our interns are clueless about our office dress code

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager. Each year, the company I work for brings on college students as interns. One thing I have noticed is the lack of following the dress code and unprofessional outfits from the interns.

Our industry is on the conservative side and wearing suits and button-downs is expected for everyone, from the receptionist right up the C-suite. I’ve seen the odd issue with the male interns (one had swear words shaved into his hair and another would wear bright colored undershirts and t-shirts under his button-down shirt), but the problems I have noticed are almost exclusively from the female interns.

As a woman who has worked my way up to management in a field that is still male dominated, I want to guide these young women so their clothes don’t hold them back. In a perfect world, clothing and dress would not matter but in the current world it does matter immensely.

I understand most interns don’t have a large, functional work wardrobe yet, but some of the clothing I have seen is atrocious and definitely unprofessional. Some examples are skirts that are well above mid-thigh, visible thongs, sheer blouses or tank tops under jackets instead of button-down shirts, full smoky eye shadow with false lashes, and non-natural lip or hair colors. One of the interns we have this year wore a jacket and tank top that had pieces missing and showed the skin of her lower back and under her arms.

Our policy is to send someone home if they are not conforming to the dress code and can’t change whatever it is that is breaking the code, and to escalate to write-ups and beyond if it happens several times. This is my first year as a manager and I have had to send several interns home for not following the code. I feel bad doing this because they are here to learn, but not dressing professionally could lead to them not being taken seriously once they start working after college. I figure it is better for them to find out now rather than once they’re in post-college jobs.

The dress code does state clearly that suits must be worn and employees must look professional, but I’m thinking that these interns are new to the working world and might not know what professional means, or they might have a different idea of it. How do I guide them without seeming condescending? How do I explain to them what is and is not professional? I don’t want to make them self-conscious when I talk to them, or have them think that they are in trouble and I’m upset with them. How would you handle this if you were in my shoes?

Well, good for you for being willing to talk to them about it. Too often managers find talking about dress to be so awkward they don’t bother doing it … which then can indeed lead to people, especially people new to the work world, being taken less seriously and having no idea why.

I think at least part of the reason why these conversations feel hard is that they feel personal, like you’re weighing in on someone’s fashion sense. So keep in mind that you’re not commenting on that at all: You’re just talking about what works for this particular office.

There’s also a piece of this where it can feel like you’re policing women’s dress in ways that come awfully close to policing their bodies. For example, bustier women are more likely to be told, “That shirt is too low-cut for this office,” than their less curvy co-workers whose shirts have similar necklines. Of course, managers can’t single-handedly change societal perceptions of this stuff, so that can leave them having to choose between playing right into those dynamics or not mentioning something that might truly impact how someone is perceived professionally.

Luckily, in your case it sounds like the issues are more straightforward than that. Visible underwear, sheer tops, and shirts with cutouts are pretty objectively unprofessional, which makes this easier to address.

So — how to talk about it? First and foremost, you can minimize the number of dress-code conversations you need to have by setting really clear expectations from the very start, when interns first start working for you. Don’t just give them a copy of your employee handbook and mention that there’s a dress code in there; that’s not enough guidance. Most office dress codes assume a certain knowledge of professional dress is already in place, so they tend to talk in broad categories — like no shorts, no T-shirts, etc. That makes sense for experienced professionals, when it would actually be pretty condescending to spell out “no visible underwear.” But for people who are brand new to the work world, broad categories can leave a ton of room for misinterpretation, which is why your interns may genuinely not know that cutout tops and visible underwear are issues.

So at the start of their internships, get really specific — as in, “In the past, some of the things we’ve seen interns wear that aren’t work-appropriate are sheer shirts, anything that exposes your underwear, clothes with cutouts, and exposed shoulders.” You can even find some photos online and use those to illustrate your points! People aren’t born knowing what “professional” means, and ideally an internship is the time when they’ll learn it. And yes, you might feel like you’re being really remedial — but it’s so much kinder to give them this guidance at the start than to wait for them to mess up before you clue them in.

You can make this easier on everyone by presenting it as a subject where it’s completely normal for people to need guidance at the start of their careers. Frame the initial discussion with something like this: “This stuff can be tricky to figure out when you’re new to working in an office and it might be very different from dress codes that you’re used to before now, so I’m going to be very detailed about what is and isn’t work-appropriate here.” You could even add something like, “If you’re not sure about a particular outfit or clothing item, please feel free to come talk to me. It might not always be intuitive, and you shouldn’t feel weird about that.”

Also, if your office truly expects button-downs every day, be very clear about that. Don’t hope they’ll figure it out by observing others; that’s clearly not working, so do them the favor of letting them know from the start. (In fact, do them the favor of telling them before they start work, so they don’t show up in the wrong thing on their first day.)

Doing this is going to cut way down on the number of conversations you have to have afterwards. But if at some point someone does show up dressed inappropriately, just be straightforward: “That’s a great shirt but it’s outside of our dress code. Can you save it for the weekend?” And if it’s a pattern: “Your outfits haven’t been quite professional enough for our office. I know this can be an adjustment when you first start working in an office. Can we go over the dress code again?”

You also might consider advocating for your company to rethink its policy about sending people home to change. Being sent home is a pretty humiliating consequence, especially for someone who’s young and still learning these norms. Unless someone is dressed truly egregiously, a simple conversation is usually the better way to go.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 736 comments… read them below }

  1. S*

    It takes a special sort of chutzpah to show up at a conservative internship with a swear word *shaved into your head.* Wow.

    1. Justme*

      It takes chutzpah in general to shave a swear word into your head. Extra for at an internship. And now I am wondering which one the intern decided on.

            1. Annonymouse*

              Why’s stop at hair?
              Face tattoo of both company name and logo.

              You can charge for advertising!

    2. Collarbone High*

      I had to read that sentence about 10 times before I could finish the letter. “‘Swear words shaved into his hair’? That can’t be right.”

        1. Observer*

          That’s unfair. 2 male interns did outlandish stuff. But out there stuff is quite common for the women.

          1. AJHall*

            Who don’t do swear words in their heads but have slightly transparent tops. But no double standards, obviously.

            1. Hotstreak*

              Swear words and brightly colored undershirts are universal to any gender, they just happened to occur with the Men in this case. Those two issues are also incredibly easy to address, so I’m not sure why OP would feel the need to get advice on them? The sort of reactionary interpretation here is ridiculous when applied in either direction, for example the strange anti-male bias where OP says she wants to guide these young women but doesn’t express any interest in guiding the young men.

              1. NaoNao*

                Probably because as noted above, the two issues involving men were easy to address. “Kevin, please wear only white, gray, or black undershirts under your button down. Kyle, you need to remove the curse word from your hair style by tomorrow.”

                With the female interns, it’s more nuanced as to why the violations are problematic, and as others have noted, there are many more ways to violate the dress code that might not be as obvious (such as super high spike heels, tons of jewelry, facial piercings, fishnet tights, leather or pleather clothing, crop tops that are part of an outfit, wildly patterned tights, sequin or sparkle shoes, tops, or pants, too-casual items like denim skirts or shirts, and on and on. All these things would be pretty rare on a male intern, and they’re concievably something an intern might wear thinking they were okay for the dress code.)

                It’s not an anti-male bias to briefly comment on some of the violations committed by male interns and then focus most of your comments on the female contingent. That’s really a stretch in my opinion, and one I’m confused by.

                Is this an attempt to troll the commentors “See! AAM always goes to a gendered place in the comments”? Otherwise I don’t see the point.

            2. Kate 2*

              It’s not just “slightly transparent tops”, which is disingenuous for you to frame it as. It is a whole host of other problems, including tank tops with large sections cut out and visible thongs!

          2. Hotstreak*

            Agreed, very unfair comment. If OP’s company has a normal conservative dress code, it’s fairy easy for men to follow since the requirements are “Slacks and a Shirt” (maybe Jacket or Tie also). Women are given more latitude in choosing what style to wear, such as pants or professional skirts, different styles of tops, etc., so there are more mistakes to be made.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              Seriously. Trying to pretend this about sexism is counterproductive and completely musses the point.

            2. Indoor Cat*


              My first office job, I was so nervous about what to wear, I got a bunch of “menswear cut for women,”-type shirts, and I wore a pendant or long necklace instead of a tie. It was much more androgynous / masculine than my typical look (especially since I’m not curvy at all, and in social situations I’m self-conscious about that).

              I ended up getting reprimanded anyway for wearing the wrong pants. They were gray and not jeans, but it turned out they weren’t slacks either (they were cargo pants, which apparently are for outdoorsy things, not office-y things).

              I am so glad my current job doesn’t have a dress code that’s both strict AND SECRET.

              And apparently “cargo pants are for outdoors, overalls are for outdoors or irony, tuxedo pants are for weddings, jeans are for socializing, patterned leggings are for parties / dancing, sweatpants / gaucho pants / track pants are for exercise, and cotton slacks, khakis, and chinos are work-appropriate UNLESS they’re wool and then people are going to wonder if you’re cold (also corduroy pants are work-appropriate but make you look like a dork)” is just something everyone knows! But never says out loud! And trial and error makes you look really, really clueless.

              Silk slacks aren’t against the rules but I guess they’re also too “out there”? Maybe too retro?

              Gah. I feel sometimes like the clothing-equivalent of the guy who invented Soylent. Dressing is too hard, someone else tell me what to wear and I’ll wear it every day.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                “Gah. I feel sometimes like the clothing-equivalent of the guy who invented Soylent. Dressing is too hard, someone else tell me what to wear and I’ll wear it every day.”

                Button-down shirt (black, white, grey, other neutrals, solid colors), slacks (black, white, grey, other neutrals), blazer (match the slacks), socks (black, white, grey, other neutrals), flats (black) or low heels (black, no more than 2″). Choose one thing to be “your thing” like funky socks or elegant scarves or some kind of jewelry, this adds a hit of personality and will (mostly) prevents you from coworkers accusing you of being a robot. You’re welcome! ;P

                Note: This is appallingly boring, and people will eventually notice—but you’ll have the clothes issues sorted, so eff ’em (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

                1. Sandra wishes you a heavenly day*

                  Except: button down shirts aren’t really made well for women who are busty or whatever word you feel comfortable with. (I’m a DDD cup, all button down shirts I have (I think one? maybe two?) are either huge so they don’t bow out or I could get them tailored but that’s a lot of money, so I actually think I don’t have any right now.)

                  I don’t know how I’d dress for this office’s dress code if I couldn’t wear a tank top/shell with a blazer/cardigan over it.

                2. Indoor Cat*

                  Thank you! Honestly and legitimately, thank you.

                  I did figure out something similar, but this is on point, and I know I can’t be the only one who gets confused.

              2. Specialk9*

                Wow, you’re right, those ARE the rules, and you’re right how much is unspoken! That list really gave me pause.

                If you want a uniform as a woman (not non-binary/genderqueer, which has its own look) who prefers pants over skirts, go with:

                *Trousers: black, grey. Go for lightweight material and a pressed line up the front, but not pleats or low-slung. (Even, for more casual workplace, trouser-cut dark-wash denim with no holes or whiskers.)

                *Fitted button-up shirts or simple sleeveless shells (not tanks – it covers armpits and most of shoulder). Choose 3 colors – see below. You shouldn’t see skin even with arms over head – wear a tank under, or belly band, if needed.

                *Cardigan or traditional blazer. Play it safe with black and grey, or get cardigans in your 3 colors. Target Merona brand has excellent cardigans. (A quality cardigan can go formal or informal; a blazer is usually dressy. If cold, layers of button-up shirt, thin cardigan, blazer looks great.)

                *For shirts, cardigans, accessories: choose 3 accent colors that look good on you, and good together, and stick to only those. (Don’t mix seasons – eg olive green and kelly green are wildly different colors and generally don’t go together. Teal and scarlet red can be worn together or separately. Olive and orange go together. Pinterest has “colors that go together” swatches.)

                *Black or grey flats, heels, knee high boots. I like d’Orsay flats because they look dressy and like heels, but are flats. Keep boots simple if you’re unsure of what messages you’re sending – riding boot rather than combat boot.

                *Accessories. Stick with the 3 accent colors. Target has great skinny patent belts. Belt at your natural waist (skinniest torso point) over a cardigan. Keep jewelry minimal, or coordinated in color (eg statement necklace in same color as belt).

                After that, keep clothes unwrinkly (I wet and hang to dry in my shower, or use a steamer bc I’m too lazy to iron.), tailored (DIY using online tutorials, or go to a tailor, it’s cheaper than you think), and free of holes or pills or rips.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Check out this website: http://www.flylady.net/d/br/author/missus-smarty-pants/

                  (Flylady had a better description of the Missus Smarty Pants, but it clicks through to MSP)

                  Not affiliated, I just learned to dress from here. I had a co-worker and mother intervention, separately, because of my terrible style. Now I am often referred to as the person who always dresses so nicely. MSP lays it all out, with lots of examples.

            3. Turtledove*

              Plus, the fashion industry doesn’t do someone female and inexperienced with what counts as “work-appropriate” any favours. A lot of the clothes and outfits being sold at prices a fresh-out-of-college intern is likely to be able to afford might claim to be work-appropriate – but I’d have to comb pretty hard to find something I’m actually comfortable wearing into an office. Sheer tops, camisoles sold as anything but a layer that’s supposed to go under other clothes (if you’re wearing it into the workplace, anyways), short skirts and dresses. Even if the dress-code explicitly states button-up shirts are required, I wouldn’t guarantee there won’t be any hiccups – one of my button-up flannel shirts came from a store I would have used to look for work-appropriate clothes, and it’s got metal eyelets in the shoulders.

              And that’s not even taking into consideration all the “day to evening” styles out there.

              1. Floundering Mander*

                And of course if you read any articles about dressing for work in various fashion magazines or online, you’ll find many examples that are not appropriate in the real world. Shoes and skirt lengths are particular problems but also “fashion” looks that actually look quite outlandish in a typical office abound.

                I just tried this and the first hit I got for “what to wear to the office” includes models with an arm full of bracelets, ripped jeans, spike heels, an oversized jacket draped over the shoulder, head-to-toe houndstooth check, and plenty of cleavage along with other more conservative looks. It takes time to figure out what is acceptable at different kinds of companies.

              2. Specialk9*

                Yes! My teenaged niece thought that a romper micro short set was work appropriate, and a wardrobe full of micro skirts too. I explained about knee length skirts at work and she said it’d feel too weird having fabric so low. Uh ok kid.

              3. Kathleen Adams*

                Yeah, the “Put a jacket on over this purple satin mini dress and it’s perfect for the office! And sure, you can also wear those 5-inch patent leather heels, too! The jacket takes care of all the issues!” folks have a *lot* to answer for, IMO.

              4. LawAndOrdinaryStudentLoans*

                I was thinking along the same lines. Especially on a student budget, it is difficult to find any button down top that are not sheer. I am also confused as to why a dressy tank blouse under a jacket or blazer is problematic. As long as the blazer stays on, I wouldn’t think that would be a problem.

                1. MoreNowAgain*

                  Agreed. This is what gave me pause. I’m lucky enough to currently work in an environment where we have a business casual dress code leaning towards casual, but have worked in more formal environments in the past. I have never once encountered a dress code that limits what is worn under a blazer/cardigan as long as it doesn’t violate any of the other rules (i.e. too low cut, offensive prints etc.). That feels nit picky to me. I’d be doomed, button downs are horrible on me.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          They all were talked to. It’s that there are more incidents involving women than men. Which also makes perfect sense because women have more latitude in dress. That makes it harder for inexperienced people to know what is or is not OK.

          1. Gadfly*

            More latitide, and a lot more expectations by general society to be both proper and fashionable. Men can get away with a single style of off the rack suit for years. There isn’t anything like that for women.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      Honestly I work in tech and all my workplaces had a dress code that was basically “don’t be naked”. As long as your bathing suit areas were covered by not-an-actual-bathing-suit and you had shoes on no one cared what you wore.

      But showing up with profanity shaved into your hair would have gotten you a talking to from your manager and a request to Fix That Nonsense By Tomorrow at the very least. I can see how people don’t realize cold shoulder shirts or short skirts aren’t appropriate for work, but I do NOT understand how anyone could ever think it was okay to show up to work with profanity shaved onto their head!

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        Yeah, I work at a tech company where cold shoulder shirts are okay; I’ve seen people wear yoga pants and sweat pants and raggedy ripped jeans to work (men and women). Profanity cut into your hair would absolutely get you sent home.

  2. Sami*

    Pictures! Pictures, pictures, pictures are your friend here. Put together as comprehensive guide of do’s and don’t’s as possible and make it part of the initial intern training.

    1. Kiki*

      The HR team at my past company made a Pinterest board available on the HR portal that demonstrated appropriate attire for both men and women.

      The women’s attire looked like it was pulled straight from an early 2000’s Gap catalog, but that’s a different issue. :)

      1. Catalyst*

        Aside from the GAP catalog issue, I think this is a really great idea! So many people coming into the work place don’t know what ‘professional’ or ‘business casual’ means and to top it off business casual for one office is wildly different at another. Visuals like that would have helped me a lot when I first got into the work world.

        1. Jenny*

          So true! At a place I worked when I was in college, people wore suits and ties (and women wore skirt or pants suits) for “business casual” events – and as a student, I was very confused about what “professional” would mean! The last place I worked was also “business casual,” a jeans were A-OK. Go figure.

      2. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

        Maybe make creating this Pinterest board a task for the interns — with lots of feedback from the manager about whether or not they picked appropriate pictures or not. (If the OP has the time that would be needed to supervise something like this, that is — I imagine it would take a lot of hands-on supervision to help the interns learn enough about what is and isn’t appropriate to complete this assignment well.)

        1. Alli525*

          This is a fantastic idea! And fits in nicely to the “intern must be learning valuable skills” mandate, instead of having them make copies all day or (worse) requiring unpaid interns to do work that’s of tangible value to the company.

      3. INTP*

        Love the Pinterest idea! Ideally it would also show options for a large range of body types, because non-tailored button down shirts do NOT work for all women.

        1. Junior Dev*

          Yes, and make sure that both the professional and unprofessional examples contain a range of skin colors, body shapes, hair textures, ages, and levels of gender conformity within the bounds of what’s appropriate. For example, it’s a noted problem that searching for “unprofessional hairstyles” is a lot more likely to get you pictures of Black women than searching for “professional hairstyles.” And if your “unprofessional” examples are all women in pants and your “professional” examples are all women in skirts (or vice versa) that’s a problem too.

          1. Gadfly*

            Or only thin women as professional. I’m replacing practically all my wardobe after time in school and a move to a new climate, and as a larger woman it has been HELL. I swear even places that used to be boring now think clubwear qualifies as workwear.

        2. Wilhelmina Mildew*

          Absolute truth. I used to be slender straight up & down with a small bust and looked good in button up shirts of all types, at 50 I have a completely different body shape/type – curvy with a big bust, visible hips, and an actual waist. I can no longer wear button up shirts, or a lot of other styles that I used to both love and were flattering (and I am not happy about this. Big boobs are overrated, I’d rather have clothes that fit.)

    2. always in email jail*

      Yes, I worked somewhere that had pictures of “acceptable” outfits in the dress code, and I’m sure that was helpful for people.

    3. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Pick them out, don’t tell interns to search “business casual”. That’s how you end up with sheer shirts and pleather shorts (!!)

      In college I hosted a What Not to Wear presentation for students, with examples from career fairs to interviews to typical office wear. There was a pPowerPoint but we also had volunteer models that could demonstrate why wearing a neon undershirt doesn’t work, or why a tight skirt is a problem even if you look good in it. It was fun and gave a lot of people a chance to really think about their own wardrobes and what they should (and should not!) wear when it comes to work.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        I just searched “dressy casual Jeopardy” hoping to see examples of what previous contestants have worn… and that’s not what came up. ROFL! (Nothing NSFW, just hilarious examples of NOPE.)

      2. seejay*

        I did a “what not to wear” for a class project for highschool business class where we were doing “the dos and don’ts” of interviewing. I was chosen for the “don’t” since I generally followed the “DON’T” every day. I walked into the classroom in jeans, cut off tank top, Doc Martens, and a nose piercing with a chain that linked it to my earring and all I heard was my teacher from the back of the room: “OH MY GOD”. Did I mention that I also went to an all-girls Catholic highschool?

        I swear my class totally erupted in laughter for five minutes straight. It was beautiful.

        (I also totally man-spread when I sat down on the chair for the “interview”)

        1. curmudgeon*

          Just curious – what do you say to some one that shows up at an interview or the first day of work looking like that? It’s not like you can just go remove piercings & make them disappear. Covering up tats doesn’t always work either.
          What if employee argues it is a cultural/religious symbol?

          I had a kid work for me about 20 years ago with a lip ring. Part of my duties everyday was to remind him to remove it. Alas, my co-manager was not so good about it so I always had to look like the uptight white chick while he got to be the laid-back cool manager. it became a game after a while to see if he’d remove it before I had to remind him.

          1. seejay*

            As someone with tattoos and piercings, first off, I would make a note of where I’m applying and the culture there and deal with it appropriately if it’s not acceptable. When I worked at a bank, I kept the tattoos covered and the piercings down to a bare minimum (at least the visible ones). Fortunately, most of my visible piercings are tasteful and no one really cares about them if they’re small, even in a bank environment (nose piercings are pretty socially acceptable these days) so it’s not a big deal. If it is though, suck it up, cover them up, remove them, wear a clear plastic retainer. If you don’t want to, rethink where you’re applying for a job, the industry, etc.

            20 years ago, a visible lip ring wasn’t going to fly in a corporate work environment, and probably still wouldn’t today in some places. Pushing the bar on it isn’t going to do anyone any favours and just cheese off the boss/higher ups. Does it suck? Most definitely because overall it’s not a significant sign of how well someone can do the job. But what also sucks is getting passed over because someone is an uptight wankadoodle or having a jury take a biased opinion because the a witness isn’t presentable or whatever else comes to mind. Unfortunately we still have to think about how we present in some situations and our outward appearance matters in work environments and that means hair, tattoos, piercings, etc. And seriously, I say this as someone with several facial piercings, at least a dozen ear piercings and visible tattoos and bright punk red hair… but I’m also a software engineer working in a major city with 15+ years of experience where I’m expected/allowed to be eccentric and old enough to not give a fart.

            In short, yes, as long as it’s not cultural or religious, your work environment can dictate these things if it’s going to detrimentally affect a person’s work reputation, forward momentum, etc, at least until they’re old and experienced enough to forge their own way. If they’re that insistent on standing out about what they look like during business hours, there’s enough career options they can explore that will let them.

          2. Ego Chamber*

            “I had a kid work for me about 20 years ago with a lip ring. Part of my duties everyday was to remind him to remove it. Alas, my co-manager was not so good about it so I always had to look like the uptight white chick while he got to be the laid-back cool manager.”

            Why was it so important that he remove it? And why wasn’t your co-manager doing their job if it really was important? If the piercing doesn’t affect the job in some way, I don’t see why it’s an issue.

