How to Dress for Your Summer Internship

by Natalie Gontcharova
Ralph Freso/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On one day of my very first internship, I decided to wear those dollar-store sandals with the mesh and sequined flowers to the office. With jeans. I didn't think it was a big deal, since it was a Friday. And then, coming back from lunch in an elevator packed to the brim with suits who were clearly not in on Casual Friday, I heard a stern reprimand. "Are you really wearing sandals to work? That's so inappropriate," an older woman I had never met before remarked.

Even though she had no business commenting on strangers' shoes, I immediately wished I had dressed up more. Really, I should have known better than to try to get away with my around-the-dorm sandals at an internship. While we should all feel comfortable in what we're wearing, a few basic fashion rules still apply if you work in an office. Sometimes you think no one will notice because you're an intern, but clothes count when it comes to making a good impression. Not sure what to wear to your internship? Read on.

1. Beach Wear Is Not Office Wear.

Even if it's 4 p.m. on a sunny Friday and you're just hours away from the beach, don't be that girl. Flip flops are crazy comfortable, but there are so many equally comfortable office-appropriate alternatives. In most offices you can get away with strappy sandals, espadrilles, or open-toe flats.

2. Look around.

Obviously you shouldn't wear flip flops or anything that qualifies as club wear to the office, but you shouldn't go too far in the other direction either. Err on the side of dressy for your interview, but if you wear a pant suit in a creative environment — like an advertising agency — you'll probably stick out like a sore thumb. When in doubt, look around and take notes on what your coworkers are wearing.

3. Don't be boring.

Yes, there's a line you shouldn't cross, but button-downs and khakis just aren't going to cut it in the fashion world. I made this mistake when I showed up for an internship interview with a trendy downtown magazine in a khaki Banana Republic skirt and with pearls around my neck (pretty sure I was also breaking #2). Everybody's Alexander Wang leggings were extremely offended.

4. Accessorize smartly.

As an intern, your budget is likely not sky-high, but you can maximize it by investing in a quality bag that you'll wear every day. That pricier purse will add some instant class to any basic $40 dress. Make sure to pick a color that goes with as much of your wardrobe as possible. Quality jewelry can play a similar trick.

5. Choose the right fabric.

Summer calls for thinner fabric — you don't want to sweat through your clothes — still, be careful with materials like jersey since they tend to look more sporty-casual than office-appropriate. A good rule of thumb to remember is "the thinner the fabric, the longer the hemline."