How to Dress for Success: Internship Tips for Guys

When I was on summer break after my sophomore year of high school, I was preparing for my first internship/summer program. It was a medical program designed for high school students, and the information brochure mentioned something about a “business casual” dress code for orientation. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but when you’re 15, the word “casual” means basketball shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. So that’s exactly what I wore on my first day. Words alone cannot describe how embarrassing it was to be the only person in a group of 20 mistaken for someone’s lost child in the middle of orientation. And I’ll just let you all imagine how funny a 15 year old might have looked wearing oversized basketball shorts and a Nike tee under a giant lab coat in a group of 20 others wearing suits.

It’s pretty obvious to say that after that experience, I learned the importance of dressing well for any job/internship. And luckily for all of you, that’s my topic for today: work clothes for guys & general workplace etiquette.


The first tip I have for eager interns is to overdress for any interview and/or first day. When you don’t know what the office’s dress code is, play it safe by wearing dress pants, a dress shirt, at tie, and a jacket. Whenever you wear a suit, you’ll never be underdressed. But if you end up being overdressed, others will still think that you’re taking your first day seriously, which is a good first impression. During your first day, however, it’s important to make note of what your coworkers wear so that you get a feel for the office environment and come back more appropriately dressed the second day if not everyone wears a suit.

Workspace attire for men can generally be divided into 3 different categories: business, business casual, and casual.


Business is what I’ve already mentioned, dressing in a suit. This is usually for more conservative and professional jobs, such as banking, consulting, government, law firms, etc.

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Typical components of businesswear

Don’t forget to iron your pants and shirts, buy a nice belt, and always dry-clean your jackets. And for those of you who really need to dress to impress, invest in a pair of cufflinks, polish your shoes, and find a pocket square. Dark suits are always preferred, unless you want to go through all that effort just to look like Colonel Sanders or The Riddler. Remember, you’re only an intern. So dress to impress, and don’t dress like an idiot unless you’re in upper management and can’t get fired by anyone.


Business casual is what I wear every day. Although I’m in a government agency, I noticed that no one on my floor really wears a jacket or tie. But I wouldn’t say that my case is always true in other federal agencies. Business casual is more of the norm in technology industries and more laid-back workplaces, but it’s quickly becoming more widespread in other business professions. What it means is simply that you wear nice pants and a dress shirt. Your pants can either be dark and ironed dress pants or sometimes even khakis. There’s also more room for variety when it comes to shirts. You can go for the classic fit or buy slim fitting shirts that don’t require ironing. Jackets and ties are optional, but nice shoes, socks, and a belt are still all required. Basically, think of business casual as how a banker or lawyer dresses when s/he is relaxing.

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Classy, yet casual


A casual dress code is something that, as interns, you normally don’t find unless you’re working in research for engineering, biology, chemistry, etc. In other industries where you’re required to work with your hands and sometimes get messy, you also wouldn’t wear a suit. But casual attire can mean really anything from wearing jeans to shorts and a t-shirt. Again, if you’re not doing scientific research, I would advise against dressing casually, even on Fridays, because an important aspect of any job is meeting and networking with other people. In business, you’ll have a hard time doing any of this if you don’t look professional or even presentable.

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Might be appropriate for working in a lab, but not much else

The point is, if you’re working in business, make sure to at least have dress shoes, shirts, and pants. Wearing a jacket and tie depends on the occasion/industry, but it’s always a good idea to play it safe on the first day. It’s pretty easy for guys. Just use common sense and don’t stand out from the crowd by being underdressed or just poorly dressed.

 ‘Till Next Week,

Daniel

 

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