            If it’s a dealbreaker for the company for whatever reason, it’s worth mentioning that at the interview, so I hope that was done.

            Someone Who Interviewed With Blue Hair And Multiple Facial Piercings And Was Told On My First Day To Take The Piercings Out And Buy Some Box Black Dye On The Way Home After Work If I Wanted To Come Back Tomorrow (none of this was mentioned at the interview and I did not return)

      3. healthnerd*

        I am an advisor for a college organization that requires its members to wear business casual to their weekly meetings. Every semester we have to have a refresher on what is appropriate business casual attire and I cannot stress the importance of visuals. We give power point presentations on appropriate outfits as well as where to find them on a budget (Target, Loft, etc.). And sometimes you may have to be specific, especially for women’s attire (i.e. no fashion sandals; skirts should be about knee length or right above the knee, leggings are not acceptable as substitute for pants). And I’m not sure what the best way to go about this but positive reinforcement works especially when interns are trying to navigate their own wardrobe and apply it to this setting. I’m not sure the most appropriate wording but an acknowledgement of their professional dress will help solidify the dos and donts for dressing for this particular environment.

    4. Jesca*

      I agree. And in these interns’ defense, what the media shows as professional and what is professional are two very different things. It also doesn’t help that a lot of retailers geared towards young professionals really push advertising for this type of inappropriate professional attire. So, without being “shown”, they really could be easily led off course!

      1. k.k*

        I was just doing some online shopping for work clothes and tried using the “Wear to Work” or similar search filters for some stores. The results were laughable. I feel bad for people new to the workforce who might rely on things like that to help them.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Things Nordstrom Thinks Are Appropriate To Wear To Work:
          – Shirts with cutouts
          – Shirts with super crazy deep V necks
          – Rompers
          – Off-shoulder dresses
          – Off-shoulder shirts
          – Cold shoulder literally everything
          – Mini dresses that barely cover the underpants
          – Ruched bodycon dresses
          – Bomber jackets
          – Translucent camisoles
          This thing

          I can’t blame young women for being confused when stores are telling them that stuff is okay for work.

          1. yet another Kat*

            To be honest, almost all of the above can be, and is/has been, worn to my office (which has a confusingly labeled “business casual” dress code) and 80% of offices I’ve worked in the last decade. However, that doesn’t make it strictly professional or business attire.

          2. Jesca*

            New York and Company is literally the worst offender of this. Their market audience are younger female professionals, and OMG a lot of their stuff would not even be appropriate in business casual (low cut is never good!)

            1. Kickin' Crab*

              OMG yes. I have several great work appropriate dresses from them, many with pockets, so I went online yesterday to get some updates. Their “work” section currently has a bunch of romper/jumpsuits (cold shoulder or halterneck), a “belted shirtdress” that looks like a bathrobe, and several froofy maxi dresses. Even the relatively work-appropriate styles, like sheathes, look way too tight or have enormous floral prints. The only work environment this would be appropriate for would be as a runway model!

            1. Ego Chamber*

              What the figurative hell?! It looks like her tailor was turning a blazer into a vest and then changed their mind halfway. O_o

            2. Floundering Mander*


              I am so totally over the cold shoulder thing! Not that I ever liked it to start with but enough with it, already.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                I am still laughing about that ridiculous jacket, and I expect I will be for several minutes yet.

                It’s not only that it’s amazingly inappropriate, though it is. It’s just so stupid! What’s next, an open-toed Ugg boot?

                Anyway, thanks so much for pasting a link to that jacket, because I’m *still* snickering.

                1. Kathleen Adams*

                  No! OK, that’s it. I’m never going to make a “This is too ridiculous to ever become reality” prediction for fashion ever, ever again lest it come true.

            3. Mallory Janis Ian*

              My god, and that’s the Worthington brand, which is specifically billed as the JCP work wear brand.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Charlize was wearing something like that in Atomic Blonde, I think. And I mean, yeah, technically she was working, so I guess?

            1. yet another Kat*

              I would definitely wear that jumpsuit to work in any office I’ve worked in (provided it actually fit me similar to the models pictured and not like a giant sack, or with boobs falling out, or weirdly tight or something, which would most likely be the case.)

        2. INTP*

          I remember a hilarious column in Marie Claire showing three practical ways to wear an evening gown with a leather top and cut-outs showing the side of your midriff. The “Wear to work” suggestion was to put a cropped neon sweater over it (cropped so of course your sides still show). I think an evening gown with a neon sweater might even be worse than a visible thong.

          I found the pics so I’ll put a link in a reply.

            1. SweetTooth*

              Wow. I love reading Man Repeller, and Leandra Medine can absolutely get away with wearing those things in her fashion work life, but WOW is that inappropriate for every other office anywhere ever.

            2. Nancie*

              Holy moly. (Holey moly?) That may be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen suggested as office wear.

            3. textbookaquarian*

              Good grief. Anyone else notice that dress costs $3200? No wonder they’re advocating getting multiple uses out of it because you won’t be able to afford much else after buying it. LOL

      2. TootsNYC*

        You really, really can’t count on retailers to have your back. Not ever (not even for little kids, to be honest).

        It’s really infuriating.

        1. Engineer on the Dark Side*

          Especially for little girls!! Why do the shorts for my 5 year old daughter need to barely extend beyond her hip? Does she really need low cut jeans or shirts with crazy sayings on them? Let kids be kids and not sexualize everything!
          Angry Dad vent!!

            1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              And this is why my daughter wore shorts from the boys’ department until she developed hips. My boys had short legs, so those same shorts looked like man-capris, but what could I do?

          1. Alli525*

            My best friend is going through the same thing – she’s pregnant with her second kid (first girl) and FURIOUS about the clothing options. Boys’ clothes don’t have weird ruffled elastic pant legs (that dig into their legs) or vaguely–sometimes overtly–sexist garbage scrawled on itchy, lacy tops.

            She was 100% sold on just dressing Baby in her brother’s clothes, but we popped into Carter’s a week ago and apparently Carter’s is ON POINT with girls’ clothes. OshGosh wasn’t bad either. (This is advice about 3 years too late for your kid, I suppose, but it was great to see that there are at least a couple respectable options out there.)

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Seriously. At least little boys get to have the sexist garbage scrawled across comfy t-shirt material.

        2. Specialk9*

          I find Banana Republic and Ann Taylor to be a bit conservative even for me, but they have a fair number of good guidance visuals. (I can’t afford either store, much less interns.) You just *need* to filter for work. And Ann Taylor Loft is way more casual than Ann Taylor. But even Ann Taylor had shorts and peasant/bare shoulder shirts.



      3. zora*

        Yes, photos are key!! And what is being sold is really the problem for women. I would literally spell out “some stores sell things that *say* they are suits, but they are not appropriate for this office. You really need to pay attention to skirt length, neckline, etc etc.”

        On Capitol Hill people make fun of the women interns behind their backs a lot (“skinterns” is a very common term) and it makes me crazy because most of the time no one is just talking to them and being direct!

        Meanwhile, I walked into an H&M and saw a rack that literally said SUITS on top, the skirts were about 6 inches long, there were matching jackets, but they were displaying it with a silky camisole underneath. It’s perfectly reasonable for a young woman on a very low or unpaid internship to walk into that store and think that IS a suit, because the store SAYS IT’S A SUIT, and why would the store not tell them the truth!?! Those stores make me so angry, but in the meantime, I think it’s the duty of all of the other women in the workplace to give specific, but kind, guidance to young women on their first jobs, to help them learn what professional dress really is.

        1. Not in US*

          Maybe this is cultural (and I haven’t read all the comments yet) but even in my more conservative places of employment (suit a must) having a camisole under the jacket (as long as the jacket stayed on) was NEVER an issue. I’m actually kind of surprised that this is such a big deal. I’m a Gen X’er if it matters…

          1. NutellaNutterson*

            As retailers have gotten cheaper, there is literally less fabric in what they call a camisole. I would probably provide guidance that if the straps arent twice as wide as your bra strap, and the neckline is below the armpit, it’s not okay for work in conservative offices, and probably not for most workplaces. “Shell” and camisole can be interchangeable but aren’t always! (Oregon trail gen, loyal Corprette reader!)

            1. Specialk9*

              Hunh. I thought a camisole, by definition, is a spaghetti strap shirt, usually silky with lace. Something with wide straps is a tank or shell or just sleeveless blouse. Personally I find a camisole to be a little too sexy for work.

              1. zora*

                Yeah, it depends on the camisole. I’m talking about tops that literally looked like a teddy, slinky silk, tons of lace, very low cut. It was just wayyyyy to obviously underwear to be appropriate under a Suit.

      4. Optimistic Prime*

        Yeah, growing up my models for professional wear were Ally McBeal and the juniors department in Macy’s. Both are terrible.

    5. BPT*

      Agree, but would actually make it available to interns as soon as they accept the internship, and before they start. Plenty interns will buy new clothes for an internship, and if they buy things that aren’t in the dress code they’ve wasted a lot of money. If your workplace is suits only, I wouldn’t want to buy a wrap dress thinking that it’s fine. Likewise, if you have a more casual work environment, it helps students not to have to buy a bunch of different suits.

      1. zora*

        yes, I second this. Send it with the “Here’s where to go on your first day” email and include photos and some suggestions of where to shop.

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, we had to sit through a number of powerpoint slideshows on professional dress in my graduate program. They were annoying and tedious but they probably helped a few people.

      1. Jesca*

        I once had gotten myself a part time job at Macy’s over the holidays. They include this WITH pictures and quizzes during the orientation! They also stated basically “just because we sell it, doesn’t mean it is meant to wear here. I thought that was fantastic since it is such an entry level place!

    7. Ambulance Chaser*

      I thought you were saying that because you wanted to SEE pictures.

      I mean, I do. Of the guy with the swear word shaved into his head, at least.

      1. Sami*

        Ha! Nope that’s not what I meant. But yeah- I’d like to see the guy with the swear word on his head too.

    8. Lady Russell's Turban*

      Yes, and consider sending it out BEFORE the internship begins so people can shop for the right clothes. I know I didn’t have them when I was in college. I laugh to realize that my wardrobe consisted almost entirely of India-print wrap skirts, black fabric Chinese mary-janes, plain t-shirts, and ratty sweaters. Fortunately my internships were at somewhat off-beat places where that didn’t matter or at least no one acted as if it did.

      I used to work with a program at a university that sent interns to companies and also used students as helpers at industry-related conferences. In addition, my program and its counterparts at other universities hosted a conference for our interns each year with industry and government speakers and specified “business casual.” I was often horrified at the clothing choices, more so among the women. A long skirt and spaghetti strap crop top is not appropriate, even though it is a skirt! A super short sundress is not appropriate! Guys, shorts or camo-pattern pants are never appropriate, even if that is what you wear everyday. I eventually made a hand out of Do’s and Don’ts but there were always a few students who just ignored it.

    9. only acting normal*

      That’s a great idea.
      When I started my current job they gave us a handout of basic bits (the ‘handbook’ is a huge online set of rules and guides and procedure documents), but the dress code section was just a page of clipart?! How stick figures were supposed to help I’m not sure.

      1. CR*

        I remember the hilarity of learning about dress code in a careers class in high school. All the pictures were from the 80s and the ladies had giant collars, shoulder pads, and big hair.

  3. Katniss*

    All this sounds reasonable to me and the answer is great, but is anyone else confused about smoky eyeshadow and false lashes being seen as along the same lines as visible thongs? I don’t know much about makeup, admittedly, but I can’t imagine noticing someone’s makeup much unless it was really blatantly outside the norm, and smoky eye shadow with false lashes doesn’t sound all that outside of the norm to me.

    1. Justme*

      No, I’m with you there too. And “non-natural lip colors” could be anything from coral (okay in an office environment) to black (probably not okay).

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yeah, that one seems odd to me. The smoky eyeshadow is a bit much but false lashes are okay as long as you are trying to make them look natural.

        1. J*

          I think the point was that if the manager was noticing they were false lashes, they did not look natural. There is a whole continuum of false lashes and I assumed these were the more big/dramatic kinds, not the kind that blend into your natural lashes.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Eh, I’ve seen lots of false lashes that I could tell were false but also not unprofessional.

            1. Specialk9*

              I like peacock feather and rainbow false eyelashes, and blue and green lipstick. But, you know, for a costume, not at work!

      2. Marillenbaum*

        As someone whose favorite everyday makeup look could best be described as “beat to the GODS!”, you will pry the false lashes from my cold, dead hands. I don’t wear them every day because they dry my eyes out, but unless they have feathers or rhinestones on them, they are not inappropriate for the office.

        1. Kate 2*

          It depends on which office. In some offices they would be inappropriate, like in the conservative finance industry, for example.

          1. Sandra wishes you a heavenly day*

            Oddly enough, I work in the conservative finance industry and one of the employees here is beyond excited for the false lashes she is getting on Saturday. (But we are west coast so I think it would be a different standard for the offices in other parts of the country/world.)

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I strongly suspect they’re not including “coral” in the list of inappropriate colors. I think we’re talking fire-engine red, black, blue, etc.—colors that are non-neutral and obviously unnatural. I suspect lip stain would also be ok if it was sufficiently neutral, but not if it were purple-black.

      4. Chicken*

        I think unnatural lip colors refers to purples, blues, greens, black, greys, etc – those are all pretty trendy right now.

    2. DCGirl*

      Make-up like that can, under the right (wrong?) circumstances trend into an evening/clubbing look. It’s why you see magazine articles about how to take your daytime look to an evening look after work.

      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

        Yes, DCGirl (hello from a fellow DMVer!).

        I myself use a smudger on my eyeliner to soften it into a smokier look, but the liner is still minimal and closely hews to my natural lash line, instead of the real thick lines you use to create extra dept when you’re being fancy. I also use a four-color palette but it’s all neutral tones and again, the shadow stays close to my natural eye area, not extending out towards my temples the way you do when you’re being fancy.

        Back when I commuted by Metro, every once in a while I would see, as I describe it, “a woman wearing nighttime makeup in the daytime.” That look stands out and I’m assuming that’s what the LW was talking about.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      I’m wondering if she means a big cat-eye liner look and gigantic false lashes, etc., in an office where makeup is generally subdued.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That’s my assumption. I can totally see where heavy, more-suitable-for-the-club makeup can violate a conservative dress code. I once had to speak to a junior employee about wearing too much glitter.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Glitter? Ugh. My sympathies. Craft herpes has no place in the office. Makeup companies will tell you it’s eye safe, which makes it makeup, so it’s okay… but it’s not: no matter how “safe” it is, it’s still glitter.

          Now that the junior employee brought it in, you’ll find glitter in your office years from now. You will move to a new office and (somehow!) still find glitter from that employee in the carpet.

        2. Fish Microwaver*

          There is a woman in my office who is almost 60 and she wears very thick bright green eyeliner under her eyes, not at all close to the lash line and glitter on her cheeks like blusher. She looks like a clown but beyond that nobody cares because we are not client facing.

      2. Observer*

        That’s what I was thinking, too.

        It’s not all that easy to see whether eye lashes are false unless they are BIG or not well applied. And “smoky” eye shadow tends to run to the clubbing look.

    4. FDCA In Canada*

      I think it’s because smoky eyes and false lashes is a very Done Up look–usually it’s going-out makeup with a heavy emphasis on a sort of sultriness? I suppose it’s possible to do it in a way that doesn’t look quite so Yes I’m Wearing Lots Of Makeup way, but it definitely is more of a clubby/nighttime vibe. Appropriate workplace makeup varies by place but it’s much more likely to be variations on nude/lightly-applied eyeshadow and eyeliner, mascara but not false lashes, that kind of thing.

        1. Nee*

          The comments on this over at the Cut are so disappointing. Here’s the most recent one quoted:

          “This sounds harsh but cut them. If a college student/intern can walk into a conservative dress work environment and not pick it up that they too must conform then they don’t need to be there. I had a similar conversation with an old friend who was in this same position but it was over another issue, the need to bring a note pad into a meeting. He thought his more senior co-workers were being too harsh in demanding a person bring a note pad and pencil if called into a meeting and my thinking was that should be standard. Most of all, if you are will to gamble a future job or recommendation on not wearing the right clothing or not being prepared to write down instructions then you are not serious about working. Sorry but I was that broke girl who had to shop Old Navy, Marshalls and TJ Maxx to make sure I looked appropriate at my entry level job because I was not willing to let semantics deter my then career goals.
          Also, if you are not looking to be as cutthroat as I am, you can try this passive aggressive move. Send out the official dress code to all the interns. Like the article says, in full detail, to all the interns both male and female. If that doesn’t work, cut them.”

          …Pretty obviously comes from someone with no compassion for what these younger workers are going through or any real desire to help them.

          1. delurker*

            One of the great lessons I feel like I’ve learned as I got older: “passive aggressive moves” are almost never productive. Your target is usually oblivious (in this case, everyone who reads the mass dress code email will think it’s directed at somebody else), and if they’re not, they will (justifiably) lessen their respect and goodwill towards you.

            1. Lady Russell's Turban*

              Not really passive-aggressive, though. (I get tired of people mis-using the term.) Sending it with a thoughtful cover letter/email isn’t passive-aggressive. It is kind to clearly spell out expectations and to illustrate or give example beforehand.

              I worked with an executive who wore the same several black suits with different brightly-colored blouses everyday. She looked terrific and very polished. I later stole that idea and had three different shades of gray suits and a collections of blouses and knit tops, lots of scarves, different necklaces. (Gray goes better with white dog hair than black.) Maybe people noticed, maybe they didn’t, but it made getting dressed easy and I always felt put-together.

              1. E*

                I love this idea, if I ever can find a suit that fits comfortably enough to wear daily I will absolutely be buying multiples to pair with several nice blouses. One less decision to make for each work day.

              2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                That’s why I love dresses. People always think I’m being fancy, like, “Ooh, what are you dressed up for?” Me: “I couldn’t be bothered to pick two items that match each other so here we are.”

                I have built up a wardrobe of conservative/work-appropriate dresses in “power colors”- cerulean blue, fire engine red, emerald green, sunshine yellow, etc. that help me project confidence at work. (It is surprisingly hard to find dresses in bold colors, especially with conservative hemlines and necklines. Apparently women in the workplace are meant to wear pastels and earth tones and just fade into the background.)

                1. Lora*

                  I have a bunch of hand me down dresses from a friend who was really into bold black and white prints for a while. I wear them with colorful low heel shoes and jackets and Heattech tights in winter. So comfy!

                2. Iris Eyes*

                  Yes! I have found some good options at Burlington (like a Calvin Klein “scuba” dress for $25.)

                  Some mornings the most intimidating thing to do is try to pair up a shirt, jacket (because otherwise I’ll freeze to death), and pants/skirt. For my dresses there usually have their designated cardigan or blazer pairing.

                  For reference: the official dress code is business casual but I like to call it business colorful. I’m still working on navigating things and am sure to make note of any outfits that get complimented by the more veteran women.

                3. Specialk9*

                  We are fashion twins! Eshakti is my go-to to find bold colored dresses that are stylish and respectable. So many lines to tiptoe!

              3. Hillary*

                I ended up wearing a golf shirt and khakis today because I was brain dead when I got out of the shower – I’m debating doing it for the rest of the week to see if anyone says anything. Most of the guys in my area do some version of this every day.

              4. Natalie*

                The passive aggressive part (in the colloquial sense of “deeply indirect communication”) is sending the dress code out to everyone without any specific comments or guidance and expecting that one or two or five people will automagically understand that they are the true target of the email.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            Also the “These kids also usually have parents or friends whom they can ask for more personal advice.” No they don’t, or this wouldn’t be happening! And it’s not always in the “too casual” direction either – Mom absolutely insisted I wear a suit-type skirt and jacket to my Silicon Valley startup’s interview in 1992.That’s the one and only time I wore it – everyone I interviewed with mentioned (nicely!) that I didn’t have to dress like that.

            1. GriefBacon*

              Yes! Parents are not always helpful! I once interviewed for a position at a university in the Deep South. I lived in a much less conservative/more casual part of the South, but had gone to college in the same area as this university and so I was familiar with the general culture. I was talking to my mom (who’s worked 20+ years in higher ed) prior to the interview, trying to figure out what to wear — all my post-college professional experience was in retail, so I had neither interview clothes nor money to buy them. My mom’s suggestion was to wear a “conservative dress”. My response was to state at her like she had 3 heads, before informing her that was what girls wore to class and football games in that part of the country, and as such, was nowhere near nice/professional enough for an interview. (Goodwill was incredibly helpful in finding good professional staples, especially trousers. I also highly recommend women look into Dress for Success — not everyone qualifies, but if you do, it’s a lifesaver).

              Of course, I now live in a western city and work in non-profits…where it’s standard to dress business professional for interviews, and wear jeans/flannel/flip-flips to work everyday. So that professional wardrobe is mostly gathering dust in my closet.

              1. Chinook*

                “Of course, I now live in a western city and work in non-profits…where it’s standard to dress business professional for interviews, and wear jeans/flannel/flip-flips to work everyday.”

                I remember asking about the dress code when I got the job to teach overseas. They said “professional” and I asked for clarification by asking “Edmonton professional or Vancouver professional.” Response was “Toronto but no pants” which meant scouring Edmonton for a place that sold reasonably priced women’s suits. My other was more thrilled with that hunt than I was, but I found them (in emerald green and dusty gold. Ahhh…the 90’s).

                Now I am often overdressed for “Calgary professional” because I always wear dresses, but at least I own one made of denim. :)

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              Yeah, my dad is a transit worker who wears a uniform every day and my mom is a nurse who wears scrubs every day. Neither of them has ever had a white collar job, and the vast majority of the adults I grew up with were blue collar workers. There was nobody I could ask about this, so I had to rely on Google and the Work Wear sections of department store websites to figure it out. I remember Googling furiously before my tech company’s interview – I knew I probably shouldn’t wear a suit, but I didn’t know WHAT to wear.

          3. TootsNYC*

            Then again–what’s your goal? Do you want to spend your energy teaching people things that should be obvious? Do you want to spend your energy mentoring people who don’t do any of their own homework? Who don’t pick up on the basic norms?

            1. Sutemi*

              What is obvious to someone who grew up in an upper-middle class home with parent(s) working white collar professional jobs is not obvious to someone growing up in different circumstances. Providing written guidance up front does a huge favor to many people, especially those who don’t have enough money to buy an extra wardrobe.

              1. Kate 2*

                Um, speaking as someone who grew up in a lower class/lower middle class home with parents who didn’t attend/never finished college, it is still really obvious.

                Everything from Google to going to the library and looking at books there to asking your coworkers to just observing what they wear will tell you what you need to know.

                1. Optimistic Prime*

                  No it doesn’t. I grew up in a working-class home with parents who have always worked blue collar jobs (and did not go to college) and it’s definitely not obvious. I Googled and observed but there are so many mixed messages that I got several things wrong when I started – luckily nothing egregious, but definitely some faux pas.

                  Besides, why should we expect people to “just get it” when it is so much easier for both parties to just be explicit about what you want? Expecting people to “just know” has an exclusionary effect.

