for a formal navy shift dress and flats. “In retrospect, it was really too conservative,” she said. “I never wore it to work again.”

Caroline, a summer analyst at an investment banking firm:
“My office, like many financial firms, is business formal, so I expected to be wearing very plain clothes—either a suit or dress with a blazer and heels,” said Caroline. A more structured dress code might leave less room for error, but it also meant that minor details are scrutinized. “I was really nervous about dress length, whether a material would be nice enough but still comfortable, and exactly how formal it would be,” she continued. “I also didn’t want to empty my entire intern salary on new work clothes. Suits are a safe choice, but typically so expensive.” For her first day, she chose the same tailored, knee-length sleeveless dress in navy blue that she’d previously worn to her Superday (a series of back-to-back interviews for the position); assurance that it was “pre-approved” overrode any anxiety about outfit repeating.

Jennifer, an intern for a New York City federal judge:
Despite an understanding of courtroom conduct (and an obsession with Law & Order), it was Jennifer’s first time inside a court, so she went with a full suit—in hot summer weather. “I wore a button down, blazer, and dress pants,” she said. “Brutal, I know.” But it was also worth the confidence that she’d look appropriate.

Beth, a summer analyst in sales and trading at a financial firm:
For Beth, blazers were a confusing gray area: “I knew I always had to bring one, but when was it okay to take it off? When was it too much to keep it on?” For her first day, she took a cautious approach. “I wore nice heels, a black dress, and a polished blazer, while some of the other women on my floor wore flats and cardigans. I felt a bit uncomfortable,” she said. “Still, I would always rather be overdressed than underdressed.”

160722_MMLAFLEUR_28-3258-ALT

The Alexandra dress in claret: safe, but not boring.

Potential Faux Pas

Mary, a digital communications intern at a philanthropic organization:
“One time, I wore this dress that I loved but was definitely too short for work. I wore it anyway, because everything else was dirty or being dry cleaned, but when I got to the office, I instantly regretted it. Throughout the day, I kept slouching to shrink my torso—anything I could do to make the dress hang longer. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed, but I felt awkward and uncomfortable.”

Caroline, a summer analyst at an investment banking firm:
“My biggest fear or regret didn’t have to do with a risky outfit, but more so how frequently I could get away with repeating things. I definitely re-wore a few outfits like a plain black dress with my favorite blazer too often, but because they were so simple, I felt it was okay. I tried to pair them with different shoes or jewelry to switch it up.”

Jennifer, an intern for a New York City federal judge:
“I wore a green pencil skirt with a white blouse one day, and felt out of place with the neutral and dark shades that everyone else wore.”

The Walters Top // MM.LaFleur

Cool and collected in the Walters top.

What Their Colleagues Wore

Beth, a summer analyst in sales and trading at a financial firm:
Beth’s blazer predicament was quickly resolved when she observed that tenured analysts only wore theirs in meetings and presentations. Meanwhile, brightly-hued outfits were more acceptable than she anticipated: “Some interns would wear much more color, which was a surprise to me,” she said. “On the flip side, some of the female interns wore full pantsuits with button-up shirts every day, but that’s not really my style. I fell somewhere in between.”

Jennifer, an intern for a New York City federal judge:
“The clerks and judge wore patterned dresses from time to time, so I did so too,” said Jennifer. “On days we weren’t in court, it was more relaxed, but in court we were expected to be in business formal—a blazer over a tailored dress, or a blouse with a pencil skirt or dress pants.”

Mary, a digital communications intern at a philanthropic organization:
“My office turned out to be pretty casual. Employees wore a broad range of outfits, really anything from work dresses to sundresses, sandals to heels, blazers to jean jackets,” said Mary. However, some of her fellow interns took it a step too far: “It was bad. They wore see-through shirts, untied sneakers, and tight American Apparel dresses.” Mary wasn’t the only one who noticed, either. “A higher-up once complimented one of my work dresses, thanked me for my continued professionalism, and noted that other interns hadn’t shown the same effort.”

Tory dress // MM.LaFleur

The ever-appropriate Tory dress.

Comfort Zones

Caroline, a summer analyst at an investment banking firm:
“As the summer progressed, I did buy a few jackets that were a little more fun than a simple blazer, and began to wear more jewelry,” said Caroline. “But overall, I always played it safe. I would never take a risk with a shorter skirt or lower neckline. My main criteria was simple clothes that didn’t distract and made me look presentable when meeting with clients.”

Mary, a digital communications intern at a philanthropic organization:
“I aimed to blend in as much as possible, rotating an assortment of black and neutral work pants, blouses, and dresses.”

Beth, a summer analyst in sales and trading at a financial firm:
“I did wear heels every day, not because I felt obligated to, but because I’m not that tall and they made my outfits look more dressy. Overall, though, I stuck to the boring stuff. As a woman in a finance position, I definitely wanted to be taken seriously.”

Jennifer, an intern for a New York City federal judge:
“For the most part, everyone I worked with—interns included—dressed pretty similarly. I realized I felt most comfortable in black, grey, and subdued colors, and definitely nothing short.”

The Takeaway

While dulling down your wardrobe might sound bleak, keeping things simple and classic is the best way to hit the ground running. There’s no need to splurge on a million new outfits; start with a few clean-cut basics (see some ideas, here), use the first few weeks to get a sense for the office vibe, and hold off on busting out the flashy white blazer until you’re sure it’ll fly. You’re there to wow them with your work, not your wardrobe.


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Hailey Cosseboom is a student at Middlebury College. Read more of Hailey's posts.


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