You’ve found yourself the coveted summer internship. After all those applications, interviews and worrying you’ve done it! You are going to get so much experience and network (whatever that means).
Wait a second. You’ve just realized you have nothing to wear. How are you supposed to dress like an adult if you aren’t even getting paid? Where do adults even shop?
In my experience interning and working for an unnamed professional women’s retailer, I’ve discovered that there are some immutable pieces you need to get started on your professional wardrobe, a starter kit of sorts. Some of these pieces may be on the pricier side for a ramen lifestyle, but a black pencil skirt you can wear for years is priceless. What you are going to want to focus on here is value. You want a piece you can wear at least three different ways, if not more.
For summer internships, I have found skirts to be a lot more practical and versatile than trousers. Boston summers are humid and your comfort is important. That said, if skirts are not your style, a twill trouser is also a great option in warm weather. The trick to a great pencil skirt is finding your fit. Ideally, a great pencil skirt sits at your belly button and falls an inch or two above your knee. This can be trickier for short women, but Banana Republic and Loft offer great petites styles at affordable price points. Try not to get too caught up in sizing, because different brands and even different fabrics within the same brand can drastically change how something fits. When you are shopping for a pencil skirt, always be sure to make sure it is comfortable when you sit down before you decide.
If you are struggling with finding a skirt that fits in both your hips and waist, Loft offers many skirts in a curvy fit. You may have to order online but it’s worth it for a great fit. Pencil skirts come in all sorts of beautiful colors and fabrics but it’s always best to start with the basic black or gray and build from there. It can be tempting to buy a flower print because it’s on sale, or just plain adorable, but try to focus on versatility.
Now I know what you are thinking. What about my personal style? How can I still feel like myself? Well, here is your opportunity: cardigans. I know, I know they don’t sound that exciting. In fact, they might remind you of your grandmother. But office dressing is about layers. Your commute may be a stuffy T ride, but it could be freezing at your desk. Plus, cardigans come in every color and pattern imaginable, so feel free to have fun.
What’s great about a cardigan is that you can mix and match with tanks you already have in your closet and your new pencil skirt to create lots of different outfits.
As with the pencil skirt, the key with blazers is a great fit. When you are trying on blazers, look especially at the fit in the shoulders. If the sleeves bind when you try to lift your arms, size up. If you have narrower shoulders, try petite sizes, even if you are of average height, or size down with a buttonless shawl-collared jacket. This way, you can size to fit your shoulders and not worry about pulling at the button. If you are petite, consider a shorter blazer that falls at your hips. As far as the collar goes, keep an open mind. Try on a variety of notched, shawl and collarless jackets to see what you like best. Again, this is an expensive item, so it pays to go with a versatile color, such as black, gray or tan.
Another foundational piece is the collared shirt. It’s a classic that you can’t deny and has a lot of crossover potential for your off-the-clock wardrobe. What’s great about this look is that you can add an inexpensive statement necklace and a jacket to it and you are ready to go. The classic look has a pointed collar but the old-fashioned rounded collar is making a comeback. If you are going for a more feminine vibe, go with a rounded collar instead of a pointed one. American Apparel has some great options that are easy to wear under a sweater or a jacket.
You are almost ready; you just need some shoes. As in almost any style scenario, nothing beats a great pair of black leather flats. If you can’t afford Tory Burch (I know I can’t), DSW carries a great knockoff in just about every color.
Shoes provide another chance to work your personal style into your professional wardrobe. You can play around with comfy styles like oxfords, Mary Janes or pointed toe flats. If you wear heels regularly, go for it. But if not, stay in your comfort zone. A long day is even longer in uncomfortable shoes.
In general, try to have fun and never forget to ask if you can get a discount with your student ID.