                2. Specialk9*

                  If it were obvious, we wouldn’t all be sharing examples of how we messed up as younglings, or how our field has a different dress code from others.

                  Also, your comment was really condescending and dismissive rather than kind or empathetic. We all start somewhere.

                3. Kismet*

                  Agreed, and frankly, as someone who also grew up poor, I find the attitude of folks like SpecialK9 really classist, like somehow we’re just too damn stupid to figure things out, have any common sense, or use our damn eyes.

                  Also, bluntly, it’s been my experience that it’s the wealthier kids who don’t follow or know professional dress norms, because they’re the ones who’ve been able to get away with pushing the fashion envelope more, or they’ve worked in trendier places, or the like. It’s people from lower-class backgrounds who often dress better or at least more conservatively because we know damn well that with so much counting against us already, we want to give our bosses as few excuses as possible to fire us.

                4. Specialk9*

                  Kismet, I think you accidentally put my name down instead of someone else’s. My comment was pretty much the opposite of classist. “If it were obvious, we wouldn’t all be sharing examples of how we messed up as younglings, or how our field has a different dress code from others.”

                  So, nope.

            2. Alli525*

              ^^^ THIS. There are a lot of first-generation/low-income college students out there whose parents don’t know the first thing about working in an office. There are a lot of middle class kids out there with blue-collar parents, or, in my case, my dad was very smart but he was a scientist and dressed… abominably… and my mom was a nurse so she worked in scrubs. (My mother thought she had better fashion sense than my dad and did a halfway decent job of retraining him, but she also wore sweatshirts with cats and saucers on them, so……..)

              And Toots, expending too much energy on teaching young adults obvious things is basically the definition of managing interns, unfortunately.

          4. Ego Chamber*

            “Sorry but I was that broke girl who had to shop Old Navy, Marshalls and TJ Maxx to make sure I looked appropriate at my entry level job because I was not willing to let semantics deter my then career goals.”

            Wtf does this woman think “semantics” means? (Seriously, all I can think right now is “Sometimes I use big words I don’t know the meaning of, so I’ll sound more photosynthesis.”)

          5. Alice*

            That’s not the worst one!
            “Not to mention the clothes you describe will be misinterpreted by males and sexual harassment is still common in the workplace” ?!!!!
            Sexual harassembly is common, so instead of telling the men not to sexually harass the interns, we’ll have the interns cover up.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Totally depends on the colors and style done, from the generic “smoky eye” description it could be anywhere from going to church with grandma to Vegas. You can do a nude smoky that most people wouldn’t describe it as smoky because they associate smoky with dark colors when it really refers to the shape in which the shadow is applied. Falsies can also be pretty low key, although if they’re strip lashes you can usually still spot them even if the length and density is pretty natural.

        This is actually a really common my-face-but-better / no-makeup-makeup thing people do, because the shape makes your eyes stand out but the colors keep it from being obvious that you’re wearing a lot of makeup.

        1. FDCA In Canada*

          I know this–I actually have on about four different shades of nude eyeshadow on right now, if it was dark it would definitely be smoky–but I think that if other people are describing it as “smoky eye” and “heavy makeup” it’s almost certainly going to be dark club-style eye makeup.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Normally I’d assume so, but I’m unsure in this case since some other things the LW describes as against the dress code policy are typically, even in conservative and formal offices, considered acceptable. So I’m not sure if the makeup she’s describing as inappropriate is inappropriate for an office in general or just for this particularly conservative office, you know? And which deal we’re talking about makes the necessary approach slightly different.

    5. amysee*

      I suspect folks see that kind of makeup as appropriate for night, whereas mascara + eyeliner + one or two colors of lighter shadow are seen as more for day. The comparison might be less “smokey eye : visible thongs” as “smokey eye : sequined skirt.”

      1. Justme*

        “Daytime smokey eye” is a makeup look that exists and is in no way unprofessional. There is a line that brings it to more of a date night look.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          That’s true, but if it’s paired with thick fake lashes and heavy lipstick (the date night look), it’s not a daytime office professional look. I would imagine some people new to the office environment don’t know where that line is.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          Sure, but I think since most people associate the term “smokey eye” with dark colors, it’s most likely that is what the OP was describing, and I think that’s what most commenters are responding to.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sure, but based on the description, this does not sound like a daytime look.

        4. Yorick*

          OP is not talking about a daytime smokey eye though, since that wouldn’t be unprofessional

        5. TootsNYC*

          True, but if your average person (i.e., not a beauty nut) describes it as a smokey eye, it’s very probably too much makeup. Because a work-appropriate smokey eye isn’t obvious enough to get that label from most people.

    6. K.*

      I don’t think a smoky eye is appropriate for an office – it’s more of a nighttime look. I do wonder if the raspberry shade of lip gloss I’m currently wearing would be considered an unnatural lip color. What I think the OP means is colors in the color families in which natural lips can be found (nudes, pinks, reds), as opposed to black, green, purple, and the like – but there’s a lot of room for interpretation there.

      1. Arjay*

        I see a lot of young people here at work, and sometimes at church, who have a default “dressed up” look that skews too tight, too short, etc. They’re used to getting dressed up for social events, so they try that same “dressed up” look at work, not realizing it’s unprofessional. They just need some guidance. And of course, it’s not helped that many of these young people are slender and petite and Forever 21 isn’t stocking office wear for them.

        1. Fifty Foot Commute*

          Wait, I’m supposed to look professional at church?! I super missed that memo.

          1. Chinook*

            “Wait, I’m supposed to look professional at church?! I super missed that memo.”

            More like you need to be dressed up (hence the term “Sunday best”). Looking professional is a subset of “dressed up” but not the only version. I interpret church-wear as something along the line of “the nicest and cleanest thing you own that doesn’t show too much skin, isn’t too tight and isn’t ripped, and doesn’t fall into the category of “formal wear” unless it is a special occasion (like a wedding) or part of a uniform (like the tuxes Knights of Columbus wear).

            Basically, dress like you are going somewhere special or sacred, not like you are going to the beach or clean your house.

            1. Arjay*

              Thanks, Chinook. “Looking professional is a subset of “dressed up” but not the only version.” is exactly what I was trying to express.

    7. Snark*

      I’m envisioning dramatic makeup really more suited to a nightclub than to work, and I think that’s hella unprofessional.

    8. Rusty Shackelford*

      Smokey eye shadow with false lashes sounds way outside the norm for a conservative workplace to me. I wouldn’t clutch my pearls the way I would at a visible thong (especially if the LW means “I can actually see your actual thong” and not “I can tell you’re wearing a thong under there, which means whatever you’re wearing on top of that thong is too tight or too sheer”), but it’s still pretty inappropriate in a lot of workplaces.

    9. Look, a bee!*

      Yes, I’m also confused. Is there actually a policy for makeup? If not, the manager should butt out or develop a policy that is explicit and clear. Dress code is one thing, policing what someone does with their makeup is a lot more invasive and unnecessary. I’d be seriously confused if a manager tried to tell me not to wear pink lipstick in the office if there was no mention of it in the dress code and no clinical reason for rules on makeup.

      1. Justme*

        I wore purple lipstick today. Granted, it was a sheer lipstick and my industry is not conservative at all.

        1. Look, a bee!*

          Nice! I have some really nice purples that range from almost black to lilac to a really sheer violet. I wouldn’t personally choose to wear the almost black one to work because it makes a real ‘goth’ statement and would be distracting for clients (I’m a therapist) but I struggle with the concept of policing women’s makeup choices. Luckily my place is incredibly chilled, there’s a kind of tacit no blue denim rule but other than that I can wear whatever, keep my nose ring and decide whether or not to show my tattoos for myself.

          1. Justme*

            I would love a therapist in goth purple lipstick, I would automatically think they were cool. And I am very much with you on policing the makeup choices of others (and it goes both ways, with those who choose to wear makeup and those who choose not to). I’m incredibly lazy so when I do wear makeup it’s a look that took like 2 minutes to do.

            1. Look, a bee!*

              Yeah it’s lovely to be able to present myself how I like, some days I’ll wear a casual t shirt dress (long) and leggings and others I’ll go full suit pants, blouse, jacket. I’m incredibly into makeup and wear it daily: some days it’s a really pared back look and others a full face with fifteen or more products. I don’t think it’s my employer’s business if I’m doing the job well enough!

              1. Sarah*

                I mean, that sort of thing may be fine in some offices and not in others. In a conservative business environment, a t-shirt dress and leggings is obviously not going to be appropriate. I personally love that in my job no one is policing what I wear (for the most part — certainly there’s some outfits that would be clearly inappropriate, but it’s a wider range than most jobs), but I’m also aware that many jobs out there simply aren’t like that. And if you want to succeed in one of those industries, you have to be aware of the norms and follow them.

                1. Look, a bee!*

                  Yes, I don’t think I said or implied that all workplaces are like mine or that my workwear would be appropriate in all environments?

              2. Kate 2*

                I think what Sarah was responding to was this: I don’t think it’s my employer’s business if I’m doing the job well enough!

                Others in this thread have been saying that as well, but it should be kept in mind that this is very industry reliant. For instance an industry with elderly clients, or one that works internationally, with clients in countries with different standards, your makeup will be your boss’s business, as a man’s facial hair would be.

                1. Look, a bee!*

                  Well, I previously worked in finance so I’m well aware of the expectations and conventions around appearance in various industries. As I said, my comment didn’t imply that my workplace is the norm nor did I imply that t-shirt dresses and leggings would fly everywhere so I’m not sure why Sarah was pointing out that it isn’t and they wouldn’t. I must be missing something re her comment…

            2. many bells down*

              I recently cut my hair VERY short, so I’ve been trying to step up my eye makeup to make my look more dramatic. With my long, curly, fluffy hair, too much eye makeup looked overdone. Now that it’s this dramatically short asymmetrical pixie, I want more LOOK.

              1. Justme*

                Asymmetrical pixie fist bump! Mins isn’t that short, I kept it rocker-ish in the front. Every time I chop my hair off I end up buying eye shadow. I completely understand where you’re coming from.

              2. Dinosaur*

                I never wore makeup until I got my pixie cut! My face looked a bit boring without all my hair so I started buying and using makeup. You’re 100% right about being able to do more and not look overdone with a pixie!

    10. KR*

      I wouldn’t comment on makeup if I was OP. Some people just like to wear heavy makeup. As long as it’s tasteful (not a face full of glitter or whatever), I would leave it be.

    11. Bookworm*

      Well, I don’t think OP is trying to suggest that makeup is on the “same lines” as visible thongs, but there are offices where a full smokey eye with red lips is going to look out of place.

      It’s reasonable and helpful for an intern to understand what’s normal in the industry they’re pursuing.

    12. all aboard the anon train*

      Smoky eyeshadow can be relatively conservative and professional or a sexy and going-out look. False lashes fall into the same category imo (a friend had to wear some in high school because she had trichotillomania, and you never would have known they were false unless you were really close).

      I’m confused about whether the office dress code regarding makeup is really strict (because non-natural lip colors imply you can’t wear anything but nude – no pinks, reds, corals or any other colors which are considered professional and even conservative) or whether the interns are going way overboard with it. The only time I’ve seen false lashes that could be considered unprofessional were ones that were unusually long or had colors in them.

      1. Kyrielle*

        …I would think most pinks, reds, and corals would all be ‘natural’ as would some browns, because lips come in those shades. I was thinking blue, green, yellow, purple, or black, for ‘unnatural’. They’re not even close to something lips could have as a natural color.

      2. The OG Anonsie*

        Same. Normally I would think, yeah, inexperienced interns are probably wearing more dramatic / less appropriate makeup. But then there are other notes on the dress code, things like shells under a blazer not being allowed and buttons being expected on everyone at all times, which are typically appropriate in conservative suits-only offices that are apparently off limits in this workplace. That indicates to me that there are probably a lot of makeup styles that are generally considered totally professional but which are not accepted in this specific office (or industry, for all I know).

        1. Back when I was younger....*

          When I was a teen white lipstick was popular! Frosted, but you you weren’t supposed to apply it to the point of it looking opaque white.

          1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

            When I was a teenager, people put concealer on their lips. No joke. I’m glad we’ve moved on.

          2. SweetTooth*

            OMG yes! Like Katherine Heigel in the Disney classic “Wish Upon a Star.”

            Unnatural lip colors are fun, especially for the young, but don’t exactly scream “I am a professional adult,” fair or not.

      3. delurker*

        Considering that the OP’s comments about clothing all indicated a pretty mainstream, not-unusually-strict idea of formal office wear, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that her ideas about makeup are similarly mainstream (e.g. the colors/styles she objected to really were “date night” styles and not within the typical office spectrum). She probably didn’t anticipate this level of scrutiny over her choice of words.

    13. Falling Diphthong*

      I think “too much eye makeup” and “too unnatural a lip color” are far hazier than appropriate clothing. But also one where there could easily be confusion stemming from fashion magazines and TV, which go way, way overboard in their depiction of how gigantic your eyelashes need to be for you to be taken seriously at a career in finance. Or archaeology, or sewer maintenance.

      Are there any women only a couple of years older than the interns, on whom they could model their take-me-seriously style? If most of the women in the office are the age of their parents, they may not realize that their fashion sense comes across as too edgy rather than just elegantly hip.

      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

        But also one where there could easily be confusion stemming from fashion magazines and TV, which go way, way overboard in their depiction of how gigantic your eyelashes need to be for you to be taken seriously at a career in finance. Or archaeology, or sewer maintenance.

        I stopped shopping at LOFT a few years ago when all of their magazine ad models started wearing shorts to work in office-looking settings. Nice shorts, but shorts! I owned a few pair of LOFT shorts but always considered them like, nice shorts I could wear on the weekend to my boyfriend’s family’s barbecue without scandalizing anyone. I never considered them work appropriate, but apparently LOFT thinks we can all wear shorts to work in our office jobs!

        1. Minnock*

          I sat out a few years of suit shopping when the “capri suit” was everywhere. If I’m going to dry clean a suit, I want full points for wearing a suit. No shorts, no capris, no culottes (even if you try to call them gauchos). And, definitely, no business rompers.

        2. DDJ*

          I don’t understand the shorts trend at all. Capris…maybe. On casual Fridays. But shorts?! No. We have to keep reiterating through the summer that flip flops are also not appropriate for the office. Thankfully no one has decided to wear shorts to the office. Yet.

          I’m like you, I thought that “dress shorts” were for hanging out on the weekend or after work when you want to look a little nicer but don’t need to be “dressed up.” I also like that they tend to be a little longer and made of slightly more substantial material than a lot of what’s available.

        3. LizM*

          I had a friend in law school who had a really funny rant about “formal shorts.” At the time, there was a trend to wear shorts with tights and heels.

          Basically, her thought was that if a situation was formal enough to require someone to go through the trouble of putting on tights, it was too formal for shorts.

          But yes, my understanding was that the nicer shorts were for like, brunch or outdoor summer parties.

    14. SomeoneLikeAnon*

      My first boss told me when I started, “if you can go to the club in the makeup you’re wearing, then you’re wearing too much.” Granted, I don’t wear much to begin with; but I got her point about too much makeup. A lot of the makeup tutorials on YouTube and Instagram are stunning and artistic; but it’s often heavy/dark smokey eyes and tons of colors (one video I counted like 20+ colors for the eyes.)

      To a lesser extent I consider professional dress to be in a similar category as the makeup statement; if I can go clubbing, drinking, on a date with what I am wearing to work, it probably (not in all cases) will not convey the message of a straightlaced professional.

    15. AMPG*

      In general, I think this dress code is pretty far on the conservative side, since a couple of things the OP mentions are things that I would never have flagged when I was in a more formal environment. I think it could help to include that blanket statement in the onboarding/training process. I suspect some interns might look to friends or family for guidance and be told that certain things are OK when they aren’t acceptable for this particular office.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Agreed – it sounds like this office is not doing a good enough job of communicating up front about their very stringent dress code. This information should probably even be included in the interview process for the intern positions, because most students aren’t going to be able to afford to buy multiple suits for a college internship. I know that would have been a dealbreaker for me, and I would certainly have wanted to know that up front, not after I had already started the internship.

        1. irritable vowel*

          (Also, thinking more about this – a very conservative dress code is actually disadvantaging students who can’t afford to follow it, if it turns out that they shouldn’t even really be accepting the internship because of the dress code. I’d recommend that companies like this think twice about whether it is fair to require college interns to dress the same as full-time employees making good salaries. Getting work experience that will help them economically is the goal, not making sure they look exactly the same as people three times their age who work there full-time.)

          1. High Score!*

            Thrift stores like goodwill sell professional clothing very cheap. My daughter found a nice church thift store and went every weekend until she had a professional wardrobe built up. Although she doesn’t need to do that now, she still has most of the pieces she collected and dresses very professionally.

            1. VintageLydia*

              The selection at thrift stores varies a lot so I wouldn’t rely on that alone for professional dress. And as you said, it took her several trips over several weeks. If this is a 6 or 8 week summer internship, that’s not going to work.

              1. Erin*

                I wouldn’t buy a suit for a 6 week job. A decent suit is at least $100. A button up shirt and some black pants/skirt should be fine for a job like this.

              2. Sandra wishes you a heavenly day*

                Thrift stores don’t always have your size if you’re the average US women and are a size 14, or worse, above that. Someone who wears a 0-10 is going to have a lot more success with this idea. (and again, if you’re a 14 or more, button down shirts can be a really bad idea and won’t look at all professional.)

            2. Government Worker*

              It’s common to point to thrift stores as an option, but it can be hard to find a really polished wardrobe for the kind of conservative office OP describes in a thrift store. Sure, they have a rack of blazers and a rack of dress pants, but finding ones that fit, are in good condition, aren’t laughably out of style, and coordinate with each other takes luck, and often a fair amount of time visiting different thrift stores or going back repeatedly as stock changes (hard when you’re starting a 10-week internship and find out about the dress code on day 1, or a couple weeks before). I’m grateful to be at a point where my income doesn’t require that I shop at thrift stores any more, and that’s as a 5’5″, size 6 woman. It’s even harder if you’re an unusual size or body type.

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah – I found that thrift stores in rich neighborhoods had really nice stuff, but thrift stores in less affluent areas not so much. And rich neighborhoods often restrict public transport options as much as possible.

            3. Justme*

              Thrift stores in my area are laughably awful if you’re plus sized. I know, I looked there many times when I was starting work here. They’re not the solution for everyone!

                1. JanetM*

                  And, in my experience, plus-size women wear their clothes to rags because it’s so hard to find good new ones.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  Or, they donate them after they’ve been clogging the closet for long enough to make you annoyed enough to get rid of them.

                  Which means they’re really out of date.

                  And you get the clothing that comes from the neighborhood the store is in, most of the time. Partly because that’s what’s donated, and partly because that’s what sells.

              1. Librarianne*

                I hate the “shop at thrift stores!” suggestion. I’m 4’11” and wear a size 0 or 2 and nothing from Target or thrift shops fits well enough to look remotely professional. If I want to look business casual, and that includes things that fit properly, I have to spend $$$. (J. Crew Factory’s clearance is where I buy nearly everything, and that’s not affordable to a new worker/student/someone from a poor family.)

                The business casual requirement for clothing IS class-based and that’s part of why it exists, which is ok, but we can’t pretend that everyone can just run out to Goodwill and look like they belong at their internship. Let’s just admit it’s a real barrier.

                1. Annabelle*

                  This. Thrift stores can be great if you’re in an “average” size range, so like a 4 to a 10. But IME they don’t have a ton of options if you’re particularly petite or curvy.

            4. Xarcady*

              Thrift stores work some of the time. There are three thrift stores within an hour’s drive of and two of them mostly have worn out Target and Walmart clothing, heavy on the jeans, tee shirts and club wear. The only one that regularly has work attire is run by a church and open about 15 hours a week, making it difficult for people to get to.

              I know thrift stores work for a lot of people, but in order for there to be decent work clothes in them, people in the area have to wear decent work clothes first. So thrifts are an option, but not everyone has access to professional clothing at them.

            5. paul*

              I live in a mid sized (200k) metro and our thrift stores are *awful* for formal wear if you’re over a medium sized. And frankly not that great even if you’re small/medium.

            6. Tuckerman*

              It’s tricky if you have to wear suites, though. I can find plenty of separates from thrift stores (I do most of my shopping at thrift stores!) but coordinating suits (i.e. matched blacks) are pretty much non-existent.

            7. Thlayli*

              It depends on your size. It can be very hard to find second hand clothes if you are at the edge of the spectrum in any way (tall, short, heavy, skinny, different size on top than bottom). I’m very small (5’2 and in American sizes I’m
              2Petite on the bottom and 0Petite on the top). I have bought a few clothes at second hand stores and I’ve found precisely one suit second hand that fit me. So while that might be an option for some people, it wouldnt be an option for me.

              I agree if someone will need to purchase multiple suits for an internship they should be told upfront so they can weigh the cost-benefit.

            8. Kat M.*

              If your area has a Junior League, they often run a secondhand shop, and obviously the contents reflect the membership of the organization. Soooo much Ann Taylor on the cheap!

              Target and H&M both have intern-appropriate clothing for relatively low cost. And most bosses won’t notice if you wear the same two pairs of black trousers every day for the entire summer, having done that myself while working in an office at age 19.

              1. Kj*

                Oh, gosh, yes! There was one in my old city where I got SO MUCH Ann Taylor. It was great for church, when I was still going to church.

              2. rj*

                oooh. Just saw that my local Junior League sponsors a huge annual sale. (Am not an intern, but like Ann Taylor clothes for work).

            9. Gadfly*

              Which if you can find something that fits (I rarely do at all, let alone what this place wants) is nice. If it isn’t from the 80’s or smells funny. Some people are lucky. Other people can’t depend on thrift stores to have something appropriate when they need it.

          2. Tacos are Tasty*

            I agree 100%! Clothes are expensive, and this is a very stringent dress code. It’s only fair to give interns a heads up about this before they start.

          3. High Score!*

            In some industries how you look matters a lot. Subconscious bias of future employers against wardrobe faux pas may well hold these young people back.

          4. AnonasaurusRex*

            It can also be really classist and or racist, especially to start dictating things by use of the world “natural” which frequently comes to mean “white.”

            1. Thlayli*

              I agree it’s classist to expect students to be able to just buy 2-3 suits before they even get their first pay check, but I don’t think you can make the assumption that “natural” = white.

              If someone with naturally brown lips wears brown lipstick and gets sent home for that then that would be a manager being racist, not the policy being racist, since it is clearly a natural colour. I can’t imagine any decent hr person saying someone with naturally brown lips can’t wear brown lipstick.

              However, it would be better if the policy were clearer because “natural” is vague. Can a white girl wear brown lipstick? Can a black girl wear pink lipstick? Can someone with naturally black hair dye it blonde and vice versa?

              In my experience “non-natural” is usually taken to mean colours thay no one has naturally eg blue hair or lipstick. We had a rule against non-natural colours in school and I distinctly remember a black girl dying her hair bleach blonde and white girls dying their hair jet black and no teacher ever said a word to any of them.

