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Summer Fashion for New Interns: dos & don’ts

I always am hesitant to talk about clothing and young women. I just think finger-wagging about what women in their 20s wear is such a slippery slope that leads to micro-managing, is patronizing, and just a ball of trouble. And also the older I get, the more bitter I would look going around talking about “girls” these days. Like, I’m not about that look.

So here is my preface regarding this post. Wear what you want. If you need whatever flare you think is helping you feel more put together than go for it. I mean, who am I to say that that short skirt you may wear is any more inappropriate than my popping highlighter? To many, they’re both inappropriate so if you want to do you, go for it, boo.  

Yet. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that how you look absolutely impacts your career. How you’re viewed at work and as potential employee absolutely is connected to how you present yourself. How you dress is a gage for others to see if you pick up on basic business norms. And if you skew too far left/right on your attire, you may miss out on opportunities that can impact you in the future. I’ve seen students left behind from attending court hearings because they were wearing jeans or they’re arms were exposed (all no nos for federal court). And I’ve seen even more students who are whispered about because they don’t seem to get what type of dress is appropropriate for their setting. You don’t want that. You don’t want to lose out on experiences or have attorneys remember you as the girl who wore club shoes to work.

And I don’t mean this in a mean way. I mean, I’m petty and snarky when I need to be, but I do think women entering the workforce are put in a hard spot. Seriously, think about it– women, in general, are expected to dress to please a male gaze. I remember when I worked for Express their go-to look was professional, but sexy. Like, sexy is good but it’s not for work. That’s a hard thing to get over when we’re young because often we’ve been taught to always look a certain way so we may feel pulled towards the short skirt/high heels because we think that’s how we look best. But then you step into an office setting, where the culture and norms are different. Then you’re labeled an outlier who doesn’t fit in. It’s not cool.

So with all that in mind, here are some items you should avoid picking up as you go shopping for new suits for your summer job:

One. See through anything. Like, I love sheer shirts and I have a ton of them. I also live and die by my camis. I’ve seen too many bras in the summer to count. And this isn’t a women’s issue. Men also opt to go undershirt free in the summer and it’s um…gross? Sorry, but I don’t want to see anyone’s nipples. If you buy sheer, make sure you have something to wear underneath it.

Two. Too short/too tight.  duh. But please, do the finger length test on your skirts. When you’re trying them on–bend over! Your skirt may sit right when you’re standing still, but does it bunch up when you walk? Be careful about what you may be accidentally showing when you go short/tight. And this is again, a men’s misstep too. Like, whyyyyyyyy are your pants so tight?!

Three. Double duty attire. Ok, I know you’re on a budget and it’s easy to buy a shirt that “works” for court that you can also wear to a bar/club. I’m not hating on that, I get that necessity. But be really, really discerning. And the clothes you’re using better make you look more prude-like in the club, than thot-like in court, ok? No offense intended to prudes or thots. It’s just that it’s a delicate balance. Shoes are usually the bigger deal here. Sexy heels just typically don’t have a place in the office setting so if you’re buying heels because they’ll be good for the weekends as well, maybe reconsider. Also don’t be fooled into thinking that with a few alterations weekend gear (yoga pants–yes, I’ve seen that) will be fine for your job. It’s just super unlikely.

Four. Out of place items. Every office has a work culture–try not to infuse items into your work “uniform” that makes you seem like you don’t belong. I don’t mean things that are cultural identifiers for you. Big law and all others areas of law need to get used to the fact that not all attorneys are white with straight blond hair. Instead, I mean that you should pick up on cues about clothing and accessories that are appropriate. Maybe you don’t wear your designer bag, designer shades, and designer shoes all on your first day of work at your public interest internship. Because even if they were a gift or you worked your ass off to afford it, there may be some (with power to impact your career) that may see that and think you don’t get their mission because you’re more concerned with your designer brands.

Unfair? Yes! But I wouldn’t write about this if I didn’t see this as an obstacle that others have faced. Of course the best way to make sure you dress like you belong is to dress like a serious attorney–at least for the first few weeks, then you’ll get a better sense of what is allowed and what isn’t and you can adjust accordingly.
Ugh, I hate sounding like an old scold when I talk about fashion, but this is always an issue as the summer starts and more than anything (regardless of your decision on how you dress) I want people to go into their summers empowered–knowing the dress code will help you get there! 

2 thoughts on “Summer Fashion for New Interns: dos & don’ts

  1. Thanks for the tips!

    Do you have any suggestions for retail stores with reasonably priced business casual or formal wear (ie. court apparel)? On the same note, how many suits should we own as law students?

    1. oh! good questions! I think Kohls and stores like Marshalls/TJ Maxx have good suit pieces at affordable prices. And how many suits I think depends on whether you’re in an internship that requires you to wear them frequently. If not, then I think 2 is full suits is likely enough to use for networking events, tryouts, etc.

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