Dressing for the Job

Business dress code

What on earth does ‘business casual’ mean? What do you wear to an internship? Or a job interview? Does it differ? No matter your gender identity, this stuff is confusing when you’re going into a new career. Find some tips for different situations below.

The first and easiest thing to do is to just ask your interviewer. When going into an new environment, ask your future boss! If you start out with a phone interview, make it part of the questions you ask at the end. If you forgot to do that, you can email whoever you’ve been in touch with at the company/school and ask for general guidelines on how people in the office dress on a given day.

No matter what, always dress more conservatively than normal when going into an interview situation. This usually means a full-on suit. (What to do if your interviewer gives you the dreaded, “we’re pretty casual here, so no suit is needed”? Follow the guidelines for business casual below.)

All of this is especially hard when you’re just starting out–not just because you’re new to the norms of the industry/academia, but also because you probably don’t have a ton of money to drop on fancy job clothes. In that case, look up local thrift and consignment stores. Many have great discounted duds. Some will even loan or give away suits for job interviews! Few people will expect a new intern or grad to be the best-dressed person, but your clothes should always be clean, free of holes, and fairly professional.

So what does professional mean, anyway? Check out these links for an idea of what to wear.

For an interview or career fair, Ohio State Engineer has a great guide.
Here are some more specifics for both men and women from Michigan State (with illustrations!)

Here is an illustrated guide for business casual, academic casual, and academic professional dress from Washington State.

Here is another guide with links to photos for different levels of office dress, from casual to conservative and everything in-between.

Here are a few extra guidelines for internships.

General Don’ts: 

Don’t wear anything see-through, open-toed shoes, shorts, or anything that shows too much skin. This includes armpits! Stay away from tank tops (or wear them beneath light jackets in summer.) If you could wear it out dancing on a Saturday night, it’s probably not appropriate.

Alternatively, if you could wear it to bed or the gym, stay away from that too. Over-sized graphic tees and sweatpants are no-nos. Finally, nothing dirty, wrinkled, or “distressed” (intentionally or not). I don’t care if those jeans cost $500 from a designer store and came that way–if they have holes in them, leave them at home!

(More advice on what NOT to wear here for men and here for women.)

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