What to Wear to Work (or an Internship)

Tips and outfits to help you decide on what to wear to your job.

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What to wear to work or an internship - outfit ideas and tips

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. You can also research the company and what standards they have. Or even better – you can find people who work at your company through LinkedIn and message them nicely about attire requirements.

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:

Business casual outfit 1: Black pants, red wrap top, structured tote bag, jeweled bangle, druzy earrings, loafer mules with studs

Products: Top – NA-KD, Pants – Tommy Hilfiger, Purse – JCPenney, Shoes – Madden Girl, Studs – Kendra Scott, Bracelet – Kate Spade

Business casual outfit with rose pink pencil skirt, light gray bow blouse, pearl earrings, Tory Burch bracelet, white crossbody bag, nude pumps

Products: Blouse – MissGuided, Skirt – Nordstrom Rack, Earrings – JCPenney, Purse – Liz Clairborne, Bracelet – Tory Burch, Heels – Sam Edelman

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 longer skirts (think at the knee or slightly above, no shorter), 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:

Casual work outfit: White wrap top, black skinny jeans, metallic oxfords, gold earrings, leopard print tote bag

Products: Skinny Jeans – H&M, Top – Topshop, Tote – Anthropologie, Earrings – Anthropologie, Flats – Chinese Laundry

Casual work outfit: Polka dot dress with 3/4 sleeves, layered gold necklaces, pink crossbody bag, gray suede ankle boots

Products: Dress – Asos, Shoes – Brinley Co, Purse – Aldo, Necklace Set – Gorjana

Hair & Makeup Tips for Work

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 any other beauty store!) 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 on What to Wear to Work

For more info on what to wear in any job setting, check back soon for the next post in College Fashion’s How To Dress Professionally series!

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!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2018 with new photos and information.

17 thoughts on “What to Wear to Work (or an Internship)”

  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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.

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  3. 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

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  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
  8. 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”

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

    tahniah atas persembahan idea yang menarik…

    Reply
  10. 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? 🙂

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  11. 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

    Reply

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