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What to Wear to Your Summer Internship & What Definitely NOT to Wear

So you finally scored your first summer internship. Now the question is: what do you wear? Her Campus spoke with Rosanne Ecker and Daniel Klamm of Syracuse University’s Center for Career Services about how to figure out what to wear to your internship, how to dress for four different work environments, and what definitely not to wear!
 
Finding Out What to Wear
 

 
If you’re unsure of what to wear, the best way to find out is by observing. When you go for an interview, make sure to take note of what people are wearing in the office.
 
“Instead of asking what appropriate attire is, pick up on what others are wearing,” Klamm says. “It shows you have observational skills.”
 
Also, be careful of ambiguous clothing terms. “Business casual” could mean jeans and a sweater in one environment, and a blazer in another. Let the style choices of other people in the office hint at what you should wear.
 
If you have never been to the office before, Klamm says, your best bet is to always risk being overdressed rather than under dressed.
 
Rosanne Ecker says that the most important thing in the beginning of an internship is to make a good impression. This includes clothing, so make sure to show up neat and looking put-together whatever the attire.
 
If you’re still not sure what to wear, try asking friends you know who have interned there or somewhere similar in the past. As a last resort, call or e-mail your internship supervisor and ask what the suggested attire is.
 
How To Dress At:
 
Corporate Internships
Finance
Accounting
Commercial Banking
 

 
In this environment, it’s all about service, and representing your business. Clothing, and your own personal style, should remain in the background.
 
Kristin Byron, Professor at the Whitman School of Management at SU says people tend to make judgments and form impressions based on clothing, hairstyles, etc.
 
Byron suggests dressing for the job you want, not the one you have. “Even if other interns are looking schleppy, an intern should distinguish him or herself by dressing at least as well as those in the positions they aspire to,” Byron said.
 
Byron says in these careers “it’s important to portray an image that you are conscientious, mature, and have good judgment.”
 
Ecker added that the intern should try not to draw attention to her clothes. “Wear clothes that fit with the environment, and what people around you are wearing.”
 
Best options:

  • Jacket or Blazer
  • Pantsuit or Dress Pants
  • Long Pencil Skirt
  • Dress Blouse

 
Media Internships
Magazine
Graphic Design
Fashion
 

 
Melissa Chessher, Chair of the Magazine Department at Syracuse University, has experience working for magazines such as SELF, Health, Marie Claire, Fitness, Men’s Health, Real Simple and Parents. Chesser suggests checking out “the attire vibe” if you visit the office beforehand and trying to mirror it.
 
“Editors at Time look different than those at Vogue or GQ or Rolling Stone,” Chessher said. “But even if the office has a relaxed setting, always err on the smarter side of smart casual.”
 
Chessher says, if you show up for the first day too business formal or professional, “the worst that can happen is that your coworkers think you’re young, a bit inexperienced, and anxious to make a good impression. And what’s so terrible about that?”
 
At a magazine or more creative-based internship, it’s more likely that employers want to see a little style and personality in your attire. In these creative fields, you can be a bit more creative with your clothes as well.
 
A letter to summer interns at Lucky says, “It is a creative environment but it is still an OFFICE…Other than that you just want to look put together and polished but you don’t have to be dressed up every day (unless you want to be).”  Basically, think trendy and semi-casual. 
 
Best Options:

  • A fun colorful or printed skirt
  • Strappy black sandals
  • Cute cropped jeans

 
Technical Internships:
Web design
Project manager
Network administrator
 

 
Similar to the corporate environment, here it is also about the product, not fashion. Save the creative, unique outfits for after work. “People are there to develop products,” Ecker said. “Not to deal with external details.”
 
As for any internship, tailor your style to the specific environment you are working in. “The point in a technical internship is to be comfortable,” Ecker said. “If you are sitting in front of a computer all day, the dress will probably be low-key and comfort-based.”
 
Even in a more casual environment, however, still make sure to dress clean, neat, and put-together. It’s better to be the best dressed intern than the worst.
 
Dave Molta, Professor at the School of Information Studies at SU, says internship attire at these careers can vary significantly: from casual to suits. Molta’s advice is to over dress for the first day, until you can take note of what others are wearing.
 
Best Options:

  • Dark Jeans
  • Comfortable Flats
  • Blouse
  • Cardigan or Sweater

 
 
Academic Internship
Student-Teacher
Counseling
Human Services
 

 
If you’re working at a school, university, or other academic setting, Ecker suggests business casual. For the ‘casual Fridays,’ stay in the realm of accepted attire and show your support for the school.           
 
“People often wear school clothing in these types of settings as well,” Ecker said. This could include a shirt or top proudly displaying the place of your internship.
 
One thing not to wear here: suits. If everyone around you is wearing jeans and sweaters, stay away from looking too dressed up. “You should appear contemporary, but not stiff,” Ecker said.
 
Do your best to match your dress to those around you, and you should fit right in.
 
Best Options:

  • Sweaters (short sleeves for the summer!)
  • Dress Pants
  • Wide-leg Denim

 
What NOT to Wear: Some General Tips for Off-Limits Internship Attire
 
Perfume: Who knows if anyone in the office is allergic. You don’t want to be the intern giving people hives. Not to mention that heavy perfume scents are extremely distracting, Ecker says.
 
Too many, or too large accessories: This includes anything that looks as if heading out to party. Loading up on the bling and sparkles can be just a tad distracting. Contrary to what we’ve been taught in the fashion world (unless of course, you’re in the fashion world), when you’re an intern, “try not to stand out with your clothes,” Ecker says. Let your performance at work do the talking.
 
Torn Jeans or Cut-off shorts: Definitely not the best choice for the first (or any) day—you want to look professional, not like you came from the beach.
 
Heels or Rubber Flip-flops: If you will be walking or standing up most of the day, flats or wedges are probably the better, more comfortable options to heels.  If you must wear heels, bring flats to change into for your commute! Flip-flops are just too casual for a professional work space.
 
Anything too revealing or that you can’t move around in well: This includes plunging necklines, and too-short skirts. You never know what kind of task you might get assigned, or who you’ll meet, as an intern. Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t want to meet the president of the company in—you never know when she or he will get in the same elevator as you.
 
Sweatpants or Leggings: Similar to rubber flip-flops, these are just too casual and sloppy.
 
 
Sources:
Daniel Klamm – Outreach and Marketing Coordinator, Center for Career Services, Syracuse University
Rosanne Ecker, Ph.D – Associate Director, Center for Career Services, SU
Melissa Chessher – Magazine Chair, SU
Dave Molta, School of Information Studies, SU
Kristin Byron, PhD, Whitman School of Management, SU
Lucky magazine letter to summer interns

Heather is a 2012 graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School with a degree in Magazine Journalism. Growing up in southern Vermont, she learned to appreciate the New England small-town life. During her time at SU she served as Editor-in-Chief of What the Health magazine on her college campus and was a member of the Syracuse chapter of ED2010. This summer Heather is exploring the world of digital entrepreneurship at the Tech Garden in Syracuse, NY where she is Co-Founder of Scrapsule.com. Aside from social media and home decor, she loves vintage jewelry, strawberry banana smoothies, running, and autumn in Vermont.
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