            2. Lily Rowan*

              My thoughts were going along those lines for the lipstick colors, too — I haven’t seen many white women wearing blue/green/black lipstick as a cute daytime look, but I think it’s pretty stylish among young black women right now.

              (Speaking as a middle-aged white woman, so I could be wrong! But I see Sunny Anderson on The Kitchen doing it….)

              1. Annabelle*

                Eh, that look is pretty stylish among young women and femmes in general at the moment. I think it’s more of an issue if they have a hard and fast “no dark lipstick” rule, since brown shades are natural lip colors for black and brown folks.

          5. Sarah*

            My university has a program to get free and low cost suits to students who need them. So there are resources out there for folks who can’t afford a whole new wardrobe for an internship.

          6. Artemesia*

            It isn’t about money. It is possible to buy one inexpensive black suit and accessorize it cheaply. There are suits at thrift stores.

            1. High Score!*

              You may need to go to several thrifty stores to get a wardrobe together quickly. If the ones in your area don’t have what you need drive to a more metro area. Annoying, but it works. I live in a metro area and there are tons of thrift stores with all sizes and lots of nice clothing.

            2. KR*

              When you don’t have a lot of it , though, everything is about money. How much work will I miss to take a day off to go thrifting? Do I have the money for gas for thrifting? Ido I live in an area that’s wealthy enough to have professional work wear in their thrift stores?

              1. Heidz*

                If you do find a suit at a thrift store, you still have to spend more money to have it dry cleaned before you wear it for the first time. Thrift stores do not wash their donations before they’re sold.

            3. irritable vowel*

              As others have pointed out, it can be dismissive to say “get the clothes you need at a thrift store,” for a variety of reasons (availability of used businesswear in your area, availability of used businesswear in your size, availability of used businesswear that is still wearable, etc). It can also be stigmatizing to be the young person who is clearly ekeing out a work wardrobe of one tired suit that maybe doesn’t fit well paired with different tops, in an office where everyone is wearing much nicer things – nobody wants to start their working life that way, and you end up focusing more on what you’re wearing than the actual point of the internship. (Sure, some people don’t care about this, but plenty do.) It would be so much easier to relax the dress code for the interns – give them guidance on what is suitable workwear for a conservative office environment, but let them know they don’t have to wear a suit every day (or at all).

            4. Rusty Shackelford*

              There are suits at thrift stores.

              You know, people keep saying this, but I volunteered at a thrift store for many years (and shopped every time I was there) and I never saw a matched suit in my size that wasn’t decades out of style.

              1. NaoNao*

                +1000. I’m actually a professional re-seller of second hand clothing on etsy and ebay (exclusively in sizes L and up with a focus on vintage, whee!) and I comb the racks of one thrift store or another 3-5 times *a week* and I’ve hardly ever seen a top and bottom combo suit that is in good shape, fashionable, and comfortable (or looks it, I don’t need to wear suits, thank goodness). One might be able to get away with a snappy vintage suit, but again, most of those have been picked over and snapped up by savvy second hand sellers like me. If I found a mint condition 40’s suit in a size 14, I’m buying that so fast your head would spin. Same with a 70’s suit jacket and dress combo, or anything else remotely “retro” and suitable for the office.

                A suit isn’t the end of the story either. You need hosiery if you’re wearing a skirt, underpinnings (Spanx, slips, full coverage undies), trouser socks or lightweight socks, appropriate footwear, and shells, tanks, and blouses. Those are all somewhat easier to find at Target, TJ Maxx, etc, but again, not ultra cheap.

                Thrift shopping is, IMHO, for shoppers who *really* know their body, style, and budget. It’s not for a confused, rushed, stressed inexperienced intern who needs a “corporate” outfit by tomorrow.

                1. Optimistic Prime*

                  Yeah, most of the people I know who shop at thrift shops regularly do it for fashion reasons – and they spend their time combing through the racks and finding nice pieces. They enjoy the actual process of thrifting; they’re not doing it just to find basic clothing.

            5. pandop*

              I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of clothes I have found at a charity shop that even fit me – and neither dress was a suit.

          7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Some jobs require more professional attire, and that is (for some fields) a crucial part of developing work experience. If we were talking about a fashion job, people would understand that how you style yourself contributes to whether people think you’re competent to do your job. In some jobs/fields, your attire is not really divorced from obtaining work experience, and it’s important for interns to learn that. Frankly, if you show up to your internship dressed completely inappropriately, people are not going to take you seriously, and they’re going to question your work product and ethic. It’s better to help interns learn that now, before their job/client contacts are on the line, than to let it slide.

            I don’t think the solution to whether the requirement has a differential effect based on intern wealth is to ban the dress code. I think the solution is to help make clothing available to them at low cost, or to offer a suit stipend (or the like), or to connect them to programs/resources/retailers that offer affordable and appropriate options, or all of the above.

            1. TootsNYC*

              The other solution is for advisors (college advisors, parents, professors, internship coordinators, anyone who gives students advice) to say, “Buying two or three suits for your summer internships is as much a college expense as textbooks or lab equipment.”

              If a nursing student can use part of a student loan to buy a stethoscope, then a finance intern should be able to use it to buy a suit.

              And then you can get suits that aren’t the world’s most expensive.
              You need advice on how to care for it so you can get buy on two (or three), etc.

          8. Huddled over tea*

            This is strange to me, being in the UK, because a conservative dress code is actually the easiest thing of all – throw on your school uniform without the identifying patch!

              1. kraza*

                Yeah, in the USA school uniforms are mostly for private schools, either of the rich or the religious variety.

                In high school it’s not uncommon for people to wear blatantly revealing clubwear and get away with it.

            1. Gov Worker*

              UK also!

              From the age of 4-16 most kids will have worn a “uniform” to school. So, shirt, skirt or trousers (pants in the US), sometimes a tie, cardigan and blazer.

              So by the time we are in a working environment we have an idea about what a professional look should be.

              Also we have a lot of places were we can buy clothes for a conservative work environment.

              Make-up on the other hand is a whole different issue. I work for a girl who looks like she’s going clubbing and we casually talked about make-up and she said she is a “all or nothing” kinda gal. So for her she wouldn’t know how to tone it down.

              Me on the other hand I know how to vary my make-up looks. I think young people these days really do have a “all or nothing” attitude when it comes to make-up.

          9. MC*

            YES thank you for pointing this out. I used to be an AmeriCorps volunteer (key word being “volunteer” – we were paid a stipend just ever so slightly above the poverty line) and I would get so mad when I heard about other volunteers getting in trouble for minor dress code violations, like wearing black jeans instead of black slacks. I understand that people need to wear clothes that will help them succeed in their jobs, but there has to be some flexibility for people you’re not paying.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, requiring button-down shirts all the time even for women is well beyond “on the conservative side.” I’ve never seen an office that didn’t allow nice blouse without buttons for women under their suits. I know for a lot of women those button-downs can be kind of a problem!

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Same! That set off some question marks for me. This sounds like an unusually strict dress code, even for a formal office, and they definitely need to be very explicit with the interns up front.

        2. Shelby Drink Your Juice*

          I’m pretty busty so I never wear button downs. To fit my chest the rest of the shirt ends up too big. Instead of paying for tailoring, I’d rather buy shells and other work appropriately non-button down shirts.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Yeah, me too. I wear button-downs but it’s actually kind of hard for me to find nice ones that fit and don’t pucker and show my bra.

        3. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yeah…. a button down shirt on me is NOT going to look polished and professional. It’s an anatomy issue, people. I mean, if I had to wear one, I’d obviously wear a camisole or tank top underneath so that I wouldn’t flash anyone – but even so, a stretched, gaping hole in the middle of my chest because button downs don’t fit me well is not a professional look. (Or an very large and baggy shirt with no gaping hole. Neither would look right.)

          So if this is literally a “button down only” environment, that’s just odd. That’s not conservative, it’s arbitrary – saying this one specific style of shirt is the only thing a person can wear, regardless of body type and fit issues?

        4. Artemesia*

          Button downs are really menswear. Every conservative office I am familiar with (and my husband was in law) not only allows but tends to be dominated by silk blouses, or shells under suits for women and for women with womanly figures button downs are always problematic and often require expensive tailoring. Button downs are standard dress attire for men; they are not standard dress attire for women.

        5. all aboard the anon train*

          Right. As I said in a comment below, button downs look inappropriately sexy on me. Even pencil skirts fall into that trap for me, so a traditional pencil skirt + button down would probably get me sent home in a super conservative environment for being inappropriate (and don’t even get me started on trying to find suit pants that actually fit right without spending an obscene amount of money).

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            I’m on the slimmer/”athletic” side and button-downs are a problem for me too because my shoulders are just a touch broad. A long-sleeved shirt in a fabric with no stretch would be uncomfortable in the right size, and it would be a nightshirt in the next size up. I’ve always worn fitted tank tops under a sized-up cardigan and it looks just fine.

            1. Hrovitnir*

              Oo man, I’m not particularly slim but have broad shoulders and have rediscovered upon trying to buy shirts recently that womens’ shirts never fit my damn shoulders, and even a lot of mens’ are too narrow in the shoulder if they’re slim cut – which fits better. Bah humbug. (I like my shoulders, just not shopping being a pain.)

              Also, I don’t know if you or anyone else who is interested will see this a day late, but a woman I follow was advertising these shirts aimed at athletes, and they look pretty great. She’s fairly fine boned, but they look good on her – plus there are jeans that are designed for small waists with big legs. Link to follow.

              1. Demon Llama*

                Oooh trying these out! The only ones I’ve seen before are Barbell Apparel, and they’re US-only and expensive to ship to Europe. I am athletic build (small waist, “powerful” thighs) and finding trousers/jeans to fit is an absolute nightmare.

        6. Bree*

          Yeah, this was the part that struck me as odd. Another kind of shirt or blouse under a jacket would be acceptable in most work enviroments – even formal ones – so they should be really clear about this requirement (or even consider changing it.)

        7. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          Yeah, I was going to ask about this. I’ve come to the conclusion that I pretty much can’t wear button-down shirts, because of how my body is shaped. So I felt a brief pang of panic when I read the letter and I’m glad the above comment exists.

          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            I can only wear them as an outer layer, where you only button the bottom half of the buttons and then have a nice conservative neckline of another top underneath!

        8. LizM*

          I came here to say this.

          I’m busty, and it costs a lot of money in tailoring to get a shirt that fits my bust but doesn’t look frumpy around my stomach. They are not available off the shelf for my body type.

          I feel much more polished an professional in a blouse without buttons. I’d urge you to re-think this part of the dress code, especially for interns who haven’t had years to build their work wardrobe.

        9. Lady Russell's Turban*

          I think the OP meant button-front shirt/blouse instead of button down, which means the collar has button holes on the collar tips to hold them down to buttons on the shirt front.

          A nice shell, dressy t-shirt, surplice blouse, etc should be fine. If a place insisted on a suit and a true button-down shirt everyday, that would be weird.

    16. Close Bracket*

      A clarifying comment about “non-natural” lip colors- Obviously I don’t actually know what the LW is referring to, but I suspect that they are referring to the lavenders, blues, and greens that are stylish right now.

    17. The OG Anonsie*

      There’s a pretty huge spectrum of what someone can do under the category “smoky eye,” from a totally professional nude all the way up to an all-black nightclub thing. So I’m not entirely sure what the LW actually means there, but from the rest of the notes it sounds like even a very neutral smoky that would be acceptable under most professional circumstance may stand out in this specific environment.

      This is where being up front, like Alison says, is really important– in most cases, wearing smoked liner or falsies to work is unlikely to be noticed, let alone get you in trouble. If you’re not into makeup, you probably don’t even notice the number of people you encounter in an average day who wear one or both of those things because they are typically low key.

    18. Lora*

      I’m thinking specifically of the horrible outfits and makeup we wore in the ’80s. I sorta feel like, if you’re going to do the smoky eye, you should also get the football-sized shoulder pads and do your hair up with a crimper and Aqua Net.

      The stewardess blouses and pleated pants. Argh.

      1. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

        lol – “Two Thousand Dollars? Its not even leh-thah!” Now that was some serious 80s eye shadow.

    19. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it’s totally possible for smoky eyes with false lashes to be outside the norm for a conservative dress code. And I think it’s absolutely ok to have rules about makeup styles. I suspect the interns are dressing in the way they would to go out at night because that’s what they think of when they think of “fancy” makeup.

      There are all sorts of low- to heavy-makeup application styles that can work during the day in the office. But those styles should not look the same as you do when clubbing.

      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

        Yeah, in my first job with a biz-casual dress code I definitely wore a lot of clubbing tops under my blazer for the first several months because they were the only “nice shirts” I owned, and stretchy black clubbing pants to pair with the black blazer. I’d never had a reason to buy shells or blouses or slacks before, but I knew my stretchy going-out tops and black pants seemed more dressed-up than my knit tops and jeans that I wore everywhere else. I also wore these clubbing tops and stretchy blank pants to church when I was a teenager – they were conservatively cut and thick fabric, despite being form-fitting, so in my mind if it was fancy enough for church it was fancy enough for a formal dress code! I didn’t really fully understand the difference in the two types of “dressing up” until a couple years later.

        1. Dinosaur*

          Oh God, I think I’ve been making this mistake. A least, I’ll wear my work tops to social events which probably means that they’re too tight or the wrong fabric. My peers in my cohort poke slight fun at me for looking “stodgy” when we go to the pub but if I think that wearing my “professional” clothes is okay for the pub, I’m probably screwing something up.

    20. Stellaaaaa*

      It sounds like she’s talking about the Instagram/YouTube makeup look that is very popular with 20-somethings right now. Look up nikkietutorials and Jaclyn Hill on insta. They are both beautiful women with enviable talent but they’re not pushing a daytime appropriate look by any means.

      1. Gov Worker*

        I don’t think the majority of those You tubers would know what a “conservative look” would even look like!

    21. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Honestly I would personally never tell anyone they couldn’t wear false eyelashes to the office. There are medical reasons that some people wear them (loss of hair, etc), and there are also cultural reasons (I’m given to understand it’s much more common for black women to wear them daily). I’ve also heard that if you do wear them daily for a long time, they can stunt the growth of your eyelashes, which is great to know in advance, but if you’re already at the “no eyelashes” part, it’s not that helpful. It’s entirely too fraught in protected class issues for me to ever touch it in a professional capacity.

    22. Kate 2*

      It’s actually really normal for conservative industries to regulate makeup this way. The idea is to look slightly better than natural, the famous “no-makeup makeup look”.

  4. Fed*

    One idea before sending them home–if this is such a constant problem, just have some back-up shirts/skirts/jackets in a closet somewhere (from Goodwill)? Off that you can go home or you can find something in the closet that works. Intern me would be mortified but probably pick something from the closest AND NEVER WEAR ANYTHING OFF AGAIN.

    1. KR*

      I was thinking this – or have some company polos made so that if someone shows up wearing something inappropriate they have a company polos they can wear so they don’t have to be sent home.

      1. The IT Manager*

        But this is clearly a company where polos are far too informal.

        wearing suits and button-downs is expected for everyone

      2. Buffy*

        If they went that route, I’d hope they also handed them out to employees for other occasions as well. I could just imagine myself being even more mortified if I was wearing the “shame shirt” that everyone knew was meant to cover up something.

    2. seejay*

      Or send them into a back room to sort mail or something. That’s what my teacher did when I was interning in highschool and showed up to school in totally inappropriate clothes. She made me call into work sick and made me do paperwork at school instead of going into the office dressed the way I was (they would have shot me, we had a dressdown day at school when we normally wore uniforms and dammit, I wanted my dressdown day even though I was supposed to intern half a day and didn’t really put together the fact that what I was wearing wasn’t office appropriate, but my excuse was also that I was 17).

    3. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

      Oh nooo I wouldn’t recommend this. Having someone walk around all day in ill-fitting commie clothes is like making them wear a scarlet letter that says “HEY EVERYONE I VIOLATED THE DRESS CODE.” And again with being inexperienced the interns may feel pressure to wear the commie clothes instead of going home because they think that’s what the boss would prefer. Interns need clear directions more than they need choices.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Actually, I think sending them home to change is the right answer because if you said, “Well, okay. I will allow it today, but not again.” It would just give them lee-way to say, ” I forgot.” Get sent home a couple of times and it sinks in. HOWEVER!!! First make sure they really know what’s expected before they start, and give them a bit of lee-way maybe the first week? After that, send home, but if it continues then disciplinary action. Yes, they are young, but they should really be learning the norms of the industry they are joining.
        Side Note: When I worked for the phone company they had just started allowing women to wear pants (but jeans weren’t allowed) like maybe a year or two ago. Some of the younger ones tried wearing them and got sent home for dress code violation. (Didn’t get paid if you were sent home for violation.) Well, some of them started doing it on purpose to get sent home. They thought even time off without pay was better than working. So they quit doing that and let them work. But if you did it again, you would be IN SERIOUS TROUBLE.

    4. Natalie*

      Rather than stocking clothes for them, maybe recommend that they keep a simple sweater in their desk at least. (And describe what kind of sweater would be helpful.)

  5. Taylor Swift*

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful answer, Alison. There are so many people who completely forget that they weren’t born knowing these things and expect all the Kids These Days to know them automatically. It’s something I really hope I don’t do as I get older.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, if you watch TV then you can get a really odd idea of what professional wear is.

    2. Julianne*

      Agreed! I did my graduate internship at the same site as some undergraduate interns from the same university/major, and there were some dress code issues among the first-time-intern-undergrads. There was some supervisor weirdness about addressing it. I like to think I did my part to remind supervisors that these norms aren’t automatically known and to demistify the process of addressing the issue (by saying, “Hmm, if he’s consistently not dressing according to the dress code, maybe you should bring that up in your next one-on-one [and not just complain to me about it?].”

    3. Minnock*

      Yes! I wore jeans every single day of high school, and was horrified at my first temp job interview to discover that skirts get shorter when I sit down. I think they should cover this concept in geometry!

    4. LizM*

      Absolutely. I grew up in a middle class household, but my mom is a social worker and my dad is a scientist. I’m not sure either of them even own suits. I interned in the Senate in college, and I was really thankful for an explicit dress code, because at the time, for me, business dress was just “not jeans.”

  6. DCGirl*

    I have worked at places that had “no visible underwear” written into the dress code. One of the things I’ve found with people of intern age is that, unless something is explicitly forbidden, it’s considered acceptable. One of the biggest lessons you can teach them is that it’s impossible to codify everything that cannot be done (otherwise you’d have a handbook that says you can’t bring your pet llama to work); therefore, it’s up to them to develop judgement.

      1. DCGirl*

        Exactly. In my department store days, I had to explain to a teenage sales associate that she couldn’t do her homework in between customers because, in between customers, she needed to clear out fitting rooms, hang up merchandise…. “But the handbook didn’t say I couldn’t do homework!” Yes, but the handbook does say that you’re here to work.

    1. stk*

      I was going to say something very like this! I think a lot of the behavioural issues noted in interns come back to a very literal reading of the rulebook and an assumption that if it’s not explicitly condemned anywhere, it’s probably okay. Telling the interns that that’s not true might really help. “I need your decision making to include thinking about how you might be perceived, not just whether something is in the handbook” is exactly the sort of thing internships should be teaching. It won’t get rid of all the problems, but I bet it would help.

      1. myswtghst*

        Agreed! I think it’s a good lesson for people who are new to the working world – just because it isn’t explicitly forbidden doesn’t mean it’s okay!

      2. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

        Yeah, I definitely had this issue as an intern. I kind of projected my experience in school onto the ~work world~, which was overall helpful while I acclimated, but it did not at all help me understand how to dress.

        1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

          …To be honest, I should say “as an intern and for my first year or two at work.”

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes. This is why I like the photo suggestion upthread—having clear descriptions can help. It’s also helpful to explain to interns that they should not adopt a literal approach to rules in general, and instead, help them understand how to interpret and apply a dress code to what they’re wearing.

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I think in general it’s better to err to the side of being overly specific. Of course you can’t list every possible problem but it’s really helpful if things like the dress code are written pretty clearly. People have very different backgrounds and expectations and can understand words like “professional” very differently. This annoys me a lot in the place where I’m currently temping as the rules are at the same time extremely important to follow and very vague. I’ve asked sooooooo many questions and still I don’t always know what to do.

      Regarding the visible underwear, if I was given such a rule, I would probably either sweat in a thick black jumper every day or run my supervisors crazy with questions about what exactly is considered visible underwear…

      1. the gold digger*

        better to err to the side of being overly specific

        A few days after the “Don’t wear that again” comment to my intern, we had a slightly longer conversation where I said, “Cover everything between here, here, and here,” showing the middle of my upper arm (yes, I know this part is debatable, but it’s better to be safe), the top of my knee, and a few inches above my (non-existent) cleavage.

          1. many bells down*

            It sounds like the dress code at my daughter’s high school, which had a picture of a generic human form in a wide-strapped tank top and mid-thigh shorts. It said “You can wear more than this but not less.” and that was it.

            1. Parenthetically*

              I… I like that. Very boring and simple. So many school dress codes are rage-inducingly sexist and that’s refreshingly not.

              1. many bells down*

                In practice, it didn’t work out so well as in theory. My daughter, who was a very thin, tiny teenager was able to get away with things that flouted it, while more developed girls were cited for things that were actually technically permissible. They made a good effort at it, but in the end enforcement comes down to individuals.

                1. Renee*

                  They gave up at my daughter’s school entirely because they could not manage enforcement completely objectively. I think they still may have a private word with a student from time to time, but there’s no enforcement mechanism or requiring them to wear their gym clothes anymore.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Yes, diagrams and pictures are so much clearer. Just have an outline with the areas they can’t show skin colored in or something and then pictures of sample acceptable outfits.

    3. paul*

      dress codes are the bane of my existence (I am sartorially challenged) but even I knew better than visible underwear, even back in high school. Just all my what.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        True Story: I was at a corporate training event last week where people from all corners of the country are present to be trained. Friday was some special employee-appreciation day, so jeans were allowed. One of the training presenters was a heavyset man who had his button-down shirt tucked into his underwear, which were visible about an inch above his jeans the entire time. Does accidental underwear flashing count as being against dress code?

        1. Mrs. Boo*

          LOL. My dad does this all. The. Time. He is also retired and has no f@$!s to give. My mother has given up on reforming him.

        2. many bells down*

          I’d assume most of it is accidental. You don’t realize something is sheer in direct sunlight, or that underwear tuck thing. Occasionally you get that person who thought a red bra under a white shirt was okay, but I think mostly it’s a mistake.

          1. Julia*

            There was a teacher at my high school who wore black underwear under white pants. I did not need to see that.

          2. the gold digger*

            Or that flowered, waist-high underwear will show under homemade orange, elastic-waist, double-knit polyester pants when you are solving math problems on the board in 7th grade.

          3. Minnock*

            I was way older than you’d think, before I realized that white underwear under lightweight pale shirts/trousers is sometimes not the ideal choice.

