Did you see what the intern is wearing?” one of the other editors says from my office doorway, her arms folded across her chest.
Her expression is a cross between disbelief and annoyance. I sigh. As my magazine’s editorial internship coordinator, part of my job is disciplining student workers, which means policing their wardrobes when necessary. In the past two years, I’ve chastised students about a number of things, including wearing tube tops, and shorts and skirts that are too short.
Apparently, I’m not the only one having these conversations.
“We have a very casual office, and occasionally, particularly in the summer, we have had issues with interns (usually females) dressing inappropriately,” said Kim Hannel, managing editor at Indianapolis Monthly. “Of course, ‘inappropriately’ can be in the eye of the beholder, and there have been times when I have thought an outfit was youthful and fashionable, while someone else thought it was too revealing.”
Hannel’s former co-worker Meghan McCormick was firmly in the “too revealing” camp.
“I pretty much saw it all,” she said. “Some personal favorites: a backless dress reminiscent of a prom frock, leggings worn underneath a not-long-enough T-shirt, and of course, lots of ‘muffin top’ (flesh bulging out of the side of their jeans) and exposed thong underwear.”
McCormick is the marketing director at InSource, a financial firm in Indianapolis.
“I understand that interns want to express themselves and dress fashionably for their jobs, but some didn’t seem to understand that you can be fashionable and appropriate at the same time,” she said. “A lot of them looked like they had just rolled out of bed or just come straight from the bar the night before.”
The magazine instituted a written dress code last year. “Here’s hoping we never see boys in old T-shirts, hats and droopy shorts or girls in leggings and no skirts ever again,” Hannel said.
While many enjoy the non-traditional aspects of our field, at what point does a “non-traditional” wardrobe become plain old wrong? How does going braless or wearing paint-splattered jeans improve your chances of making a positive impression on your supervisors?
To be fair, our dress code is fairly lax. I regularly wear a head wrap in lieu of curling my hair. We’re allowed to wear jeans whenever we like. One editor often wore a T-shirt with the word “RENTAL” across the front; another is fond of camouflage pants and combat boots. So it goes the days when we don’t come face to face with the public. However, we break out the good clothes when we go on interviews or have meetings outside the office. But when it comes to interning, students really don’t know what they’ll be doing from day to day, so it should go without saying that a “safe” wardrobe is the best way to go. Shouldn’t it?
“How you dress for your internship should really depend on how you see your co-workers dressing,” said John Patrick, a graduate student at California State University Fullerton. “When I interned for the Pasadena Weekly, an alternative weekly in Los Angeles County, the dress code was super lax. In fact, the intern coordinator was known to come in wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt. And when I worked for the Big Bear Grizzly, the rule was to dress for your assignment. If they were covering city business that day, employees were expected to dress nicely. If your assignment was to go out to the lake and talk to fishermen, shorts and boots were just fine.”
Bottom line? Be aware of how your co-workers are dressing but, if you’re an intern, understand that those rules may not necessarily apply to you. Play it safe and you won’t be sorry.