Summer internships are a great way to get work experience, boost your resume and make those oh-so-important connections. That means you need to make a good impression, starting with the way you dress in the office. Whether you’re sitting at a desk or running errands all day, finding comfortable shoes is a crucial first step. But how do you find the balance between wearing your favorite sneakers and four-inch stilettos to your internship? Shoe experts and college students weigh in on how to find the best shoes for your workplace.
It depends on what you’ll be doing
Your daily activities on the job will determine the type of footwear that’s most appropriate. You don’t want to be grabbing coffee in platform heels, but that also doesn’t excuse wearing Converse if it’s a company with a strict dress code.
“Always take into consideration the type of internship—are you going to be in an office? A loft? Outdoors? Indoors?” says shoe expert Meghan Cleary, the author of The Perfect Fit: What your Shoes Say About You and Shoe Are You? If you’re on your feet all day, Cleary recommends going for flats that have support built in or putting running insoles into your flats, which you can buy at a sports store.
Look to your coworkers for inspiration
Mimic what your coworkers wear. It’s not a bad idea to be as formal, if not more formal, than your supervisor (after all, you want to impress him or her).
Tiffany Yannetta, shopping director for Racked at Vox, agrees that a good rule of thumb is to be a little more professionally dressed than the full-time employees, especially in your first few weeks. “Sure, the editor who’s been there for a few years might be able to get away with flip flops or very casual sandals or sneakers, but as an intern, you want to look like you’re always putting in the right amount of effort,” she says. Dressing nicely will also make you feel confident.
Cleary says it’s important to take note of what employees in the office wore during your interview. This could also apply to the first day on the job if you had a phone interview. “Take your cues from what your hiring manager was wearing and go a bit more conservative from there,” she says. Look to your coworkers and match their taste.
Consider how casual your workplace is
Not every job or internship cares about professional attire. Mackie, a student at UCLA, works in social media and says her job is really casual. “I wear light blue suede Pumas and my boss legit compliments them every time I wear them.” She suggests going with your gut or the vibe of your office, but don’t be afraid to show personality if your supervisors are okay with more casual attire.
This means you may even be able to pull of sneakers or sandals. For the former, aim for trendy Adidas or sleek Nikes, opposed to your old hiking shoes or beat up tennis shoes. For sandals, salt-water style or beaded leather can add a sweet summer touch—but ditch the flip-flops and Birkenstocks.
“It’s completely acceptable for my [fashion] interns to wear sandals in the summer, so long as they’re not flip flops or anything that looks too beachy,” Yannetta says.
Creative environments usually have more flexibility, and an unusual pair of shoes can even be a good way to get noticed by your boss, Cleary says. “But don’t go overboard. For more office/corporate environments you don’t want to stand out.”
Yannetta recommends skipping the high heels, unless you’re in an environment where that’s the norm. “It’s easy for those to look a little too much like ‘going out’ shoes,” she says.
Finding formal shoes that don’t kill your feet
If you’re sitting down all day, you can pull off heels without the pain. Cleary suggests heels between 1.5 and 2.5 inches, because they have the best support for working all day.
You can also look into specialty lines of heels that are made for more active use. For example, Rockport offers a Total Motion collection, whose heeled shoes bend as you walk to provide more flexibility and comfort. They keep the heels short, but the patterns still add a level of trendiness with a metallic snakeskin or leopard print. Everlane also makes a comfy 2-inch block heel called The Day Heel in a variety of colors made from 100 percent Italian leather.
Yannetta also recommends wearing comfy shoes on your commute if you walk to work, and then changing in the bathroom when you get there, especially if you’re breaking in a new pair of shoes. Her other tips? Carry Band-Aids with you just in case, wear no-show socks if you’re likely to get blisters and try a blister prevention stick to minimize friction between your feet and shoes.
Make comfy shoes look formal
Christy, a recent grad of UCLA, recommends closed-toed shoes and suggests classic Mary Jane shoes to wear for a more formal event. But you can also make everyday flats or boots, like Oxfords or even small-heeled booties, look formal enough to wear to work without hurting your feet. Sara, an intern at a television studio, says her boss complimented her heeled booties at work. Her beige suede booties—Vince Camuto from Nordstrom—have embellishments and slits that add cute details to her ensemble. It shows you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for style.
According to Cleary, ballet flats or loafers are always a win in almost any environment, because they are comfortable, casual, practical and polished.
What colors, patterns and prints are best?
You may be tempted to go for a statement shoe, like white platforms or a more holographic design, which could be acceptable if you work in fashion, at a boutique store or at another creative space. But if you’re not sure what’s professional, try prints that are classic, like a black and white print or a floral that is not too outlandish, Cleary says. This also depends on the environment, but sticking to simple is a good way to blend in—and when it comes to office footwear, that might just be the safest way to go.
You might want to show off your fashion taste, but when it comes to your internship, you’re here to learn and impress. Take cues from those around you about what’s most fitting, and if you’re not sure, then ask! “I would have no problem with an intern coming to me and asking what is and isn’t OK to wear,” Yannetta says. “Do this in the beginning of your internship to get it out of the way, in the same way that you’ll probably ask where the employee lunchroom is or what’s an okay time for you to head out at the end of the day.” It’s always best to be upfront, honest and professional.