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What to Wear to Work (or an Internship)


Business woman on her way to work

Okay, so you had a great resume, you wore a fabulous outfit to your interview, the hiring manager loved you, and now you have your brand new job or internship!  Immediately you’re faced with a brand new problem: what do you wear to work?

The rule I talked about in the last part of CF’s How To Dress Professionally series (the one about dressing for an interview) still applies: It’s always better to be over dressed than under dressed.

Remember that advice, especially for your first day on the job.  Sure, it might be embarrassing to show up dressed to the nines when everyone else is in jeans, but it would be way worse to be dressed too casually for a workplace! 

Beyond that one piece of advice, here are some more ways to make sure you’re dressed right for your new job.

Figuring Out Your Office Dress Code

Getting dressed for work is a lot different than getting dressed for every day.  As opposed to when you’re dressing to go out with friends, the goal of dressing for the office is to blend in with what everyone else is wearing.  It’s not so much about your personal style as it is about representing your company in a positive way.  You can still incorporate your personal style into outfits, just make sure your clothes fit with your workplace.

So how can you tell ahead of time what the rest of the workplace will be wearing?  Simple, think about your interview.  What was the hiring manager wearing?  Did you interview at the office?  If so, what were other employees wearing?  Take that information and dress to the same level of formality.

Still have no idea what to wear?  Unless you’ve been informed ahead of time that you need to dress formally, business casual is the standard office dress code that most workplaces abide by.  If you need to learn about what business casual means, check out  the CF post on business dress codes.

Business Casual Work Outfits

Business casual is tricky – there are no set guidelines to this dress code, which I know is really frustrating and annoying to most people (myself included).  In general, however, business casual can be understood as a slightly less formal version of professional dress

For example, in a business casual office you can wear dress pants and a nice top, as opposed to being required to wear a full-on suit.  It’s still formal, but a little less restricted.

Here are some sample business casual outfits: 

What To Wear To Work - Business Casual Outfit Example 1

Product Information: Blouse by Charlotte Russe ($19.99), Pants by Wet Seal ($22.50), Earrings by Kohl’s ($12), Bracelet by Topshop ($12), Black Leather Pumps by rsvp ($60), White Patent Tote by Franco Sarto ($99)

What To Wear To Work - Casual Outfit 2

Product Information: Bracelets by Wet Seal ($6), Necklace by Banana Republic ($29), Nude Peep-toe Pumps by LifeStride ($49), Cardigan by Old Navy ($24.50), Skirt by H&M ($39.50), Tank by H&M ($12), Bag by Nine West ($100)

Casual Work Outfits

If the dress code at your workplace is casual, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should break out your tank tops, flip flops and mini skirts!  With a casual dress code, you can wear denim, flats, and skirts without pantyhose, but don’t think that all the rules go out the window.  You still need to keep your look classy and polished if you want to be taken seriously on the job.

Here are some sample casual work outfits:

What To Wear To Work - Outfit 1 

Product Information: Bracelet by Urban Outfitters ($24), Bag by Mulberry ($795 – Okay, a small splurge! Haha), Blouse by Topshop ($56), Trouser-style Jeans by William Rast ($220), Jacket by American Eagle ($39.95), Flats by Shellys London ($56)

What To Wear To Work - Business Casual Example 2

Product Information: Necklace by Chateau D’ Argent ($34.99), Top by Forever 21 ($9.80), Skirt by Old Navy ($29.50), Purse by H&M ($19), Shoes by Charlotte Russe ($24.99)

Hair & Makeup Tips

No matter the dress code, when you do your hair for the office, make sure that it’s neat, clean, and out of your face.  Unless you work at Vogue, you don’t want a this-took-hours hairstyle, much less an I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look!  Stay away from the extremes in a normal office.  Wearing your hair down and straight, back in a chic ponytail or half-up with a barrette is perfect.

Makeup in an office setting should stay within the same guidelines as what you wore to the interview – neat and clean, with no neon colors or glitter (unless you work for MAC or something!)  Keep it mature and professional with nude colors, light foundation, and an overall "natural but better" look.  You don’t want your face to scream "I’m wearing makeup!"

More Information 

For more info on what to wear in any job setting, check back tomorrow for the next post in College Fashion’s How To Dress Professionally series!  Tomorrow I will be talking about what to wear to special business events, like casual and professional networking & seminars. Don’t miss it!

Also, be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts at all about this!  I’d love to hear from you and answer any q’s you might have, so get to it!

