I got hired at my first internship over six years ago in the summer of 2011. I was a rising senior at the College of Charleston, and I’d taken on a position at a private school in my hometown staffed alongside the Public Relations Manager. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that college prepares you for a lot of career experience–in my case, this translates to strong interpersonal communication, technical and creative writing, and event planning skills, which allowed me to excel at this position. A lesson that I did not learn in college, however, was the, um, art of office politics. Office environments are radically different from classrooms in a variety of ways, which is why internship experience is sooo vital prior to graduation. One of the biggest challenges I faced was the transition from my usual college garb (ripped jeans, cropped tees, loud prints, the whole nine yards) to more office-appropriate attire, which is a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by both interns and employers alike.
So let’s be honest for a minute and say that most professional clothing, specifically three-piece suits, is vastly unaffordable for college students (honestly, even Certified Adults™ struggle to afford these garments.) Those are the facts. Depending on what field you go into, most companies have thankfully phased out aggressively high-end dress codes and allow their interns to dress in a business casual nature. For a solid reference on what that entails as well as a few good rules of thumb, check out this handy guide.
Below, I’ve handpicked some Dandy pieces that allow you to incorporate personal style into your wardrobe even when you feel like your personality is being squashed by the rules of corporate America. (Plus, they won’t break the bank!)
- Make a Wish Shift Dress: This dress has a subtle print that makes it work-appropriate yet still stylish going from class to the office and even out on the town, sort of a “Wednesday Adaams about to do a hostile business takeover and then grab a stiff drink” vibe. To give this dress even more of a yo pro (young professional) pop for the Fall, I’d opt for a sleek cardigan, low-heel booties, and a pair of tortoise-shell glasses. (Most offices have a pretty rigid policy on dress and skirt length, so my advice is to go no shorter than four inches above the knee, although knee length or longer is preferred.)
- Diesel Loafer: Loafers are quintessential business casual, and these in particular have a super cute tassel detail that brings a vintage flair to any outfit. Loafers look especially dressy paired with fitted trousers and a matching blazer, a great alternative for those who want to look more androgynous. If you err more on the feminine side, you could always add a colorful vintage handkerchief or a floral print pocket square, whereas skinny ties are great for a masculine look.
- Composition Pocket Notepad: This isn’t technically part of the outfit, but nothing says you know what you’re doing quite like showing up with a notebook in hand. This notebook fits easily in your pocket, so it’s great for taking important notes at company meetings or writing down your assignments–you’d be amazed at how impressed your employer will be by this fine show of initiative.
- Off to School Satchel Purse: This bag means business! I prefer satchel bags to purses because you can fit essentials like your laptop, tablet, and other electronics without having to carry around several different totes, and they’re a biker-friendly option. Pro tip: satchels (much like blazers) make any look immediately more polished (as opposed to that college bookbag that’s clearly seen better days…), so you can never have too many.
- Walk the Campus Blouse: Peter pan collars are the stylish younger sister of stuffy polos, and this one in particular has tremendous geeky chic appeal. This top is fairly versatile, so it can be paired with casual trousers or even a pencil skirt and kitten heels. (Just make sure you have some double-sided tape handy for any gaps.)
- Riveter Denim Trousers: Before you say anything, YES, I am aware these are denim. That being said, these could really pass for suitable trousers in a much more casual office environment, like a trendy tech startup, due to the lack of rivets and the wide-leg style. These would look great with a collared shirt and layered with a preppy cable-knit sweater. If you’re worried about these pants being too casual, I’d suggest a button-down top with a blazer and pumps.
- Teacher’s Pet Spectators: Ask any 9-5 fashionista and she’ll tell you that stylish, dress code-friendly shoes are exceedingly difficult to come by. Interns especially often have to do what’s referred to as “grunt work,” which usually means assisting at events, updating social media pages, attending meetings, etc, so the low heel on this pair of vintage-inspired spectators lends itself to a long day of metaphorical coffee runs. Obviously this style nods heavily to the 60s Mad Men era–pencil skirts, bouffants, in-office cocktails (in my dreams)–but for an updated take, you can also pair with a gingham skirt and a structured, bell-sleeve blouse.
- Seine and Do Sweater Dress: If you take no other advice for me, just hear me out on this one thing: keep office looks simple as much as possible. I LOVE this dress in particular because of the ease of wear: the color palette is muted; the dress is made from a breathable and comfortable fabric; it’s extremely versatile and can be worn with anything from a classic trench and loafers to a fashionable neck scarf and statement heels; the length is perfect to keep the look professional…it’s honestly the ideal internship outfit, especially for a college student always on the go.
- Modernist Pencil Set: Again, not exactly a piece of clothing, but you still need to be prepared for actual office work, duh! They say that pencils are making a pretty sweet comeback, so for that design internship, impress your boss with these pre-sharpened metallic accented pencils. There’s even enough to share.
I’d be interested to hear if any of our readers have internships lined up for the Fall or Spring semesters, so let us know in the comments below!
Have any styling questions you’d like me to answer? Shoot me an email, and your question might get featured on the blog.