Upon first glance, the most noticeable difference between college campuses and finance firms is what people wear – gone are the sweatshirts and jeans, replaced with full suits, blazers, heels, and more. A daunting, but often overlooked, aspect of starting a summer internship in the corporate world is making sure you have the right clothes for the job. Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin preparing your summer work wardrobe!
Figuring out workplace expectations
Before you go out and buy several full suits, first reach out to HR or a mentor to learn about their expectations for how you dress. Some firms will require business formal every day, other firms allow business causal between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You want to make sure you don’t underdress or overdress, so knowing what other people at the firm will be wearing will help make sure you start your first day strong.
What is or isn’t appropriate? There are no hard lines, but do remember that the corporate world is a bit more conservative than what many college students are used to. Err on the side of caution in terms of skirt/dress length, how tight/lowcut your clothing is, and the degree of casualness of what you wear. Some clear no-no’s for most firms include spaghetti strap tanks, jeans (unless otherwise stated), clothing with rips, sneakers, and short shorts.
Getting the basics
It may be tempting to buy statement pieces when heading into the store, but first focus on getting some of the fundamental pieces for a business wardrobe. To start off, one of the most important items is to get a fitted black blazer – this is something you can put over anything and everything to make your outfit look a bit more formal. Beyond the black blazer, some other key items include a professional black dress/skirt/pants, work-appropriate shoes, and white blouse. These are essential for days when you might have a particularly important meeting or presentation.
Aside from these business formal pieces, it might be helpful to do some outfit planning to figure out how to coordinate a few basic pieces to create several different outfits. It is challenging to wear business dress everyday while having some variance. Keep it exciting by adding a splash of color or unique accessory to every outfit – but make sure not to go overboard!
Business dress on a budget
While there are some pieces that are worth spending money on (for example, a high-quality blazer can last you a long time), it may seem preposterous to spend a hundred or more on a single pair of pants or dress. For simple blouses and other items, there may be no need to spend a lot of money, especially at the start of your career. There are some stores that offer relatively inexpensive options – TJMaxx, Marshalls, Banana Republic, Express are all great places to look. Even Forever 21 and H&M have some budget-friendly selections!
In addition, during end-of-season sales at Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Loft, and other similar stores, you’re often able to find some great deals for high quality pieces.
Ultimately, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on creating your summer internship outfits. After getting the basics at the beginning of the summer, set aside some money from each paycheck for buying new outfits to refresh your wardrobe. And remember, it’s always worth it to spend a bit more on buying high-quality timeless pieces that can last you several years!
Siyu Wu is from Colorado and attends Princeton University, pursuing a degree in Economics and certificates in Finance and East Asian Studies. Siyu will graduate in 2018. She hopes to synthesize her interest in China and East Asia with her passion for finance to eventually work in a career related to international finance and Asian capital markets.