Posted on on April 23, 2008 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , ,

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25 Responses to “What to Wear to Work (or an Internship)”

  1. 1
    April 23rd, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    thanks for these tips! I do have interviews soon and eventually a job for the summer so it really helps :)

  2. 2
    April 23rd, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Once again you have struck gold, Thanks for these tips. :)

  3. 3
    April 23rd, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    This series is great! It can be tough for us young girls just starting out in the professional workplace to know what is and isn’t appropriate. I especially love the ensembles you put together, with the link to the website to buy! I am so loving that old navy cardigan and those shellys london shoes, keep up the great work!

  4. 4
    April 24th, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Good post! Any suggestions on wearing polo shirts? That’s what ALL the guys in my office wear, so I have a few, but I never know what to wear with them besides just pants. :) It is a good way to get in a collar but still be somewhat casual.

  5. 5
    April 24th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    That Mulberry bag is gorgeous!!! I love, love patent…but my credit card doesn’t love $795 charges :)

  6. 6
    April 25th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Jessica – Me too! It can be so stressful so I definitely know how you feel!

    Carrie – Hmm, I am not a big fan of polo shirts for women. I think with a nice skirt or pair of slacks they could work if you accessorized right, but to me they seem more appropriate on guys.

    Rachelle – Yeah, mine doesn’t either, but I saw that bag and had to put it in just so we could look at the gorgeous-ness. I obviously don’t expect any college girl to easily be able to buy it! hehe

  7. 7
    April 25th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    hooray. i’m interning at a modeling agency this summer & have been unsure exactly how i should dress so this is super helpful:)

  8. 8
    April 25th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    wow this is definitely the fashion blog, real style everyday looks to wear everywhere… and it’s best suits my style although I’m not a college girl anymore hahaha…love it keep it up

  9. 9
    April 25th, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Ah well, I just like that polos can go in the dryer and you don’t have to iron them! Sigh! :) Why do guys get all the low-maintenance clothing items? :)

  10. 10
    July 28th, 2008 at 3:43 am

    I love this website. I am actually new in my job and I work as Front office so I have to be neat and smart. I found your articles to be very fulfilling. Keep up teh good work. In future articles advice us on how to dress for office functions.

  11. 11
    May 26th, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Hi, I was just wondering: is it possible to wear dresses as business casual to work too? Not the look of silk dresses, but more along the lines of cotton/rayon as long as they are paired with a cardigan and tights. do you think that is still appropriate in an office environment?


  12. 12
    October 14th, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Your selections are very affordable and chic! I like all the totes shown here, especially the Nine West one. Great article!

  13. 13
    February 22nd, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this guide! I searched everywhere on the internet and couldnt find anything on what to wear for business casual. This article helped me find an outfit for my interview tomorrow! wish me luck! thank you! :)

  14. 14
    July 13th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I just came across your site today! men you’ve got a lot of good stuff going on here… I guess I’ve got to visit very often! Tumbs up

  15. 15
    July 13th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I just came across your site today! men you’ve got a lot of good stuff going on here… I guess I’ve got to visit very often! Tumbs up.

  16. 16
    August 2nd, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Hi, I was just looking for some dressing guidelines for my blog (about corporate fashion) and came across your website. Looks really great and I like the information you provide.

    There’s just one thing in this article which broke my true fashionista heart:

    The goal of dressing for the office is to blend in with what everyone else is wearing.

    I would like to challenge that as I simply refuse to believe the goal of a professional environment is to turn us all into zombies, who are really professional but braindead for some fashionable creativity in the outfits. An outstanding skilled person who blends in with his/her outfits, does not bring out the best of his/herself. This is simply because you are not using your appearance as well to make yourself get noticed and in that way are only using 50% of your abilities to reach the top.

    The combo of great skills and bold appearance is in my eyes a recipe for success.

    Note: Bold appearance does not equal sexy or crazy outfits. You can easily look bold and professional simply by using some creativity.

    Really would love to hear your thoughts on this and I will definitely devote a post on my blog about this theory.

  17. 17
    September 14th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    About polo shirts: do NOT pop the collar.

  18. 18
    December 1st, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I just found out I got an internship in NY that will be from Dec-April. Business casual, etc. Any tips for what to wear when it’s 30 degrees outside but not in the office? Moving up from FL and trying to figure out what is fashionable/acceptable in the cold. Thanks!

  19. 19
    December 16th, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I am starting an internship with the State Senate this January and I find that a nice pair of slacks and a sweater are good. A basic black blazer is a MUST.
    If anyone is following this article still… are peeptoes okay??? The heel is fine, not too high, but I have heard from some that it comes off as “unprofessional”

  20. 20
    August 16th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Saya agak cerewat dalam menerima pendapat… tapi setelah membaca karya nie…
    saya rasa … saya perlu bersetuju dengan awak…

    tahniah atas persembahan idea yang menarik…

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