        3. Specialk9*

          My daycare has a supervisor who dresses uber butch and is openly gay – she wears visible superhero themed boxers with baggy pants. Like 4″-5″ visible. It’s otherwise a conservative place, but I just kinda shrug. She does a great job with the kids, and I couldn’t really care. Esp since I don’t know how anyone lives on a daycare teacher salary.

      2. misspiggy*

        Me too, in theory. In practice, I didn’t realise that my trousers only stayed up when I looked in the mirror. (I was thinner than my body image had me believing.) When moving, my underwear was on show. My older colleague said, ‘oh what a lovely colour!’, helpfully nodding at my waist. I wanted to die, given that we were in a meeting.

        I was 28, but very clueless. This site, and helpful colleagues, are a godsend to idiots like us!

      3. The OG Anonsie*

        I’m guessing it’s a fit issue rather than an intentionally displayed whale tail, since 99% of the time bad clothing and underwear combinations are what causes visible undies.

        I want to judge them a little, but I also remember how much I didn’t even see how bad some things fit me when I was that age. Didn’t even register when I looked in the mirror. I look at old photos and I’m like, my bra is showing with the cling of that shirt, how did I not notice? How did I look at that muffin top and decide to walk outside like that?

        1. Malibu Stacey*

          This is why when low rise pants were in, I stocked up camis whenever they were on sale. I wore them under my top and tucked them into my pants so I didn’t have to worry about it.

        2. Annabelle*

          Yeah, I think the visible underwear thing probably stems from a bad fit/bad clothing combo. I had a coworker at a past job who wore tight, low-rise slacks that would inevitably reveal her underwear whenever she bent down/moved/sat down.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Unfortunately, it’s really common. We had a new legal fellow who deeply offended our community advisory board because the upper part of her boxer-briefs were showing. She was convinced that they didn’t like her because she’s LGBT, and we could not get her to understand that they had no problem with her orientation or gender presentation, but rather, with seeing her underwear. It was a really frustrating and awkward conversation.

    4. myswtghst*

      I train new hires in a relatively casual environment (hoodies and flip flops are generally okay, but yoga pants and jerseys are not), and it’s amazing the way people will argue about things which aren’t explicitly written in the already pretty comprehensive dress code (which is presented to them before they start, reviewed again on their first day, sent in reminder emails at least 1x per quarter, and always available to them on the homepage if needed).

      My current favorite is that even though we specify that yoga pants (and the like) are a dress code violation, I still get at least 1 new hire per class who has to argue “but they aren’t yoga pants!”. I get it, according to the tag they aren’t yoga pants because they’re “athletic pants” or whatever, but they are very tight, stretchy spandex-y pants that look exactly like yoga pants, so you probably shouldn’t wear them and hope to get by on a technicality.

      it’s up to them to develop judgement.

      Yep. I always tell new hires that if they aren’t sure about an item of clothing meeting the dress code, they probably shouldn’t wear it. What concerns me is the ones who don’t even question the stuff which obviously is against dress code.

      1. Annony For This One*

        We had a tarantula come in once…we are an office not a zoo. Employee was having her room painted…fumes would kill the”pet”.
        Here I was complaining about the tank tops and 3 inch shorts.

    5. Anonfortoday*

      We had a very young employee wear fleece Tweety Bird pajama pants in to work on a friday. She did not understand why it was unacceptable. She wore them to school, why can’t she wear them on casual friday?

    6. Red Reader*

      At my last hospital (HOSPITAL!) the dress code specified, among other things, that undergarments had to be worn UNDER one’s clothing, not OVER, and that unnatural hair colors such as blue, green and plaid were not permitted. (Which left me really wanting to see someone successfully pull off plaid hair.)

    7. Stellaaaaa*

      I’d say part of the “problem” is that the interns might be coming straight from class. There’s no excuse for not having a second outfit in a gym bag, but I can see an intern arguing that a class-room appropriate outfit should also work at an internship, which is being done for school.

  7. Mpls*

    Some of this is compounded by the weird stuff clothing stores sell – even reliable ones like Banana Republic and JCrew. An intern is told, buy the work wear from a place like BR, which appropriate items, but also weird back cutout/ruffle shirts….made out of normal shirting material.

    1. Doctor What*

      I was just going to mention this…I’m in my 40s and on the job hunt and I’m having a horrible time trying to find work appropriate clothing. The tops are off the shoulders or sleeveless, skirts are too short…pants are too niche to wear to work. Stores I’ve shopped at that were known to specifically carry work clothes don’t anymore.

      I’m not condoning what the interns are wearing to work, but finding the right clothes isn’t as easy as it used to be…

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Same! I did some shopping a couple weeks ago, and a large percentage of the “career” pants at Macy’s had no zippers or buttons or pockets. They looked like normal pants material, but were basically a career-pant jegging. I would actually look forward to working in the OP’s office, because I can find a suit, but I can’t seem to find non-suits that are actually work appropriate.

        1. Gadfly*

          I have come to the conclusion that if I want a simple black or navy or grey blazer with shoulders, a back, and no lace I will either have to spend hundreds of dollars or get it custom made.

      2. LQ*

        I’ve been incredibly frustrated, I’ve done 4 shopping excursions in the last month to try to find a few new tops. And every single time I’ve come home empty handed. SO MANY OFF THE SHOULDER TOPS! Even some more conservative brands or old lady brands didn’t even have any options.

        I think it can be hard because many companies will market those as “work wear”. Which is something important to say, just because it is in the “wear to work” section of the store does not mean it is acceptable to wear to work at your company (or for that matter many companies at all).

        1. Kyrielle*

          I gave up and started shopping men’s because so many of the women’s button-up “work shirts” I found had cut-outs, a ludicrous neckline, or ridiculously sheer fabric. (Like, hey, I can see the lines of stitching on the undershirt! sheer, never mind wearing it without an undershirt of some sort, which was clearly not intended.)

          …what the HECK, clothing designers?

          1. President Porpoise*

            Yeah if someone would just start marketing well tailored and conservatively cut women’s clothing in a variety of styles/fabrics/colors, non of which can be sheer, they would make a killing.

            1. Specialk9*

              Try eShakti, Jones of New York, Talbots, and Chicos. The latter 3 are available used on eBay.

          2. Sherry*

            Agreed. It’s so hard to find button-up shirts that are cut for a woman’s body, but don’t have ruffles, cut-outs, low necklines, tassels, or sheer-ish fabrics. I know some women like these “feminine” details, and good for them, but sometimes I just want a “basic” shirt!

        2. AndersonDarling*

          Ugh! I am so sick of the tops with the cut out shoulders! I keep seeing cute, work appropriate shirts, then I pick them up and see that they have no shoulders. I’ve given up. I decided that I’m just going to keep wearing my old clothes for a few more seasons until sleeves come back in style.

      3. k.k*

        Last night I went out shopping to find an interview outfit and came home empty handed because of this. I’m on a tight budget and went to Target, Old Navy, and Marshall’s where I’ve had luck in the past, but was so frustrated by the current selection.

      4. Lady Jay*

        O lord. I HATE shopping for professional clothes (really any clothes). One difficulty that I run into is that I trend slim, with a long torso, so all the boxy tops which are in fashion these days don’t work at all. I have a handful of professional clothes (like, two pairs of pants and a dress) and wear them in cycles, with new scarves & jewelry to make the look last. I will buy new ones only when I absolutely cannot avoid it any longer.

      5. DrPeteLoomis*

        Ugh, don’t even get me started on finding work pants for women. Like, whyyyy are they all cropped?? Or, if I can find the non-cropped pants, getting them in a size that fits my waist means there’s a bunch of extra fabric pooled around my feet. Can’t understand why clothing manufacturers think having a thick waist also means you are 7 feet tall.

        1. OoohLaLa*

          Ugh! I hear ya!!! It works the other way around, too. I’m 5’10” and with a thin waist. It’s like, I get to chose between pants that are long enough OR appropriately form fitting but not both. I am happy ankle pants are in because I just buy regular pants and they are so short, they hit me at the ankle…

        2. Emi.*

          I feel ya! They would be fine in my office, but I just. can’t. with cropped pants–I’ve never been able to reliably find pants that are long enough without being horribly baggy, and cropped pants are, like, the universe rubbing my face in it.

        3. Nonprofit pro*

          I like cropped pants because I can wear them with all the shoes I own. Non- cropped must be hemmed to a specific shoe height which limits me.

      6. Lora*

        Weirdly, Limited Express, all the way in the back, has decent pants (the Editor kind) and last time I was searching for a plain black skirt to match a jacket I already had, they were the only place that had knee length black pencil skirts. All neutral colors. I still struggle with blouses, no help for you there – I’ve got huge tracts of land – so I try to find something stretchy. But the pants in neutral colors and simple skirts, they got.

      7. TootsNYC*

        Yeah, boy, it’s really not easy to find the right clothes in a store.

        Designers and retailers are going for sales (and sometimes I think that designers just design stuff that’s interesting to them, without any regard to what people really want, and the entire retail chain just goes along with them).

      8. Stellaaaaa*

        Seriously! It’s seemingly impossible to find a plain pair of black pants in an okay-decent cut. I’ve defaulted to layering the popular “sexy sack” dresses (basically extra relaxed t-shirt dresses) with leggings and a sweater. It’s not ideal but it’s the best thing I’ve come up with that projects a bit of modesty without looking sloppy or nutty.

        Right now H&M has a lot of knee-length dresses like that, if you’re into layering.

      9. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

        I was JUST looking for clothing for work online because well, its time for a refresh. And I like to wear shell tops, cardigan and black trousers to work. And a nice dress or two in a wrap or just a simple cut. Im tallish with an athletic build and there is not a damn thing out there for me.

        What happened to Nordstrom!? Why cant I find a variety of simple cut shell tops in a nice fabric in decent colors like jewel tones and not that horrible baby pink, khaki, or camo green that is on EVERYTHING these days and makes no one look good? Im not asking for the world here I just need simple easy separates that I can toss on in the morning that look dressy enough but not too dressy (not that kind of office)? Oh, and won’t lose its shape in a few months either.

      10. Chinook*

        “I was just going to mention this…I’m in my 40s and on the job hunt and I’m having a horrible time trying to find work appropriate clothing.”

        And this is why AAM needs to have eshakti sponsor a post or two for her.

    2. Another Lawyer*

      This is driving me CRAZY lately – I needed a few new work tops and everything has a cutout or a ruffle or something else weird going on. I ended up ordering a few plain Ann Taylor/Loft poly blouses from ThredUp because everything is so weird/not business formal this season.

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      Yes. Extra hard if you’re a strange size. I’m just into plus sizes in most stores but also need talls which makes my options highly limited even before the ridiculous fashions in right now.

    4. KTZee*

      Agreed. The Limited (before they went out of business) was my go-to for work clothes in my early 20s, but over the years their clothing got less and less work appropriate (possibly contributing to their declining sales?). I was still religiously buying their pants when they closed up, but nearly all their tops were either blatantly inappropriate or so trendy as to be dysfunctional as long-term work clothes pieces.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        Ugh. Yeah, I’m close to needing to buy some pants (I’m getting by with getting the waists nipped in), and I’m dreadddding trying to find a new place to shop. It was just so easy knowing that I wear this cut in roughly this size, and boom I’m out after doublechecking the fit.

    5. SansaStark*

      Please go to Nordstrom’s website and check out the category “for work” under women’s clothes. No wonder young women are confused about what is office appropriate! A cold-shoulder top and mini skirt aren’t going to cut it even in my business-casual office.

    6. Xarcady*

      Land’s End and LL Bean still make women’s button-down shirts in a cotton thick enough to not need a camisole under them. Not the most thrilling work attire, but they fit and they would meet most dress codes. Land’s End does some good sales and discounts. But for someone just starting out, especially with an unpaid internship, they are probably too expensive.

      1. BananaPants*

        Yup, I shop Land’s End – we’re not talking high fashion, but they wear well and look nice.

        1. PhyllisB*

          Coldwater Creek has nice clothes. If your office allows quarter-length sleeves there are a lot of beautiful tops that fit p-pls sizes. Plus some really nice pants.

    7. an infinite number of monkeys*

      Back-to-school shopping for a teenaged girl has a lot of the same problems. Do they even make jeans without holes in them anymore?!

        1. Here we go again*

          I am super “picky” about jeans… I like basic dark denim jeans that are bootcut without any holes or bling. Literally as basic as possible. You would think that the simplest thing would be the easiest to find, nope… Eddie Bauer has become my go to…

          1. Hrovitnir*

            OMG yes. I like dark denim, no “decorative” crap, medium to high waist, and pockets you can fit something in. That alone apparently is virtually impossible, but once you add not-skinny jeans and decent thickness denim you’re getting into impossible – never mind when I had to buy plus sizes. That was literally (actually literally) impossible. Several somethings had to give. :(

            1. Specialk9*

              Have you checked out Not Your Daughter’s Jeans or Jones New York? For plus size, Lane Bryant, Ellos too.

      1. Anonish*

        No. Well, yes, but an intact pair at the Gap runs about $40 more than the holey ones at Aeropostale or wherever.

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This has been driving me nuts when it comes to tops. There’s no problem with layering a sleeveless shirt/shell under a cardigan or blazer/suit jacket, but at this point, I’m just trying to find tops that aren’t full of weird ruffles and oversize bows or “cold shoulder” styling.

    9. Nervous Accountant*

      I am so confused as to where all of you are shopping. I’ve always been able to find decent work stuff at all of these locations. My office is business casual so I can pretty much wherever I want including makeup wise (only shorts are not allowed–both genders) but lately I’ve been in to wearing business formal, so pencil skirts, button down blouses. I’m an apple shape & overweight so I’m really limited in dress & skirts but I was still able to find this stuff at JC Penny, NY & Co, etc. Or is my idea of what you all are looking for completely off?

      1. Trig*

        It sometimes depends on the location. I used to be able to find all KINDS of stuff in the Express in the outdoor mall nearest my parent’s place, and then I’d go to one in another more traditional mall and find NOTHING. Same for H&M. I imagine in a lot of stores, the ordering manager has control over how much of which items to stock, based on historical sales, and how to present them on the floor. For me, the outdoor mall obviously catered to an older office crowd, and the indoor to a younger clubbing/high school crowd.

        So could be these folks are experiencing changing demographics at their usual stores?

        1. Xarcady*

          It’s probably Corporate that determines what gets sold where. I’m close enough to 3 branches of Macy’s to shop at all 3, and there is a very definite difference in what is carried in every department. One has tons of designer handbags, the other two don’t. Two have lots of casual clothes, but very little that’s even appropriate for business casual–95% of the tops seem to be cold-shoulder or off-the-shoulder. The other one has tons of good work clothes, in addition to some pretty high end casual wear.

          A sales person at one of the stores told me once that her store wouldn’t be getting Jones New York until they sold more of a certain store brand. That brand is very casual, young, and trendy–cold-shoulder tops, tops with weird ruffles, sheer tops. Neither one of us saw the connection between that brand and the more office-wear oriented Jones New York. But somewhere in the Corporate hive mind, there was a reason.

      2. TootsNYC*

        It may not be that “there’s nothing!” at those store, but more that “there’s very little, and the overwhelming portion of the clothes are NOT appropriate.”

        So you can’t just buy anything there, which may confuse people who aren’t plugged in.

      3. Mpls*

        And, it’s not that you can’t find appropriate items at those stores, because you definitely can. It’s that the same places sell stuff that’s just not appropriate for many work places, but it’s all mixed in with the regular work clothes, so it’s not always apparent (esp for a work-place newbie) what crosses the line to inappropriate.

        1. zora*

          This. The stores technically have things, but I have to dig through the 95% of craziness to find the 5 work-appropriate tops, and then 2 are sold out in my size, 2 don’t work for my body shape for whatever reason. So MAYBE if I’m lucky I find one shirt that works in half a day of shopping.

          Also, have you been shopping this year? Because I swear it’s even worse than usual this year. Every single shirt at Old Navy last weekend either had a cold shoulder or a giant ruffle or was sleeveless. Because “peasant” shirts are in again for fall, apparently, fan.tas.tic.

          1. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

            OH god no, not the peasant crap again! If you are in any way busty then that look is Not For You. In fact, all this stuff this year looks bad for anyone with a substantial bust because it just adds fabric where there should be some tightening/darts/etc.

            I get that its cheap to produce for cost purposes but it makes people look so schluppy…

            1. Specialk9*

              I don’t understand all these women who can go braless for all these current shirt necklines. I’m pretty perky, but no. Just no. And I’m not wearing a constricting strapless bra to wear some casual unstructured shirt. You can’t make me!

          2. Anxa*

            This year is the worst.

            I have never seen it this bad. I could not get a simple work appropriate tshirt. All I needed was hole-free, modest neckline, PLAIN, non-sheer. I lost 2 Saturdays to that search then just gave up and decided to work with what I had.

            Old Navy included. No polo shirts for women. No crew necks. Like, howw? You’re Old Navy…… What are you even if you aren’t a place to pick up a tshirt?

    10. Hodie-Hi*

      These comments give me hope that I might be able to build a new wardrobe. Over the next few weekends I hope to find exactly the clothes you are all objecting to! Thanks to a bi-lateral mastectomy, I went from well-endowed to oddly-lumpy almost-flat over a noticeable belly. Almost none of the dresses and tops I own are appropriate now. It has been super difficult to find things that fit and look nice. I can always wear a shrug or jacket over a top with cold shoulders or cutouts, and bring on the boxy floaty tops with high necklines, and ruffles and bows front and center!

    11. Purplesaurus*

      I’ve had good luck at Boden. Granted it’s online and a bit pricey, but most of their pieces are professional and conservative without being dull and matronly-looking.

      1. Specialk9*

        Boden is often quite affordable – for Boden – on eBay. They have plus sizes that are generously cut. Just check a UK size conversion to make sure.

  8. the.kat*

    Have you considered having a guide with a few places to shop? If the interns are new to the working world and haven’t done much shopping other than for trendier, fast-fashion pieces, they might be trying to find work clothes at shops that aren’t suited for that. Having a list of places that offer workwear appropriate items in a variety of sizes (and price points if you can manage) might help your interns.

    1. the.kat*

      Also, I think it might be worth having a discussion about what they’re bringing to the office with them. I remember that I hated some of the items I had to wear to my first job because they weren’t comfortable and they didn’t “look like me.” I had to get over the idea that everything I wear to work needed to scream about me and my preferences and my personality.

      The interns might need a discussion about the fact that in a conservative environment like this you’re going to look like everyone else and you’re going to have to be okay with that. Picking a more daring choice to “show your fun side” is going to be a mistake.

      1. Sibley*

        Or that there’s a safe way to do it. Maybe the safe way is to wear colored tops instead of white. Or accessories, whatever it is.

      2. Queen of the File*

        Bingo. This thread is full of mistakes I made when I started working (having a $10/outfit budget and no adult female role models nearby) but this one took me forever to understand. I didn’t realize that there was more to it than just not wearing extremely sexy things. I thought everyone else in the office just genuinely liked boring clothes (and had money to shop at grown-up stores)–not me! I was the kind of person who wore stuff with cats embroidered on it and rainbow-coloured kneesocks with performance-material cargo skirts. Luckily I was in a pretty low-key environment but I am sure my coworkers constantly cringed when they saw me.

      3. kraza*

        Like, I get the point but at that point why not just have military-style issue of uniforms?

  9. Cucumberzucchini*

    I was (very kindly) sent home by my manager when I was an 18 year old new employee at a bank because I was wearing knit top that you could see my bra through and it had a slit that showed my bellybutton. I didn’t have any clue on professional dress. I don’t know why, it was just a big gaping hole in my knowledge-base and I was an otherwise very smart, go-getting new worker bee. All my jobs prior had been either a place where uniforms were provided or I’m mucking horse stalls so I’m wearing jeans and a tee shirt. Looking back it seems completely ridiculous that I didn’t realize how out of line this top was. But I had like no money, my parents were completely unhelpful in this area, I never had had fashionable clothes. Luckily the bank was near a shopping mall and I was able to buy something else to wear on sale.

    It was just sheer luck I had worn something appropriate to the interview that got me the bank job. I literally needed someone to tell me what was not okay to wear. No see-through shirts, not clothing that exposes arm pits, stomach skin, legs above the knee, collar bones, etc… for this very conservative job. I wish I had known before starting because it would have saved me from being really embarrassed.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I believe you when you say you didn’t know, but I also think this is an interesting contrast to my own experience growing up. I had a lot of occasions during high school and lower grades where we had to “dress up” and that generally meant something that would be intern-appropriate for a biz casual office (and not send-home worthy for a formal office, but generally not a suit.)

      We had awards and recognition days, music performances (like a solo contest where you wouldn’t be in uniform), dress-up days for varsity sports, etc.

      It is a good reminder that kids from other regions, socioeconomic groups, or generations aren’t necessarily having the same learning experiences growing up.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ve been involved with a high school organization that requires “professional dress” for meetings and conferences, and you can tell some of these kids either assumed, or were outright told, that “professional dress” simply means “don’t wear jeans.” And oh my goodness there are a lot of inappropriate outfits that aren’t jeans. :-| So yeah, it’s best not to assume they can figure that out on their own.

      2. Machiamellie*

        Also the difference between when many of us were 18-24 and now, is that there’s the internet available now. Anyone can google “what to wear to an internship” or “professional dress” and find out what’s appropriate. That these kids don’t is kind of flabbergasting to me. That’s the first thing I’d obsess over – what do I wear and where do I find it.

        1. Mike C.*

          But you first need to understand that it’s something to obsess over to begin with. If you don’t, then it might not come up.

          1. OhNo*

            Yes, this can definitely be one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations. Especially if any of these interns are fashion-forward (it sounds like they might be), they are probably thinking to themselves, “I know how to dress! I got this.” It would probably never occur to them that their style isn’t appropriate everywhere.

          2. Anxa*

            I guess I just can’t imagine how that’s not on your radar, though? How do you get to age 18 without thinking about what dress is appropriate for what ocassion.

            Maybe again that’s a different in culture or not having any parenting or guidance by schools on the matter, but it just completely baffles me.

            1. Observer*

              Well, we don’t want to crush the poor little children’s spirits, do we? And how DARE you suggest a uniform? We’ll SUE! As for your dress code, you’re discriminating!

              Of course, it’s not just about stupid parenting. Sometimes people just don’t have enough exposure to understand that this might be an issue.

              1. Specialk9*

                No need to go full Internet snowflake there. I DID wear a uniform, which was why my understanding of fashion rules was stunted.

                1. Kismet*

                  That would be the whole “sometimes people just don’t have enough exposure to understand” issue Observer also raised.

        2. LQ*

          The problem with the internet (and online shopping and pintrest) is that there isn’t an arbiter of what is Appropriate for Work. And a lot of people are selling a lot of things that wouldn’t fly at my workplace (which sounds much more casual than the OPs). So no. I don’t think saying the internet is available now actually fixes this. If you asked on some forums/boards/pinterest boards I gaurentee that someone is talking about how that’s absolutely appropriate. Even the shaved swear words thing. Someone out there is saying that it shows you’re edgy and trendy and forward thinking.

