I haven’t yet done my obligatory Summer intern style post. This oversight will need to be rectified immediately. So here is a recap of last January’s post with updated rules.
The intern dress code is a precarious thing indeed, particularly in the Summer. Many of the men on Capitol Hill refer to the summer months as “intern season” because the majority of twenty-something interns tend to dress like New Jersey teenagers at a nightclub looking to get laid. I find the over abundance of micro-minis and halter tops abhorrent, my male counterparts find it delightful. So your intern attire all depends on what kind of attention you want to attract.
First rule: Every office is different. My office has a rather stringent dress code (no jeans, no flip flops, no tank tops, no shorts, etc.), but your office might allow jeans on Fridays or during recess. Feel free to contact them and ask what their dress code forbids. Beyond the items that are verboten, choosing proper attire requires using your best judgment. (Let’s assume you have some.)
Second Rule: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. When I was an intern, I wore a suit or dress almost every day because I was looking to make the Hill my full time profession not just a summer fling. So while no one expects you to match the quality of items worn by the paid staffers, you should try to match the spirit of the office.
A button up blouse with pencil skirt is a classic combination, as is a wrap dress. If you are looking for an inexpensive suit, Victoria’s Secret or the Banana Republic sale section cannot be beat. Keep your eye on the morning 10th Commandment feature; you are why it was created.
Third Rule: You cannot just throw a cardigan over it. To avoid going home to change after work, many interns will wear their “going out” attire to the office. They then try to make these low cut blouses, halter tops, and strapless tube dresses “work appropriate” by adding a cardigan. But instead of looking professional, they look like a call girl who was dragged to church.
If your outfit was designed to look hot enough to score free drinks and a clutch full of phone numbers from the drunken former-frat boys who stroll U-Street on a Friday night, then it is not work attire. I don’t care if you throw a cardigan, a jean jacket or a burqha over it; It’s not appropriate for work!
Fourth Rule: This is Not Memoirs of a Geisha Makeup is supposed to enhance beauty not look like you applied it with a paint sprayer and a trowel. Red lipstick, plus purple eyeshadow, plus pink blush, plus false lashes is too much for any woman. Keep the makeup palette mostly neutral and play up one feature at a time.
Fifth Rule: Proper Undergarments Required A lack of proper foundation garments is one mistake that I see far too often during the Summer months. Sleeveless shirts mean bra traps sticking out. White pants with white or colored underwear. Thong straps appearing over the top of trousers. Spanx peaking out from under dresses. And the worst offender, visible panty line.
Spanx should not be worn if they are going to stick our from under the skirt or be visible when you are walking up the stairs. White pants and skirts require nude underwear, no exceptions. Visible thongs are forbidden, and visible bra straps are just annoying. To prevent the straps from sticking out try Strap Perfect. And despite all evidence to the contrary, VPL can be avoided.
Sixth Rule: Leave Vera at Home Nothing says college age intern like a Vera Bradley weekender or other juvenile work bag. If you must carry an all purpose tote, try Longchamp. If you want a professional bag that doesn’t cost a fortune, look into a Melie Bianco. There is simply no excuse for carrying a bag that looks like a 10th grade home-ec project into the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill.
Seventh Rule: No Shoes, No Service Commuting to work can be hard on the feet. So like many women, I carry my pumps in my bag and wear flats on my commute. In the Summer, many women choose to wear flip-flops. This is inadvisable, particularly if the shoes in question are of the dirty, cheap rubber strap variety. Havianas are for the pool deck not the marble halls.
If you want to wear sandals to work, try a pair of Jack Rogers. This summer’s ankle strap sandal in an all-purpose metallic is also appropriate for the morning commute or a casual day.
You should also invest in at least one pair of comfortable basic pumps. Nude is hot for summer and will also work with black, brown, navy, grey, etc. Pumps should be between 2.5 and 4 inches depending on your preference. But since I do so much walking, I try to keep them at 3″. Add Dr. Scholl’s insoles to keep your feet and back happy.
Eighth Rule: Intern Identified The most important piece of career advice that I can give you is this: do not wear your ID around the office. Let me say it again, do not wear your ID badge around the office.
When you first procure your ID from the disgruntled personnel in the Cannon ID office, you’re going to be awash with pride. You’re going to feel compelled to wear the badge around, as if it were a ticket into a private club. While obtaining this symbol of adulthood should be a source of pride, you should revel in it silently.
Wearing your ID badge around is like wearing a sign that says, “Hi, I’m new feel free to ignore me.” We all have badges, you are not special. And since the intern badges are red and the staff badges green, wearing it on your lapel or around your neck all but guarantees that no one will take you seriously. Thus, unless you are giving a constituent tour or dropping something off at the cloakroom, your ID stays in your pocket or purse at all times.
Being a Capitol Hill intern looks great on a resume, and dressing appropriately signals to your new bosses that you understand the seriousness of the work that we do here. During your time as a Hill Intern, no matter how brief, you are an employee of the people of your district/state and you should dress with respect to that position. Good luck on the phones, constituent phone calls can be murder on the psyche. And make sure to get some band-aids, sorting mail results in a lot of paper cuts.
I think this covers most of the basics. If other Hill Staffers or working professionals have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments. And if interns or soon-to-be interns have any questions, email them to capitolhillstyle (at) gmail (dot) com.