What should you wear for your first day of work?

Dress to impress


First impressions are important. Although it’s never good to make a judgment of a person based on a snapshot of information, your initial handshake and smile can greatly influence the start of your personal and professional relationships.

Which is why the night before my first day at my first real internship I stared at six blouses, three pairs of pants, two skirts, a dress and a cardigan as if I was deciding on a battle strategy.

Clothes do not make the woman, but I know that for me they make a big difference in my confidence; and confidence is essential to setting the right tone for a successful internship experience. I wanted my clothes to help me communicate to my peers and superiors that I am a person to be taken seriously so that I could hopefully grow to exceed already high expectations instead of work to change others’ perception of me.

There are a few things to take into account when putting together an outfit for your first day. The type of work you will be doing changes the considerations immensely—footwear for data entry and footwear for sifting through a storage room and running three blocks for coffee are two entirely different things. Office culture is another key factor, though one that can be the most ambiguous depending on the number of opportunities you have had to observe it.

We’ve put together a guide with examples for three types of internships: business, artistic and startups.

Business

Internships that require business attire, such as consulting, accounting or law, are fairly straightforward. A blouse or a sweater with slacks or a skirt are the usual selections. The biggest mistakes in this category usually revolve around dressing for your age. As a young woman, you don’t want to look like you are playing dress up, but you also don’t want to remind everyone that you are a college student who still goes on spring break in Florida.

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My goal in putting together this outfit was to strike that “appropriate for my age” balance and have fun without going overboard. Even though it is summer, office buildings can be cold, so I thought the sweater worked to keep warm, add some color that was still subdued and cover my shoulders for some formality. The skirt and simple nude heels are fairly ordinary for office wear, but I added some black and silver earrings for a little youth and spice in the outfit for my own benefit.

Artistic

Outfits for artistic internships, like editorial, film and fashion, are fun and frustrating. There is more opportunity for self-expression and experimentation, but, especially on the first day, it’s crucial to stay professional. Here are two options depending on your personal style.

Jenirae’s outfit is reflective of her more casual style. Her sweater is short sleeved and nicely tailored, bringing something unique to a timelessly polished piece. The denim and low-heeled sandals are stylish and versatile so that she can be comfortable in the office as well as out on a coffee run.

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Forever over the top, I feel more comfortable in a dress over jeans. This dress was my pick because it has a playful pattern that isn’t too overwhelming and a shape that allows movement comparable to a pair of pants. The booties give a bit of pizzazz with a faux fur texture and are comfortable enough to keep me moving.

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Startups

“Startup” is a bit of a broad category, as companies in different industries are naturally going to vary in culture greatly. However, I have found that startups generally are younger and more focused on style rather than traditional formality. The focus for this category was to find outfits that could be adaptable to different environments as you figure out the office style on the first day.

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With both of these outfits we avoided denim, because for some offices blue jeans are much too casual. But, the easy shapes and pants can blend into more casual offices to avoid being wildly overdressed. Both outfits play into our personalities to boost confidence and make us feel comfortable: Jenirae added heeled boots and I pulled in jewel tones.


It’s important to feel good in what you are wearing and while there are some general guidelines for appropriateness, there is also a lot of room to be inventive. With clothing that matches the formality of your work environment, accounts for unexpected tasks and makes you feel comfortable, you are on your way to a sparkling first impression.