          1. myswtghst*

            Agreed. While the internet can be a helpful resource for figuring out dress codes (especially if it brings you here or to Corporette, for example), it can also create information overload. In my incredibly brief Google search, I found a few helpful resources (but all text, no pictures), and the third link in my search results was to a slide show with stuff which would not fly in most offices (including formal shorts).

        3. Jadelyn*

          Eh, googling those terms can still find you some pretty terrible stuff. There are a lot of fashion blogs out there that, for some reason, present their outfits as “work appropriate” when they’re super not for most offices.

        4. The OG Anonsie*

          But boy, look around on that topic online and see and the horrible no good very bad examples and advice out there. And if you don’t know already, you also don’t know which advice is crazy!

          Also, for this specific office, some (not all– noooot all) of the outfits the LW is describing as being inappropriate for their dress code would be 100% acceptable from sources as conservative as Corporette, which caters to women who wear suits every day in very conservative fields like biglaw. The dress code here is strict even by strict dress code standards, so even someone who did all the right things could really easily be breaking the rules by wearing a non-buttoned shell blouse under her jacket.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yes, googling “How do I test the voltage on the battery in my Prius?” will reliably get you a narrow range of helpful YouTube videos. Googling “What’s appropriate to wear to an office?” won’t be nearly so helpful.

        5. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

          I Googled things like that 5-7 years ago and the results were hilariously unhelpful. There have to be good resources out there for people who are entering the workforce now – like AAM! – but I, at least, didn’t find them then.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Maybe we should encourage Alison to put together a gallery of clothes that are acceptable for different industries. For future visitors to her website.

            And we can all help her populate it by sending in photos of acceptable and unacceptable in our industries.

            Maybe some of us who are willing to help can volunteer to be “guest curators” so there’s someone filtering the stuff. She could pick the guest curators, and do the final publishing.

            I’d help!

            1. Anonish*

              That would be fun! I can send in a pic of my friend who regularly wears superhero, princess, and novelty fabrics skirts to work in an elementary school setting.

        6. LizM*

          The internet and google aren’t necessarily reliable, though.

          I’m in a couple facebook groups where people will frequently ask whether a specific line of leggings/dresses/shirts is appropriate for formal offices. It’s not, full stop. But they will get hundreds of replies that it is from people who don’t work in formal offices, and the few of us who do get drowned out or told we’re flat out wrong.

          There is a lot of noise on the internet, and if you don’t know which sources are reliable, you can easily be lead astray.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I remember going head-to-head with my daughter about what she could wear to a bat mitzvah service–she really had no idea how to temper “yay a chance to wear a fancy dress” toward “something appropriate for a solemn religious ceremony, meaning your shoulders will remain covered until you get to the party.” Most of her chances to dress up for awards, the girls would tend toward ‘like if you were going out for a fancy dinner’ rather than ‘appropriate for a business casual office.’

        1. Annabelle*

          I think this is a really common disconnect. When I was in high school and college, “dressed up” meant bodycon dresses and pencil skirts that were probably a little too snug. It took me a while to understand that something I could wear to a party wasn’t necessarily going to work in the office.

        2. Specialk9*

          I have to work hard to stuff down the reactions to pre-teen girls at bar/bat mitzvah services. The skintight micro Kardashian bandage dress is a really weird look in a synagogue, especially because I don’t usually even see jeans (unlike many churches), even in the liberal temples. But the micro dress is a thing at these events. Which is especially funny given how dweeby preteen boys are!

      4. Nonprofit pro*

        We had those dressup occasions growing up too, but what was considered appropriate for my particular culture was different than what I’ve learned is usually considered office appropriate. Think bold colors/ tighter clothes/ sheer tops..etc.
        It was a steep learning curve and I couldn’t rely on my family to guide me because to them what I was wearing was appropriate. I remember feeling very embarrassed at a college visit for a scholarship competition weekend becuase everyone else was in staid black/gray and white and I had on orange trousers with a cream top.

        1. the gold digger*

          My outfit for my college admissions interview:

          Blue corduroy jeans
          Blue plaid flannel shirt
          Light blue V-neck sweater
          My School Shoes (as opposed to my Church Shoes or my Play Shoes)

      5. VintageLydia*

        The types of outfits girls typically wear for those things aren’t really office appropriate, though, even if they were modest. They may be fine for church or a nice dinner or at a wedding, but not in a situation where not only suits, but button down shirts for women is required.

        1. BPT*

          Exactly – I was going to say this. I’ve seen so many people equate professional dress with “church clothes.” Which, especially for women, is not the same thing. I’ve never worn a suit to church. Often church dresses will be more floral, frilly, and not professional. But when you’re told to “dress nicely” for an interview or a job, for some people this is the only frame of reference they have. Especially if they’re new to the working world and grew up with three sets of clothes – school, play, and church.

          1. OhNo*

            When it comes to women’s clothes, I tend to think of it as the difference between “feminine dressy” (aka what you describe as church clothes, flouncy or flowy skirts, floral designs, designs in general, frills, etc.), and “masculine dressy” (aka sober skirt or pant suits, fitted dresses/skirts, mostly dark colors, usually with a blazer on top). Most conservative fields seem to want a more masculine bent to women’s office attire.

            (Even though I’m a guy, I am eternally grateful that my field is a-ok with “feminine dressy”. Wearing plain white or black button-downs every day is so boring. The women in my office can wear cute dresses with fun patterns, and I can wear patterned button-downs and cool ties.)

          2. Lily Rowan*

            And I was at a First Communion recently where half the mothers seemed to be in club wear.

            I think people who don’t already have experience working in conservative offices just think “nice clothes” is one category, which leans toward “cute” rather than “formal.”

            1. Happy Lurker*

              Yes, spring Confirmation had lots of mothers in cut out shoulders and body fitting pants!
              Funeral today had tie dye shirt and bright blue sweatpants.

              1. kraza*

                I go to a hypertraditional Catholic Church that shares the church building with a more mainstream branch of the Church.

                This kind of thing can be very jarring.

            2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              I used to use a clothing subscription service, and learned quickly that putting a note that I wanted outfits for a church occasion (Easter, in particular) needed clarification- my first go-round yielded cute outfits that might be fine for a brunch, but either too casual or cut wrong (neckline or hemline-wise) for my participatory role in a Catholic Mass. This same service sent dark-wash jeans with sleeveless tops and flyaway cardigans in response to many “I need some work clothes” notes.

          3. Doreen*

            I’ve actually seen women’s suits marketed as “church suits” – but even though they are suits , they are usually not professional, due to some combination of color, style and fabric.

          4. Misteroid*

            As someone who has only ever attended churches where everyone wears jeans, “professional dress=church clothes” would be hilariously off.

            1. kraza*

              That would also be inaccurate for my church because of very modest-feminine dresses and head coverings.

        2. MsMaryMary*

          Yes. I used to work with an organization that helped disadvantaged people find employment. Nearly all of the men we worked with had a fairly conservative suit in their closet. They could wear the same suit to church, a wedding, a funeral, or to a job interview. None of the women had a suit in their closet. They all had something they could wear to church, to a wedding, or to a funeral, but generally that was three separate outfits, none of which were appropriate for a job interview.

      6. The IT Manager*

        I wore uniforms so special dress up days were really dress down days as a treat.

        I think you could have told my generation to wear church clothes, but the last time I went to chance there were a number of outfits that weren’t appropriate for may jobs.

      7. AnotherAlison*

        I see several people are commenting that what girls normally wear to those things aren’t office appropriate clothes, and I think that I dressed differently. . .I graduated high school in 1996, and because of the grunge era and this being pre-Britney and Spice Girls, if I had to dress up, it was going to be very basic, not a summery church dress or going-out dress. I remember a couple outfits I had. . .wideleg black trousers with a white blouse, black wool “menswear” dress pants with a ribbed top, khaki striped pants with a black blazer and white rayon shirt. I may be an outlier!

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          1999 grad here….I think I owned all of the outfits you mention! Can’t tell you how happy I am, as a now much larger than I used to be female, that the wide leg is back!

      8. Cucumberzucchini*

        I was in a socioeconomic group that would make you think this wouldn’t be an issue. But my parents were very weird. They didn’t like to spend money on clothes for me or my brother. (I was teased by peers for my clothes my entire childhood.) They also were very unhelpful in many things. My mom had major depression so she just mentally checked out on some very key mom things.

      9. Temperance*

        I grew up in a rural area and in a blue collar family. We had very few dress up occasions, and the clothing I wore to those was appropriate for high school and never work.

      10. Stellaaaaa*

        It’s a very strange gap that is largely dependent upon what your parents are willing to buy for you. For concert band performances, I would just wear one of my nicer fitted t-shirts with one of my mom’s skirts and I looked just fine. If your family doesn’t regularly go to church or temple, you’re not going to have that kind of wardrobe or knowledge base about how that category of middle-formality is supposed to look. I remember the panic of being invited to a Bat Mitzvah for the first time in 7th grade. I literally had nothing to wear and my mom had to drop a fair bit of money on a cute dress from Express (which I uh….still have and wear 20+ years later. Thanks mom!).

      11. zora*

        That wouldn’t have worked for me, though. I was in school in the 90s, so when we had to ‘dress up’ for school reasons, I would wear either a long Laura Ashley-knock off dress or a baby doll dress. Neither of those are business casual appropriate.

        It really depends on so many variables, but I think ‘business casual’ and ‘business formal’ are just not necessarily relatable to how you have to dress in other spheres, other than office jobs.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I remember those high school dress-up occasions. However, back in my day it was totally okay to wear a suit-style top and matching dress shorts (with nylons, because early 90s) to a high school awards thing. I even wore that to my first retail job, but I wouldn’t (now in hindsight) consider it office appropriate. I also wore dresses better suited to a fancy church event than to an office – again, early 90s.

      I was encouraged to go home and change once at my first career job – I didn’t know Fridays were casual and showed up in my usual dress slacks and button-up shirt. My manager felt bad for not letting me know so he said I could go home and put on jeans/casual shirt if I wanted.

    3. TallTeapot*

      Really–sheath dresses aren’t conservative enough (as they would violate the armpit rule)? I’m in my 40’s and consider the sheath dress to be plenty formal. Hmm….

      1. Lison*

        I’m sitting here in what I wore to work today which is a grey pinstripe fitted dress with no sleeves that goes down to just above the knee and has two suit style pockets about where a suit jacket would have them and now I’m like “wait. This would be unprofessional some places?”

      2. Bex*

        I’ve worked places that required “business professional” and explicitly said that meant suit jackets for everyone. So a sheath dress would be totally fine, as long as you had a matching suit jacket, or at least a coordinating blazer

      3. Specialk9*

        I have always thought sheath dresses are very professional, though of course watch the hemline.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think this is very much a socioeconomic thing. If you’re not exposed to forms of appropriate attire, and if you’re not required to dress that way, and if your parents/adult-role-models don’t dress that way, it can be really hard to pick up appropriate business attire norms. I think it’s also tough because even when you do see adults wearing certain styles, those styles might not be appropriate on a younger person (or they might look super dowdy).

      I’m glad that schools (especially high schools) are beginning to integrate information on proper dress into their curriculum because white-collar attire, especially conservative attire, can be one of those unspoken soft skills that seems like part of the secret rules that govern certain parts of society.

      1. Specialk9*

        I don’t think it’s an accident, actually, that socioeconomic indicators are unwritten. I mean, for many it’s so ingrained it feels like everyone must know the rules. But classism relies on subtle cues for sorting people into us and them.

  10. Katie Fay*

    In addition to Alison’s great advice, I will add that some of this does fall to the interns. I realize they are young, just starting out in a professional environment, and unaware of professional norms, but they do need to develop a self-awareness that extends to the environment around them. Just because they are not expressly told that the exposure of lots of skin isn’t within the dress code, they do bear the responsibility of looking around them and giving thought to if they are fitting into the corporate culture. So yes, please be explicit about the dress code but remind yourself that it isn’t entirely your responsibility to enable their successful dressing. “But you didn’t say I couldn’t wear a midriff cut-off with frayed hem and 6″ platforms!!!” isn’t your problem – you cannot itemize every unacceptable scenario.
    And really, “I feel bad doing this because they are here to learn” doesn’t really make sense …. you are teaching them by explaining professional attire and office dress norms and the ways in which they may be perceive simply based on how they look.

    1. KR*

      I have to agree with your first point. OP, give them clear instructions and coach them but at a certain point you’ll be able to tell who is is Not Getting It and it’s okay to reprimand them at that point and not feel bad. I got to that point with an employee and it came down to the fact that I had written out a guide, showed examples of sample clothes they could pick up for very cheap, pointed out other employees and how what they wore was acceptable and why, ect and this person just was not getting it (almost willfully it seemed). So we sent them home a few times and they came back wearing proper attire.

    2. Mike C.*

      Self awareness doesn’t spring up from no where. The whole point of an internship is to learn things you don’t know and for many that means softer skills. You can’t expect people to be mind readers.

    3. myswtghst*

      you cannot itemize every unacceptable scenario

      Personally, I think there is a middle ground where this is part of what you teach the interns (or new employees). You start with explicit instructions on things you can and cannot wear, then remind them they will need to use their judgment if they run into something not on either list, and you help them understand how to do that (i.e. observe the people who work here for cues, and ask if you’re still not sure).

    4. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, once you’ve given them guidelines and stressed how important it is (and maybe given some practical reasons why), then I’d say just remember,

      This really a basic Highlights magazine “which of these things go together”? kind of puzzle.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      Thank you. I kept thinking, “But that’s part of what you’re SUPPOSED to teach them!”

      Internships weren’t a universal thing when I was in school 8,000 years ago and I didn’t know anyone personally who had one, but from my reading here it’s really clear that the whole point of an internship is to teach the interns how to be employees in a white-collar setting. Up until now, they’ve been students. Any dress codes were really specific, but weren’t business clothes. Any jobs they’ve had were probably low-level jobs that provide uniforms or expect jeans. This is a big change to them! They’re learning not only your specific business, but also the business world in general.

  11. This is me*

    Another long term option would be to work with their schools. I used to teach undergraduates in a College of Business and we would emphasize professional dress, often providing materials, pictures, etc. It was actually part of the curriculum for one of our core courses. I remember one professor who would let the guys know to grab a friend or two and head to Joseph A Banks during their suit sale.

    1. Xarcady*

      I’m actually a little surprised that the interns aren’t getting some helpful advice from their colleges. If the field they are planning on entering is this conservative, I’d expect someone–a professor, the career center, older students, someone–to give them a hint *before* they start their internships.

      Back in the early 80s, when I was doing an internship, we were all called to a meeting the semester before the internships started. It was made very clear that we were representing our college and that we needed to dress and act appropriately, even those of us wildchildren in Communications and other “artsy” fields. We were told we didn’t need to wear suits, but heaven forbid word got back to the school if we were too “out there” in our clothing.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        This was definitely not something my college did, though it’s possible people in more conservative majors got some kind of coaching.

      2. Q.D*

        When I was an education student all the Drama and Dance students were kept in after a lecture to be lectured at about appropriate clothing for our upcoming teaching practicums which included the fact that we MUST wear underwear (top AND bottoms for females). We all looked around boggling at each other, about the fact that we were singled out for that! Not one of us failed our practicums, but a lot of Maths, P.E, English and Visual Arts teachers did! As one of my friends pointed out, we had all been wearing costumes for year, and that is what our “teaching clothes” were, costumes, and we all knew how to put together a good costume, the students who didn’t were the ones who got in trouble.

    2. TootsNYC*

      And here’s a great place to reiterate the idea that proper clothing for an internship is as much a legitimate school expense as a textbook or stethoscope.

      I confess I don’t know whether student load restrictions would say that you can’t use the money to buy clothes, but my kids just got a payout, and they could use it to move money around.

      So, kids entering school for a field that might mean corporate internships should be warned very early on that they need to be prepared to come up with this piece of “equipment.” The earlier you start planning, the more likely you can find something on a sale, or ask for help from family, or simply save up.

      I think schools can, and should, communicate that.

  12. DC*

    I can’t forgive the shaving a swear word in your hair, but please do not police those who chose to use “non-natural” hair colors while they are in college. Not only is it a time to embrace those actions you might not be able to undertake in life, hair color has NO bearing on your abilities, and more and more people in mainstream society are embracing “non-natural” colors.

      1. Justme*

        I’m debating on some purple ones. Most of the debate is whether my workplace would be okay with them.

        1. Anon for now*

          I wear purple hair, my work loves it. The trick is to do salon-level purple and not Manic Panic purple.

      2. Jadelyn*

        My mom turns 60 next year and has silver hair – like, fashionable silver, not just grey – with blue and purple streaks. Cool hair has no age!

    1. RVA Cat*

      Please also make sure the dress code does not discriminate against *natural* hairstyles worn primarily by people of color.

    2. Collarbone High*

      Another issue with the “non-natural hair color” rule is that, as a pale white woman, I can have anything from ash blonde to jet black considered “natural” as long as I keep up the roots, whereas that is generally not true for women of color.

      1. Jesmlet*

        The way that type of policy usually reads (or at least to me) is that they can’t have hair color unnatural to humans. I don’t think it’s a hard line on having hair color natural to your race or skin color. For example as a half asian, if I decided to go dirty blonde, I don’t think anyone would object.

    3. President Porpoise*

      I knew a girl once whose strawberry blond hair was naturally a beautiful shade rose pink. It looked fake, but she was like 8 and didn’t dye her hair.

    4. Amelia*

      I was so pleased to learn that my current job, while on the more business side of business-casual, did not stop employees from dying their hair and didn’t ask them to cover up tattoos.

    5. Apostrophina*

      It’s also possible to end up (through, say, having to switch hair colors) with a shade you didn’t know was going to look like that.

      (I always skirt the edge of unnatural, and my workplace doesn’t care, but I definitely did not intend for my hair to be quite the shade of red it is right now, especially since I am not currently a vampire queen.)

  13. Episkey*

    Obviously, some of these items are definitely not within professional norms. However, I am going to be honest and say I don’t think it’s fair to expect interns to show up everyday in full suits. I’m in my mid-30s and don’t even own a suit — when I interview, I have black slacks and a black blazer but they aren’t even a “real” matching suit. I know you can get pieces at Goodwill for fairly cheap, but these kids are in college. No one is going to have a full suit, except maybe some of the male students if they have ever needed one for a funeral or wedding.

    1. Emi.*

      Depends on your field–when I was in school, most of the business students seemed to own multiple suits, and wore them for class presentations.

      1. Risha*

        That also depends on your school, I’m going to guess, as I was a business major (at a small but respectable university) and I don’t recall any students ever giving presentations in suits. I certainly didn’t own one until I needed to start interviewing.

    2. Elmyra Duff*

      Same. I’m 32 and I still don’t own a suit. I went to college about 900 miles from home and could only fit, like, five tshirts and a couple of pairs of jeans in my suitcase. I actually switched majors because they wanted education majors to start observing classrooms right away and I didn’t have the appropriate clothing (or resources to buy new clothing.)

      1. required name*

        Yeah. I dropped a public speaking class in college because they wanted you to do your presentations in a suit. No room in my suitcase to bring one, no room in my budget to buy one. Oh, and I also had no ability to travel to a place that sells them, since this was a “middle of nowhere” campus that looked great in brochures, but was terrible at transit.

    3. Bets*

      I so agree with this. Suits are incredibly expensive. Are you paying your interns? Can they afford a suit on that salary?

    4. Machiamellie*

      I’ve done a lot of college recruiting and at all of the career fairs, the vast majority of them are wandering around in suits. I think college career counseling offices actually tend to do a fairly good job in this area, recommending suits for interviewing or career fairs.

      If the interns are in a business role, such as accounting, and they’re applying for an internship at a company that specifically says they are professional dress only, then the interns should be prepared to buy suits. If not, they should apply for internships elsewhere.

      1. Emi.*

        My career center actually had a suit library you could borrow suits from before the career fair (or maybe they let you keep them? I’m not sure).

      2. Jadelyn*

        To be honest, the “interns should be prepared to buy suits” is an attitude that just contributes to class-based gatekeeping. Internships are already frequently problematic for the way that unpaid internships privilege people from socioeconomic backgrounds that allow them to just do without income for awhile, adding “and you need to be able to afford to buy multiple suits” is not going to make internships more welcoming to students from lower-class backgrounds.

        (inb4 “but thrift shops!” – even if you’ve got the time and energy to trawl thrift shops – which not everyone does – if you’re plus sized it’s a crapshoot as to whether you’ll be able to find anything usable, much less a whole suit. Thrift shops are not a panacea for workplace dress code problems.)

        1. myswtghst*

          Yes, all of this! Just because students at career fairs have *a* suit they are currently wearing does not mean they have *enough* suits to get them through the work week without a lot of re-wearing (which can lead to another favorite AAM topic – talking to people about body odor). Plenty of people have managed to get *a* suit they can wear for an interview or a presentation, but would greatly benefit from a slightly relaxed but still professional dress code that allows for separates.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Then again, nursing students need to be prepared to buy a stethoscope. And they can use their financial aid to get it.

          Maybe we’d be better off encouraging colleges and internship programs to find ways to subsidize “necessary equipment” for students the same way they subsidize textbooks.

          I get that it’s hard for people w/o a lot of money.

          Though I do also think that allowing interns to wear more “not-quite-formal business attire” like the equivalent of slacks and a blazer, button-down and tie for men (and equivalent for women) seems fair.

          1. HannahS*

            I really think that’s a false equivalency. A stethoscope costs less than 100$ and is used for many years. A week’s worth of suits (and shirts, and socks, and underwear, new shoes, and ties) costs far more than that, and is used for far less time.

        3. sb*

          Yeah, I’ve never owned more than two suits (which I bought in grad school for interviewing), and the one that was more comfortable (it had a matching shell blouse) was, like $30 to dryclean? And at LEAST the blouse needed drycleaning every time I wore it, because it was fitted and hot and I sweat. The whole thing needed drycleaning at least every couple wears. Even if you get several suits for a song at a thrift store, drycleaning suits weekly is going to run you a LOT of money.

          My first internship, my mom went with old-school rules on business casual and I had wool skirts, blouses, vests, and nylons. Way overkill for where I was interning, which basically was business casual means no jeans, and on dudes buttondowns preferred to polos but company polos were def. OK.

      3. MsMaryMary*

        When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to go on a week long trip to London through the business school. We didn’t have to wear professional dress all day every day, but we were expected to wear a suit any time we were representing the school. I made it through with one pants/skirt/blazer suit, several tops, and A LOT of febreeze, but it was less than ideal.

      4. Episkey*

        OK, one suit for a career fair or interviewing — but if these internships are 5X a week or even let’s say 3X a week, an undergrad is going to have 3-5 suits? Maybe then can get away with wearing the same suite 2X a week, with a different shirt under blazer? I don’t know, I still think it’s a little heavy-handed. My husband is a CPA and even he doesn’t wear suits! He owns 1 — for interviews/weddings/funerals.

      5. zora*

        having one suit to wear to career fairs is different from having enough to wear every day for months on end.

