How To Give Interns "Fashion Advice"


Again with the intern mishigas!

As a reader wrote into Corporette,

Many of our female interns are taking the casual dress code here to the next level – “jeans Friday” does not mean your favorite yard work jeans, a sleeveless plaid tank, and Old Navy flipflops…Many of our interns, let’s face it, would rather be in private practice but are spending their summer with us due to the economy. It’s more painful because the male interns are appropriately dressed (although I know it’s easier to pick out golf attire than a female jeans Friday outfit). Can I / should I say anything in the way of career advice?

Apparently, this is becoming a modern problem – not one, I should say, I’ve noticed – so for any offenders reading this: dress appropriately. It’s apparently really upsetting people.

What’s the point of a dress code? If it’s to “represent the company” with clients, it’s to project a certain image. Within an office situation, it’s intended to minimize distraction so that everyone can concentrate on work. “Neutral” clothing is generally intended to level the playing field as much as possible.

Thing is, it’s rarely that straightforward, especially for a young person who’s never worked in an office setting with an ambiguous status in the company, who’s not treated like a real employee and as such may not realize she needs to dress like one. Besides which, I’m guessing most of these complaints aren’t arising from law-firms: in a lot of these cases, there’s probably enough variation and ambiguity to really confuse the issue, and that’s not even talking about the horror that is Casual Friday. It is easier for men. Dressing professionally in the summer is a challenge for any woman, let alone somebody who doesn’t have a work wardrobe at her disposal.

But the question is a weird one. “Can I give unsolicited fashion advice?” Um, no. Unsolicited fashion advice would be, “those jeans are last season; have you tried a higher rise?” or “that color washes you out. Try an “Autumn” palette.” What she’s describing is not fashion advice, but workplace etiquette. And as a superior in a company, it’s not just appropriate, it’s your job. An intern, first of all, is an employee, who is subject to a company’s rules. More to the point, it’s someone who’s there to learn. They don’t know. So teach them. In fact, there’s no case where this advice would be more appropriate, less uncomfortable, or more useful. Man up. For everyone’s sakes.

In fact, this goes for intern complaints generally; people are acting like they’re a wild, scary new species. Yeah, when you’re in a position of dictating to your boss’s niece, it may be uncomfortable. But you’re setting the tone. How about a little “appropriate dress” speech at the beginning? And if it’s gotten to the point where you do need to have That Talk (and yeah, I was once dispatched to give That Talk, uncomfortably, to a scantily-dressed coworker, because our male boss didn’t want to do it) here is where email is your friend. I recommend something BCC’d, sent to everyone, that gently and firmly reiterates what’s appropriate and why. Everyone but the slowest dullard will get the message, and if not, well, it’s only a few months, right?

Can You Give Unsolicited Fashion Advice To Interns?

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