How Interns Should Dress for Work

Proper Business Attire for Office Internships

Two young businesswomen in discussion in workstation
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When you accept an internship with a nonprofit organization or any other form of business, whether or not you are paid or unpaid, you are not a volunteer. So don't think like one and more importantly don't dress like one. 

The determination, at least from a legal standpoint when it comes to internships, is not whether or not you are being paid money (though many interns are paid), it is determined by the relationship with the business. Under the law, interns are considered an at-risk employee of the company and need to dress and behave accordingly. 

In fact, if you are an employer considering offering internships, be sure to research the laws in your state because you may be required to pay the intern, collect/pay taxes on their behalf, and you may even be required to have worker's compensation insurance in place throughout the duration of the internship.

Represent the Company's Image

Just like all other employees, interns also represent the company's image in how they dress and present themselves in the business environment to other workers, clients, and customers. Showing up in sneakers and jeans sends a message to others that you are not serious about representing the company and are not there to contribute and learn in meaningful ways.

Not Students on Loan

Interns should not consider themselves "students on loan" and should adhere to the company's dress code. That is, the office (or other work) environment is not an extension of your college campus life. If you are not certain about the dress code, ask your boss or a human resources representative.

If there is no formal dress code, look at the style of dress other men and women in the company wear to work each day. If everyone is wearing sandals, you probably can too. But if only one or two out of the remaining employees is casually dressed, go with what the majority is wearing.​

Don't Try to Stand out by Bucking the System

Some internships may lead to employment with the company where you are interning. Do your job, and do it well, and be a model employee as if you already had the job. It is okay to make yourself stand out by doing a great job and going the extra mile for your employer, but don't try to stand out by simply being different.

One of the biggest complaints from employees about interns stems from the way interns dress. Interns that wear casual or revealing clothing that might be fine on the college campus do not fit into the office environment.

Remember, your position as an intern is not guaranteed. Even if you think you have an ironclad internship contract or arrangement, you may still be an at-will intern. You can be let go if you are failing to honor the terms of your internship or otherwise doing or not doing something that could be considered detrimental to the employer.

Hair, Makeup, and Accessories Count, Too

Proper business attire does not only involve articles of clothing but also encompasses shoes, jewelry, makeup, and hairstyles.

A well-known saying in the corporate world says it best: "Don't dress for the job you have, dress for the one you want." In other words, don't show up for your intern position in college attire— dress for the corporate world.

Tips and Closing Thoughts

Even if you are not interested in working for the company you are interning with you can use them as a job reference for future employment opportunities. The better you show that you understand how to function as a professional while interning, the better your reference will be when you are applying for your dream job later on.