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Agreed. That’s the direction I thought this might have been headed, and I was prepared to give a response similar to this. Even in a conservative workplace, I’d encourage employers to cut college-aged students some slack on the suits-only dress code. Suits are expensive, and most employers don’t require them every day so you’re asking students to purchase clothing that isn’t likely to be necessary beyond their limited time with you.

      You can still require conservative dress: button-downs, slacks, skirts with work-appropriate fabric, pumps and Oxfords, etc.

      1. zora*

        I agree with this. “Non-matching suit separates” should be professional enough for interns in my opinion.

    6. K.*

      Yes. It would take me a while to build up a wardrobe if I got a job where I had to wear suits every day, even now. I would have been screwed if it was expected of me at a college internship. I’ve never worked in an environment where I had to wear a suit every day so I only own two suits. I could maybe fake it a bit more with dresses and jackets. My best friend’s husband tells the story of how, for his first summer associate job in law school, he wore the same two suits on alternating days (like gray suit Mondays and Wednesdays, blue suit Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Friday dress code was business casual) for about a month until he got a couple of paychecks under his belt and could buy a few more.

  14. Snark*

    “I don’t want to make them self-conscious when I talk to them, or have them think that they are in trouble and I’m upset with them. How would you handle this if you were in my shoes?”

    I’d make them self-conscious, and let them think they’re in at least a reasonable measure of trouble. Upset is a bit too far, but when someone is this UN-self conscious, erring a bit on the other side strikes me as no great tragedy.

    I’d get ’em together in a room and have a reasonably gentle but firm convseration with them. “Guys, our dress code is a little vague, and just specifies that dress be professional. I need you to understand, however, that you’re not meeting that standard, and the way you’re dressing and presenting yourselves is not appropriate for a business casual environment. In particular, guys, no brightly colored undershirts and no profanity shaved into hair. Women, no visible undergarments, no skirts above midthigh, no tank tops or sheer blouses, no exposed midriffs or backs, and please use conservative, professional makeup that includes natural lipstick and eye shadow shades. Questions? No? Banana Republic is a good place to look for affordable professional wardrobe pieces. Thanks.”

    1. High Score!*

      Good points, but I wouldn’t approach this is gender specific way. I’m female and don’t wear any make up, and would be upset if expected to. Some of my female colleagues won’t even wear a dress, they wear suits like men. We’re all straight cis females, but still think gender based clothing and restrictions are BS. Gender doesn’t belong in the workplace. Ever.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Yeah all of this applies to everyone. Keep it gender neutral. If everyone wears a suit and a button down, it sounds like the dress codes are pretty much identical for males and females. No purple lipstick or visible underwear no matter what your gender is.

  15. AMPG*

    I don’t understand the bit about no tank tops under jackets. I have a silk tank top that I wear under a suit jacket in the summer, and you’d never know it wasn’t a blouse. Obviously I don’t take the jacket off. Unless the OP is talking about cotton tank tops or something?

    1. gladfe*

      Yeah, that part surprised me to. I guess it’s regional variation, but even among the lawyers I know, women don’t necessarily wear button-ups under their suits, even for court. Another argument for making the dress code very, very explicit!

            1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

              A button-down has buttons that allow you to fasten the tips of the collar down to the shirt. A button-up is any shirt with buttons up the front. I use the terms interchangeably because I developed the habit long before I learned the difference, but I also haven’t seen a women’s button-down!

              1. Jadelyn*

                Well I’ve learned something new today then – thank you! Come to think of it, by that definition I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman’s shirt with those buttons on the collar.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Wait, what? Is this a language difference or something? Women’s button-downs aren’t nearly as common as men’s, but they are… super common. I work on the casual end of business casual and I can see, like, five women’s button-downs right this second.

            1. zora*

              technically they shouldn’t be called “Button-downs”, but most clothing retailers are misusing the term these days so I’ve given up. As Sylvan says above, “Button-down” refers to the collars can be buttoned down to the shirt. A shirt with buttons and a collar should be called ‘button-front” or “button-up” as the general term.

          2. Amelia*

            You mean my closet is full of the clothing equivalent of unicorns? I adore printed, flowy button-downs, it’s all I wear.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            People here are using the term “button down” to mean any shirt with buttons, not the traditional meaning of a shirt with buttons at the collar points.

              1. Emi.*

                I was being semi-facetious anyway. The OP probably means button-up anyway, since button-downs are less formal.

    2. Cat*

      Yeah, I was going to say that requiring button downs for women is way outside the norm, even in a conservative field. I’m a lawyer in a conservative city and I rarely see women wearing button downs with suits or, in general. For good reason – they’re hard to fit on many women since they’re generally not cut for those of us with ample bosoms.

      1. Catalyst*

        I agree, I can’t find button downs that fit me properly, they just aren’t cut to deal with my tatas. That being said, in regards to tank tops, there are some that are appropriate and some that really are not, even in less conservative places, and I assume she is talking about those cotton tank tops that on some people are just a little too low.

      2. Infinity Anon*

        Yep. When it is that far outside the norm, they really do need to spell out their expectations for interns (and expect people to be unhappy). If told to wear a suit to work, I would automatically wear a shell with it instead of a button down.

      3. A Non E. Mouse*

        They can be a little annoying for those of us less-endowed as well. Depending on where the buttons fall, there can be some unfortunate gaping from a side view.

        I usually either 1) don’t wear a button down or 2) wear a cami under my button downs for modesty.

        1. Crazy Dress Code Victim*

          Safety pins from the inside of the shirt. For the life of me, I cannot understand how no manufacturers have focused on resolving this gaping issue!

      4. President Porpoise*

        New York and Co recently had a button down style that included a little snap to close the bosom gap. It is amazing. I bought like half a dozen shirts in that style because of it.

          1. zora*

            I’ve sewn in some tiny snaps between buttons myself. And I’ve also heard of people taking their shirts to a tailor to have snaps added.

        1. Fiddlesticks*

          Do you have a link to the style online, or remember what it was called? I’m digging around online on the site now but no joy so far!

          1. President Porpoise*

            The tag says 7th avenue design studio, but I don’t know if that’s helpful.

    3. Janelle*

      I do the same. One time our AC went out one day mid summer and I finally caved and took my blazer off. The inside temp was 95 plus. HR woman actually came up to me to talk to me about it. I recall actually saying to her “you have GOT to be kidding me”. Everyone was soaking in sweat in the office. Taking the dress code a bit too far there! She just mumbled “oh well I guess since the AC isn’t working” and walked away. I remember being so livid.

    4. Malibu Stacey*

      I read it as “sheer blouses and tank tops” meaning, “sheer blouses and sheer tank tops” not “blouses that are too sheer and any kind of tank top”

    5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, agreed.

      Button-up blouses are, in a lot of cases, a tricky proposition particularly for women. If you’ve got any kind of a bust, well… guess what, either that shirt’s going to be enormous, or you’ll be constantly sewing buttons back on. I really don’t see how a good-quality shell + blazer is not appropriate for a dressy workplace.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      I wondered if it meant a thin cotton or lycra tank top that looked like it came with your exercise gear? Because yeah, when I wore suits to work I always paired them with silk shells.

    7. Hannah*

      I was wondering this myself–I’ve never actually worked anyplace where there was a dress code, but if I did I’m sure I wouldn’t know that you had to wear a button-down shirt with a suit (as a woman). I would think pullover blouses under a suit jacket would be acceptable in any circumstance. I mean, obviously not an undershirt-type tank top or a graphic T shirt, but shirts that are often marketed as “shells” or something similar is what I wear under a blazer for a job interview.

      If button down shirts are required for women, I think that definitely needs to be spelled out!

    8. Temperance*

      I work at a law firm and regularly wear sleeveless shirts and nicer tanks with a jacket. I don’t even own a single button down. They’re very unflattering on me because I have a large chest.

    9. blackcat*


      As a petite, thin, and busty woman (30F bra size), it is nearly impossible to find button-down shirts that fit both my boobs and my shoulders. I actually have about a half dozen that look professional! It took me YEARS to hunt them down, and even then, it’s only 3 different shirts (I bought two colors of each).

      A button down will generally make me look FAR less polished than many other options. Buying a shirt big enough for my boobs and getting it tailored to properly fit my shoulders would be incredibly expensive (shoulder alterations are hard and cost $$ for a good reason).

    10. NaoNao*

      Usually “tank” tops are the thin spaghetti strapped or under-wear adjacent items one layers under a sheer or thin tee, and “shells” are the higher end silk, ponte, or other weave material. If it’s formal enough to be worn as a stand alone layer, it’s generally considered a “shell”. If it looks like it was made for lounge, bed, or layering, it’s a tank.
      Having said that, many companies use the words interchangeably and put out “The Marcia Tank” and it’s clearly a silk shell.

  16. Infinity Anon*

    Considering that the dress code described sounds particularly conservative, interns really do need it spelled out. It would be nice to send specific information about the dress code before their first day. Particular emphasis should be given to things that may be ok in other offices but are not in this office (like requiring a button down under a suit jacket instead of a shell) and not allowing “non-natural” lip color. Also, pointing out that office wear on TV shows tends to be inappropriate. That may be what some of them are basing their choices on.

  17. saffytaffy*

    I have so much sympathy for young women trying to dress professionally. In my 20s, I bristled so hard at the way button-down shirts made me look thick-waisted and masculine. I also had no idea what an acceptable alternative could be. If I were one of these interns, I would respond really well to being given concrete alternatives. Will crew-neck tops made of non-stretchy material work? Would a crew-neck sweater work? That sort of thing has always been helpful to me.

    1. VintageLydia*

      As a well-endowed woman I bristle at button downs on principle. I’ve found one store based out of the UK that sells button downs that are customizable for particular chest sizes but they are expensive and take a bit of time to ship since you know, customized and crossing an ocean to get to me. Not really an option, financially, for interns.

      1. Murphy*

        Agreed. I don’t typically wear button downs because they’re pretty difficult to fit to my body. The few I have, I typically have to pin in place.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Same. Same with the suits. My mom wore button-downs to work all the time, but I’m a lot larger in the chest than my mom, and I can’t. They feel like a straitjacket and I don’t even want to think about how they look on me (basically like a balloon that’s bursting out of my pants/skirt).

          Overall this sounds like the most expensive dress code I’ve ever heard of. I’m talking work outfits being a serious expense item on par with mortgage/rent or childcare. Not gonna lie, I’d probably turn a job down just for that. But then, I am fortunate that I do not work in a field that would ever require this kind of a dress code.

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        Button-down shirt + no visible underwear is an impossible combination for some women. Like me. If I move and people around me move, at some point someone can see something from the hole between the buttons. Only way to avoid that is a brooch or something to close the space between the buttons at the crucial spot, and still there are the more unusual peeking places left.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Not busty, but my shoulders (at a skeletal level) are wide for my otherwise small frame. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a button-down shirt, because they are neither comfortable nor flattering.

        When I worked in an office, I did a lot of silk shells with a jacket.

      4. saffytaffy*

        VintageLydia when I lived in Shanghai I developed a good relationship with a seamstress (you can get clothes made custom easily in China) and I told her I was determined to find a way to make button-downs look good on me. It never worked. The shape just isn’t meant to work with curves.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      Seriously. For me, I struggle to find button down shirts where it doesn’t look like it’s going to bust open at the chest any second. Ones that fit my waist look inappropriately sexy on me and if I have to go up a size so it’s not straining at the chest, it then makes me look frumpy and poorly dressed. Button down shirts only would be my nightmare dress code.

      1. Janelle*

        Same. i don’t wear them as I would look way more inappropriate in a button down. That requirement would truly bug the flip out of me because it would require me to spend a TON of money on shits and the subsequent tailoring to avoid popping out. I also find them terribly uncomfortable. I am always hot so wearing a long sleeve plus blazer would kill me. I usually wear a pencil skirt and a blouse and sometimes a blazer depending. Or a dress with a cardigan.

        1. Kyrielle*

          I actually wear button-downs several times a week, with slacks (but not with a jacket or sweater of any kind unless I am cold – I’m already trending too ‘professional’ for my office, but not for my last office and it’s just viewed as ‘how Kyrielle dresses’ and not a negative here, so I roll with it).

          I mostly wear men’s button-downs a size up and look a little frumpy; I can live with that. I suspect it wouldn’t fly at all in the OP’s office. (And today’s outfit wouldn’t at all; I’m actually in blue denim slacks and a polo.)

          Which is to say, even women wearing what the OP describes are, as noted by others, going to look ‘not right’ if they’re doing it lazily or on a tight budget. (I’m not; but there are reasons why, even if I cared, tailoring my clothes to fit me perfectly would be Not A Thing I could easily do.)

          1. Nan*

            The issue (not for me, but I can imagine with the stuffy office OP is talking about) is that men’s shirts button the other way from women’s shirts. The poor female interns who wear men’s shirts are going to get in trouble for wearing men’s clothes. If the dress code is that persnickety, someone will notice.

            1. Kyrielle*

              There’s that too; some places might not care, might just see ‘buttons up, has proper collar, can’t see through it, has sleeves, that’s good’, and others might object to men’s shirts on women. In the case of the latter, not even tailoring would save the “hey, men get shirts with decently opaque fabric” solution.

      2. nnn*

        Oh god this! In my case, my armpits also have a smaller circumference than shirt designers seem to expect, so if I wear a shirt big enough that it isn’t straining at my chest, the armpits of the shirt are literally at my waist.

    3. Temperance*

      I don’t even own a single button down shirt. They don’t work on many women, myself included. I prefer tie-neck blouses and nice shells instead.

    4. Maya Elena*

      I’m sure if the female interns wore those blouses with ruffles, or a stretchy but clearly work-aimed pull over shirt, it wouldn’t be nearly as big a deal. Of course maybe they’re all differently shaped and can only afford or fit into tiny skirts and tube tops, but that’s pretty unlikely.

  18. Adele*

    If they are unpaid interns they may literally not be able to afford the correct clothing so leave an opening for people to negotiate something that is passable from their wardrobe. After all if they arent being paid it isnt fair to expect the same work wardrobe spend from them.

    1. AMPG*

      This is a good point. Forcing an unpaid intern to drop a bunch of money on a new wardrobe is a great way to weed out socio-economic diversity in your intern pool.

      1. Sam Vega*

        Having unpaid internships at all pretty much guarantees a lack of socioeconomic diversity.

    2. Justme*

      That’s a very good point. And even if it is paid, I wouldn’t expect them to be able to afford nicer things before their first few paychecks.

    3. The OG Anonsie*

      Yeah. And while it is possible for some people to get a nice work wardrobe for cheap second hand or from inexpensive brands or whatever, it’s not evenly possible for everyone– for one, that’s still costly, but it’s also the luck involved in scoring tailored items second hand that actually fit you well enough to be appropriate. This isn’t “some people can’t have sandwiches,” being able to snatch suits off the rack is going to be a tall order for the average person, and once you take the money into consideration this is likely to be a squeeze on a whole lot of your interns. I had an ok job and more money than most as a student, but a tailor making even a petite suit jacket fit me well enough to not look like dress up in mommy’s clothes runs about $100.

      I think it makes sense to have the strict dress codes for interns from a business perspective, but there also needs to be an awareness of how that impacts your prospective candidates as a whole as well as who will be disproportionately affected.

  19. Browser*

    I don’t see a problem with sending them home for the kind of dress code violations mentioned. It enforces the rules and leaves an impression that “there are no consequences, but don’t do this again” does not.

    I worked in an upper-scale department store that had a strict dress code, and we sent home people who violated it each and every time. The most egregious example I recall was someone who showed up in a hoodie and leggings – at a workplace we couldn’t wear t-shirts or jeans at.

  20. phil*

    If you don’t have an intern orientation meeting perhaps you should and spell out acceptable office behavior in all respects, not just clothing. After all, interns are there to learn.

    1. Ashley*

      Or maybe a lunch and learn the first week. I think a PowerPoint with some exaggerated examples could help keep it light.

    2. myswtghst*

      I’m grateful that at my current workplace we do a 2-hour orientation for new employees the Friday before they start. This way, they meet with the recruiter and review the dress code (and other useful stuff like transit/parking, hours, paychecks, etc…) a few days before their first real day of work, so they have time if they need to do any shopping (which is unlikely, since our dress code is pretty casual).

  21. nnn*

    I would add to Alison’s advice that it would be useful to look into where suitable office clothing is reliably available right this minute at an intern-appropriate price point, so you can point them in the right direction if they don’t know where to look.

    This season all the skirts where I’ve been buying work clothes for the past 15+ years are uncomfortably short, and quite a few of the tops are sheer. This has the dual impact of making it more difficult to find appropriate clothes if you absolutely need to buy new work clothes right this season, and perhaps affecting newbies’ perception of what constitutes appropriate clothes. (If they’re selling this skirt at the store where Mom always bought her office clothes, it must be an office skirt.) By pointing them to where the appropriate clothes actually are, LW would be no only helping the interns meet the dress code immediately, but also empowering them to build an suitable wardrobe as they enter the workforce and get more disposable income to build a wardrobe with.

    1. Government Worker*

      If LW can find that place this season and come back and tell the rest of us, that would be great.

    2. Hannah*

      I know, what is the deal with the length of skirts in the stores these days? I’m not particularly tall and yet almost all the skirts and dresses, even in stores that don’t cater to young people particularly, are too short for my comfort.

      1. Justme*

        Interesting, most of what I’m finding is way too long on me. I would love something that was knee length without having to pull the waistband to my bra.

    3. CG*

      Worst case, maybe link them to Corporette (though even Corporette showcases some items that are a little too immodest for my work tastes)?

  22. Emi.*

    Maybe not for the visible thongs, but I bet what’s causing many of their problems is that LOTS AND LOTS of clothes are marketed as “workwear” that aren’t formal and/or modest enough for most offices, let alone one where you have to wear a suit every day. In my experience, the “Workwear” section of clothing websites (for individual brands and for department stores) include sheer blouses, off-the-shoulder tops, mini pencil skirts, etc. (The guys don’t have this problem as much because capitalismandpatriarchy have seen fit to bless them with more normal clothes across the board.) If you don’t have a lot of experience with dress codes, you might just assume that all the “workwear” is automatically stuff you can, y’know, wear to work. But you’d be very wrong.

  23. irritable vowel*

    I’ve not been in a position where I’ve had to directly advise younger employees on their workwear, but I’ve definitely observed it and thought about how I might address it if I had to. It helped to picture myself in the position of someone being told that their clothing was not office-appropriate, and how that might feel. I think with young women, it’s especially important to find someone who’s also a woman to have the conversation, even if she’s not their direct supervisor, because it can stray into icky/uncomfortable territory a lot quicker, even if not intended, with an older man telling a young woman that her clothes are inappropriate. If I had to have this conversation with a young woman in my workplace, I think I’d frame it as “I’d like to give you some guidance on choosing clothes for the office.” I agree with Alison that making expectations extremely clear up front is going to cut back on a lot of the need for one-on-one conversations about it – maybe there even needs to be a different manual for interns at this company? “No visible underwear” isn’t something that needs to be said in the regular employee manual, but interns are not regular employees.

  24. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    YES to the pictures thing.

    I’m obese and I have to make do with what I have and what I look like. Currently working in a posh area of Paris as a receptionist for a notary’s office.

    I’ve been told eyeliner, mascara and red matte lipstick is a good look, so makeup wise I’m sticking to those (and only the lipstick on days my hands won’t cooperate. As far as outfit goes, I’ve been told dark pants, and don’t be too colorful please.

    I’ve posted my Twitter profile as my website here for today. I frequently post my “outfits of the day” where I have either dark blue or white pants, and several types of tops that are either black, white, or just discreet. I had a friend help me select some of those items, another donated several nice and posh-looking blouses… so I sorta have a set of uniforms now.

    And sure, I got help, but I gotta say, this is one of the reasons why I don’t even want to wear any kind of skirts at work now :P .

    1. Kiki*

      >so I sorta have a set of uniforms now

      I think work “uniforms” can be really helpful if your workplace has a more restrictive dress code. My current job is the most restrictive I’ve been in– no jeans, no open-toed shoes, no collarbone, shirt sleeves must hit at elbow or below, etc. At first I tried to adapt my old wardrobe to fit these rules and it was SO difficult. Finally I bought myself a few mix-and-match pieces that adhered to my new dress code and that made my life much easier.

      1. SandrineSmiles (France)*

        Exactly, Kiki! One of my most recent tweets has me with a Sailor Moon teeshirt, hair all over the place, and jean-ish pants… Those have been turned into pajamas since because of my cat, but while I do find myself pretty in my work outfits, when the weekend comes and I can just enjoy myself with my geeky teeshirts I’m so much happier xD

  25. Watson*

    I think another great support might be to come up with two or three local places where people have been able to find professional clothes at a reduced cost/for free (non-profits). Provide this to all interns when you review your dress code. I worry about interns that don’t have a lot of money and are just doing the best that they can by turning their everyday college clothes into “hip work clothes.” Also, now, no one has an excuse!!

    1. Dulf*

      Yeah – the guy wearing brightly colored t-shirts under a button-down definitely sounds like a case of someone trying to make do with what he already had, and I suspect a fair number of the other incidents are the same thing.

    2. Nonprofit pro*

      My husband wore inside out graphic tshirts under button downs to his internships in school because going out and buying new shirts that weren’t even going to be seen was not in our budget AT ALL. We had already lost money on this internships because it meant he couldn’t take on a paying(but not career enhancing) position.

    3. Lora*

      THIS. I was fortunate to have a relative willing to pony up for an interview suit, but not everyone has a nice auntie with $200 to spare. Also, my college was in a rural-ish area where there was literally nowhere to buy a good interview suit – my auntie took me to the nearest large city, which was 90 minutes away.

  26. the gold digger*

    We have an intern this summer. On jeans day, she wore one of those shirts with the shoulders cut out. I just said, “That is too much skin to show at work. Don’t wear that again.”

    She said, “OK.”

    It’s not a big deal. Just give people the information they need to have.

    1. On Fire*

      Oh, ugh. I know they’re very fashionable right now, and I’m a stick-in-the-mud, but I hate those cold-shoulder tops. I’ve yet to see one that looks professional – most of them look either like club wear, or just sloppy and tacky.

      /end threadjack

    2. Jesmlet*

      But to be fair, you don’t want to correct people every time they wear a new thing that’s not quite right. Better to spell it out beforehand what is and isn’t okay than to correct piecemeal later on.

      1. the gold digger*

        I agree. This was two months into her internship. HR gave her an orientation on her first day and I assumed they had covered it because her clothes (until that point) had been fine. But if we get an intern next summer, I will spell everything out on day 1.

    3. Cookie D'oh*

      Those cold shoulder tops are everywhere now! I pulled what I thought was a cute shirt off the rack but then it had those stupid cutouts. Can’t wait until this trend goes away.

    4. Temperance*

      There’s a woman in my office who keeps wearing cold shoulder tops with a leather vest. She looks like a pirate.

      1. Misteroid*

        That sounds fantastic.

        Come to think of it, I could totally get away with that, since my office has no dress code. (I dress business casual anyway, but I don’t really need to.)

  27. tagalong*

    I’m questioning the letter writer a bit here. Okay, she’s included some blatantly obvious items that should be addressed. However, she’s got a few things in here that hint at wanting too much control over women’s presentations. Smoky eyeshadow and false lashes aren’t something I think she should mention. Also, is visible thong, more like a little gaping waistline on someone with a curvier shape who has to lean over and you caught a glimpse? Not that its great, but if you have a difficult shape to dress, and you are a poor college student, you might not be able to afford alternations after you’ve purchased perfectly reasonable pants. Also, I question whether the tank top under a jacket is worth debating. What’s the line between office appropriate sleeveless shell under a jacket and a tank top under a jacket? Are you going to discuss fiber content differences between the two garments? Is a cotton knit sleeveless shell okay under a jacket? Is a buttoned shirt really only acceptable? If you have large breasts these can be more problematic. I think you should stick to the blatant stuff and let these young women learn how to dress for the job they want by observing the finer details of what other women wear.

    1. Bookworm*

      If she’s truly in a conservative industry, where people would judge that makeup, I think it’s a kindness to tell the interns. They have the right to know what’s expected in the industry they’re working in and decide for themselves if that’s a battle they want to fight.

      If the interns are kept in the dark now, what will happen in the future when they’re interviewing and rejected for not meeting certain expectations?

      I agree that a lot of professional norms are unfair, but that’s not necessarily a reflection of OP, and it’s her job to let her interns know what’s expected in her industry, whether she agrees with it or not.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I do think it’s important to be clear that this is industry specific though.

        I say this having only worked in fields where brightly dyed hair is a-ok.

    2. ket*

      I disagree. I think I know what she means by some of these and fair or not these young people will be judged in the industry in question. Google “smokey eye” and look at what you get. If you’ve got a young overachiever she learned from tutorials on Youtube: look up Jaclyn Hill, Roxette Arisa, Maya Mia and their smokey eyes. When it comes to the tank top under the jacket, what I did in college was a low-cut spaghetti strap cotton tank top that nicely set off my, ah, assets. There’s a difference between “my shirt came untucked” and “I’m coordinating my thong and bra to contrast with my tank as an artistic choice.”

    3. tagalong*

      I started my career at a big 5 consulting firm straight out of college and have worked in business suit attire-only situations. I have spent a lot of time in a lot of different Fortune 100 companies because of my role as a consultant. Even in business attire-only situations, there truly are a range of interpretations seen and people still manage to express some individuality in their presentation. Women’s business attire is less straightforward than men’s. The best advice I got was to dress for the job you want and look to more senior women for your style cues. If I had an older woman sit me down and try to micromanage the makeup on my face, or the need to wear a buttoned blouse instead of a shell under my jacket (when roughly zero buttoned blouses can accommodate my curves without gaping buttons), I may have missed out on a very successful career in consulting and now selling consulting services. I grew up in a community where policing women’s appearance was like a part-time job for many. It would be a major turn off to have an office-mommy take that kind of extra initiative. Somehow the OP’s comments about buttoned blouses is setting off alarm bells for me that there’s also a desire to give unnecessarily narrow guidance. Could OP be very specific with interns when it comes to violating the clear rules, but in matters of taste give more general examples of what is accessible and appropriate? Please, OP, take a moment to contemplate where the boundary lies between your own personal preferences vs. actual important advice for interns just starting out.

      1. Helena*

        OP is not responsible for the rules of the industry and her company though. She acknowledges that in a perfect world appearance would not matter. She says clearly that suits and button shirts are expected for everyone and that is what the dress code is. So no matter what her personal feelings are (of which there is no indication in the letter) the fact is that button shirts are the dress code. Interns are being sent home and not taken seriously because of their violations of the dress code.

        OP is hardly an “office mommy” for wanting to provide guidance to interns about an industry and company dress code that is set in stone.

  28. Nee*

    The comments on this over at the Cut are so disappointing. Here’s the most recent one quoted:

    “This sounds harsh but cut them. If a college student/intern can walk into a conservative dress work environment and not pick it up that they too must conform then they don’t need to be there. I had a similar conversation with an old friend who was in this same position but it was over another issue, the need to bring a note pad into a meeting. He thought his more senior co-workers were being too harsh in demanding a person bring a note pad and pencil if called into a meeting and my thinking was that should be standard. Most of all, if you are will to gamble a future job or recommendation on not wearing the right clothing or not being prepared to write down instructions then you are not serious about working. Sorry but I was that broke girl who had to shop Old Navy, Marshalls and TJ Maxx to make sure I looked appropriate at my entry level job because I was not willing to let semantics deter my then career goals.
    Also, if you are not looking to be as cutthroat as I am, you can try this passive aggressive move. Send out the official dress code to all the interns. Like the article says, in full detail, to all the interns both male and female. If that doesn’t work, cut them.”

    …Pretty obviously comes from someone with no compassion for what these younger workers are going through or any real desire to help them.

    1. Snark*

      I agree, that’s a really harsh comment, but….I do agree with one point. If you can walk into a conservative-dress office and not pick up that your shirt that shows your back isn’t appropriate, there’s a disconnect there. It’s not a “blow them out the airlock” level offense, but that level of obliviousness is not a good look at all.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I do wonder about age. If the next oldest workers are around 40, then it’s easy to interpret what they wear as “what middle aged people in this industry wear.”

        1. Anxa*

          I actually do learn toward believing you should be able to pick up on cues, but you do make a good point about the age issue. If I wore what my supervisor wore, it wouldn’t work. It can be incredibly hard for women to find clothes that are work AND age appropriate.

    2. zsuzsanna*

      Agree it was harsh, but this is the whole point – an internship is to help young people adjust to the business/work world, NOT for the business world to lower its levels of professionalism to accommodate interns or show compassion for them. The compassionate thing, actually, is to explain to interns that they will not get jobs or get promoted later in life if they do not present themselves in a professional manner – and of course, that differs by industry. Maybe neon pink hair looks edgy in one office. For a lawyer in court – you’d lose your case before argument.

  29. CappaCity*

    Please be sure as you’re having the wider conversation and including pictures that you have examples for both sexes. It doesn’t sound like you wouldn’t from your letter, but sometimes we all get tunnel vision, and I would hate for the talk to focus too much on women’s clothes. Both because it can come across as sexist, and because the guys deserve guidance too.

    1. Kathenus*

      This. I was reviewing comments to see if anyone mentioned this aspect. Even though LW says that there are more issues with female than male interns, making sure to focus on the dress code for both in a fair way is really important. Please use the suggestions many have made about being detailed on do’s and don’ts, but also make sure to do so for both genders.

    2. SarahKay*

      I get that women are often more heavily discriminated against for their clothing, hair, etc, and that OP wants to help them in particular, but any discussion has to cover the guidance for men as well as for women.

  30. CBH*

    Just an idea but if the interns are coming from the company coordinating with the college, perhaps suggest to the college to go over appropriate dress with these students. Maybe the colleges can do a work enviornment class – appropriate dress clothes, use of social media, etc. In this case maybe your company can send over a “hello” sheet prior to orientation, where you could slip in something about the dress code. Then emphasize it again on the first day. State that after the first day there are no more excuses.

  31. Rae*

    When I was an intern I was slightly older than the rest, think 23 vs 19. About once a month there had to be a meeting with the interns about appropriate dress. I was never told to attend the meeting because, surprise, I read the handbook! Out of probably 20-25 interns only 3 of us were consistently dressed appropriately for the company. It was extremely surprising how it never really seemed to sink in to some people. And it was also amusing to both my manager and myself that the other interns would get mad that I didn’t have to attend the dress code lectures.

  32. Bookworm*

    There are some comments here debating the makeup issue, or the smaller points of the dress code. I’m inclined to agree that this sounds like an unusually conservative office.

    But whatever issue we might take with these standards, they are not set by OP, but part of the larger mindset that comes with an industry. It’s a great disservice to not have the awkward conversation now, while they’re taking internships with the goal of learning. A conversation about smokey eye shadow now might prevent getting rejected in an interview later on, when the stakes are higher for our interns.

    Obviously, they might decide that some of these norms are unfairly restrictive, but they should at least be explicitly told what those norms are so they can decide what trade off they want to make.

    1. Mike C.*

      It doesn’t mean that we can’t, in this space here, point out that the standards are unusual or too much.

      1. Bookworm*

        I’m referring to commenters here suggesting that OP refrain from discussing make-up or tank tops with her interns. Whether we think these rules are valid or not, the I think the interns deserve to know the norms they’re being judged on.

    2. The OG Anonsie*

      Right. I’m not saying “those rules are strict so you can’t have them.” I’m saying that because the rules are strict to the point that even someone who knows how to dress in a conservative office may still not be meeting them, it’s especially important to be very explicit up front and really go through it with the interns before the internship actually starts.

  33. (Different) Rebecca*

    I am so, so, SO very glad that my profession doesn’t care about how I look. Note: I don’t show a lot of skin, but basically nothing I wear, nor any of my hair and makeup choices, fit into ‘professional.’

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I feel like I’m slowly getting less strict with myself about what I can wear to work, but I definitely pick up my cues from other women in the office! Like I would have thought maxi dresses were a no-go for work but a woman superior to me wears them all the time so I let myself wear them on occasion too.

      1. (Different) Rebecca*

        I usually wear: satin or velvet pants under long or mid-length skirts; character t-shirts (all non-offensive text) in the summer; tanks under button down, long sleeved, fitted shirts in the winter. Makeup colors are usually darker–black, purple, blood red or bright red lipstick. Hair is galaxy streaked in the front, almost black everywhere else, and down past my butt. No one cares–it doesn’t effect my writing or my teaching.

  34. Lisa*

    Maybe make it part of new employee orientation every time so you are not singling out any particular person. Put together a 5 minute presentation or a small handbook with examples of dos and don’ts and specific examples.

  35. Akcipitrokulo*

    One way to address it could be to have a presentation as part of their first day induction? Here’s the kitchen, these are your break times, this is the dress code: please be aware that this is appropriate, this is not. This is where you meet in case of fire…

  36. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    There are a number of problems to address here – most with the interns, but others with your company’s policies.

    For the interns, I like the idea of visual examples. Preferably from reasonably priced stores, so they can copy the look if they want. Obviously swear words, visible thongs, and miniskirts are a problem and should be handled. The reason I think visual aids will work is that so many things sold in stores are not actually business appropriate even though they have an air of professionalism about them, and so often in TV and movies professionals are wearing things most offices would absolutely not allow as part of their dress code. In these cases the media is all they have seen of offices, and assume if they are dressing like what they have seen and what is in stores, it is ok.

    But on your company’s side – bright colors are NOT inherently unprofessional, in clothing or hair. I urge you and your company to adjust your way of thinking on that. Hair dyed a “non-natural” color can still be styled very professional and sleekly. Also, some adjustment needs to happen on the thinking about skin. Yes, midriff and thigh is unacceptable. But when it is Satan’s Taint After a Squash Match hot outside – I see nothing wrong with a broad width sleeveless blouse for women (I wish there were a comparable thing for men). Saying bare arms are unprofessional hearkens to dress codes meant to police girls and women as objects, putting the onus on them to keep men’s raging sexuality in check.

  37. grasshopper*

    I remember when an old roommate started a summer internship at a conservative law firm. Prior to even starting, they sent her a 20 page document outlining the dress code. The dress code was strict (eg, closed toed dress shoes, no patterns, and no bare legs at all), but it was definitely useful for her and there was no room for misunderstanding.

  38. MsEsq*

    Alison, I completely agree with your advice. However, I think we need to place some responsibility on the interns as well. They really should be picking up on the fact that they are not dressing like everyone else who works in the office. I would say, based on my experience working with college students, that a lot of this is lacking exposure to professional norms/what is work wear appropriate, but some of it is being stubborn. I go over with every student what to wear to their legal job interviews (a very conservative field). Many of the women, for some reason, push back on this – those clothes are ‘boring’ or they want to wear something that shows more of their ‘personality.’ And it’s not like I’m much older than them – 10 years, at most! When I did my own interviews and did my legal internship I just accepted there was a particular uniform I had to wear, so I have a hard time wrapping my head around this.

    1. Marianne*

      What is it with the pushback? I volunteer at my alma mater’s career center and get the “that’s boring” response from so many college women.
      I also tell undergraduates to start accumulating appropriate work clothes early. By this I mean some conservative things like office appropriate skirts or slacks and a top or two. Many business internships are fine with interns wearing something professional that is not a suit, during the undergraduate years. It’s helpful to have some clothes ready when you graduate.
      The first few years after college graduation pretty much the only clothes I bought were for work as that took up my entire clothing budget. I regretted every dollar I spent on “going out” clothing in college especially since I didn’t make a lot of money and it would have been cheaper in some cases to have bought a few professional items on sale rather than under duress.

  39. Akcipitrokulo*

    Have to admit I get confused as to why a button down collar is more appropriate than a smart ironed collar (seen this a gew times here!), but hey… it’s their dress code!

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Most of us in the US refer to a “button down” and mean the shirt itself, not the collar. (I know I do.) It’s not correct, but it’s worked its way into the common lexicon. I think that’s where the confusion comes in! So what you’re referring to as a “smart ironed collar” is what we’re talking about too: a dress shirt that buttons as opposed to a shell.

      1. misspiggy*

        Ohhh – there was me thinking American offices had some very odd clothing requirements…

      2. Thlayli*

        Thank you! I was totally confused. So when Americans say “a button down shirt” they just mean a regular shirt.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I believe it’s extra important among the busty community, of which I am a member, to distinguish between a “button-down” and another type of shirt, like a t-shirt or shell. Because the first one requires investigation, extra undergarments, meticulous tailoring, etc., and the other is just a shirt. :)

    2. Wehaf*

      Most people here are using “button-down” to mean “button-front” – so they’re referring to the closure on the shirt, not the collar.

    3. Xarcady*

      “Button-down” used to mean a button-down collar in the US. I can’t quite place when the shift happened, but I’m guessing some time in the 2000s. Because I was still thinking “button-down” referred to a collar style and was very confused by a couple of articles in fashion magazines. I have no idea why this happened, either.

      1. Misteroid*

        I’ve never heard that before! In my experience, button-down has always mean a shirt with buttons on the front, and nothing else.

        1. Kathryn T.*

          I went to a private high school (graduated in the mid nineties) with a school uniform that required button-down shirts for both boys and girls — and they meant the collar buttons. Showing up in a regular Oxford-cloth shirt with a stay collar would earn you a uniform violation.

          So yeah, I was very confused when people started using “button down” to mean any buttoned shirt!

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            For me, it’s always meant “shirt with a button-down collar.” A shirt/blouse that buttons up is to simply “a shirt/blouse that buttons up.”

      2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        I am a child of the 70s-80s, and “button down” meant a shirt with a placket of buttons (regardless of its collar style), while the shirt with a collar that buttoned down was a “button down collar” shirt. [I.e., those with the button-down collar were a subset of the larger category of button down shirt.] It may be a regional thing, but I didn’t start hearing the term “button up” shirt until recently.

  40. Thursday Next*

    If interns wearing suits is required maybe your firm could provide gift cards for all interns to help them get started? I had a friend who did an internship at a big 4 firm and they gave every intern a $100 gift card to Ann Taylor or men’s warehouse (I think). That’s not enough to buy a full wardrobe buts it’s enough to get started, at least until they get a paycheck.

    Also, a lot of stores that young women are told to go to to buy business clothes now sell items that are too short, low cut etc for business professional wear (looking at you BR and Ann Taylor), but are still listed as work wear, and don’t carry much stock in stores, which can make shopping for suits difficult. I did an internship this summer and while my field was business casual I found it difficult to find clothes because most places I went had very few items actually in the store, or what was in the store were the more fashion forward items – cropped suiting pants, suits in bold prints etc. I’m a grad student in a STEM field, closer to 30 than 20, not a fashion forward person so I looked for clothes conservative enough for a traditional business office, and it was difficult. It took months of shopping to put together a summer business casual wardrobe and I had money to buy clothes.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I love to watch Project Runway, but when they have a challenge where they need to make office wear, I find it hilarious. Nothing ever looks office appropriate to me unless you’re working at a fancy fashion based place.

    2. High Score!*

      I was thinking this too, only more on the order of $500, good wardrobes are expensive and it works be such a blessing to not only learn what to wear but to be able to have a little of it.

    3. Zip Zap*

      I started to write a response but got distracted by work and now some of what I said has been covered in other comments.

      So here’s something different. How does everyone feel about conservative offices and things that are more, shall we say, basic self expression? For example, if you’re a masculine woman, is it ok to wear more masculine professional clothes? Do you have to wear skirts? If you do dress more masculine and people take issue with it, how should you respond?

      I’m just using this as an example, but it’s a bit selfish. I’m a pants/shirts/ no makeup sort of person and I keep trying to find a way for that not to hold me back professionally.

      1. Thursday Next*

        I think that in an ideal world that wouldn’t matter but we aren’t in an ideal world so it can.
        I think that if you are dressing more ‘masculine’ then you should be sure that your clothing is, for lack of a better phrase, within one standard deviation of the mean. So wear a more masculine style suit but in a more traditional color or cut. Or, depending on the level of formality in your job, put together a conservative professional outfit and replace 1/2 pieces with items that make you more comfortable, whatever those may be. FWIW, in my (admittedly male dominated) internship company this summer I saw women who never wore skirts or dresses so wearing pants 100% won’t necessarily put you outside the norm, and I never wear makeup or put more than 5 minutes of effort into my hairstyle and I would not consider myself masculine on any scale. YMMV with your industry and company of course.

  41. Maya Elena*

    Eh, some of these thinfs were probably in the (flouted) high school dress code as well, although who knows.
    Interestingly enough, my experience has always been that somen’s dresscodes outside of suoer conservatibe offices allow a lot more latitude than men’s dress codes.

    Of course, that makes it easier for the men – nothing confusing about “Khakis and a button-down. No sneakers.” But it also means that for women, there are plenty of affordable and creative options for all but the most restictive dress codes.

  42. Mab*

    I disagree about the pictures in a guide. Every time I’ve seen a pictorial guide to office dress, it’s embarrassingly out of style, stodgy and at least marginally sexist. So much more about women’s dress is “police-able.” More description of ‘professional’ as a concept is what’s needed, not a pinterest board.

    1. Annie*

      “Professional” means something different in a bank or a law firm than it does in a laboratory than it does in a hospital than it does in a day care center. I think pictures can really help!

      1. tagalong*

        They would need to be inclusive of various body shapes and ethnicities represented in the pictures. There are many, many things that those who like to police appearances find “inappropriate” only when they see it on a women with curves or a tall woman or a woman of color. In my opinion, this is unreasonable.

        1. Annie*

          Yes, I completely agree. Different body types should be shown in the photos. I’m a large chested woman myself and button-down blouses are not my friends!

  43. Lauren*

    Who chose that picture ???? Couldn’t it be a kid in jeans vs women in bathing suits? This choice in stock photography is disgusting.

      1. Lauren*

        No, the choosing bikini pics vs. ones that relate to the article. No one was showing up to work in bathing suits at this OPs job so why choose that picture over one that talks to what was actually worn such as short skirts or tank tops. There is no reason to go to the extreme of a photo, that in itself is sexist and implies that this is what the OP is dealing with.

  44. Annie*

    I agree with Allison – You need to give the interns a really clear set of guidelines on day 1 (or before!) on appropriate attire for your company and suggested stores where they can purchase these outfits (with different price ranges so everyone can find a professional outfit they can afford). “Professional attire” can vary so much, even within the same field. I also like the idea of a pinterest board or printouts with examples of 10 professional outfits and 10 “not acceptable” – Shirt too sheer, visible tattoos, skirts to short, whatever is not ok at your office. Pictures really help!

  45. Dust Bunny*

    Explaining dress code is part of teaching them. You don’t have to be mean about it, but you also don’t have to be squeamish. No, they don’t know. They’re young and they haven’t worked in your discipline before, and if they’re getting their cues from TV-character “professionals”, it’s no wonder they’re going wrong. Think every lawyer and detective who has the top three buttons of her blouse open.

    But they’re also not children. They can handle this. When I was in high school, we had a dress code that was in the handbook that every student got at the beginning of the school year, and it was short, sweet, clear, and non-negotiable. But I don’t know why you’re tiptoeing around this instead of making a list of requirements and making sure they have it in hand.

    1. Annie*

      Oh yes, I remember when I was in high school and watching “Ally McBeal.” Female lawyers with micro-mini skirts and male lawyers with a “waddle” fetish.

  46. Erika*

    One thing I’ve done before when explaining dress code (specifically for a company photoshoot) was find or create Pinterest boards with a few visual examples demonstrating appropriate dress. This allows you to include a variety of body types and styles that all still show a range of appropriate dress within your workplace.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is a good point. If you do make a slideshow or a pinterest board, try to make an effort to have a lot of diverse examples!

  47. Shawn Cullen*

    I had a lovely, now deceased neighbor who, as a young woman in the 1930s, worked at Chase Manhattan Bank’s headquarters in Manhattan. If a female employ did not wear gloves to work, winter or summer, she was sent home. Ditto for hats. And, of course, they all had to wear stockings, no bare legs ever.

    1. On Fire*

      I adore hats and would love for them to come back into vogue. On the other hand, I think the inventor of stockings should be tarred and feathered, drawn and quartered and then dipped into a vat of boiling oil. :-)

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Hell, I worked in a DC office in the 90s where women who wore pants were considered bold!

    3. nnn*

      Did they expect them to wear the hat and gloves while working? Or was it just very important to them that employees walked into the building while wearing a hat and gloves?

      1. Shawn Cullen*

        I think they had to wear them to and from the office. Even being spotted on the ferry from NJ without a hat would get you a “talking to”. Every time I watch an old movie where all the women are wearing hats, I think of this lady.

  48. LeisureSuitLarry*

    I’ll preface this by saying that no company I’ve ever been at has had any kind of “Intern Orientation” that I’m aware of. The poor kids are just thrown into their new department home for the next three months like bait being thrown out to the sharks. But shouldn’t there be one? I mean, just about every job I’ve had has had an “Employee Orientation” where they go over things like dress code and company norms, but none of the interns were ever invited to those sessions. Frankly, given how many interns have had to be walked through things I think are simple – I’m looking at you intern that doesn’t know Excel and Word – is it a huge surprise that they don’t know how to dress properly for the environment? Take a half day and give them everything they ever need to know about working in an office/professional environment: from dress code to eating smelly food at your desk. You won’t be losing that much productivity out of them, and it’s still a really valuable piece of their education.

  49. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

    My very first fellowship out of college had bi-weekly “Intern Info” sessions where the HR manager led seminars for the most junior employees on things like appropriate dress code for our industry, how to update your resume post-fellowship, where to find full-time jobs and even things like what to do if your apartment is terrible or unsafe- as I’ve been in the working world longer, I’ve always wished more companies would do something like that. It was an hour every other week for full-time employees, but it was really useful life and work skills that helped immensely later on.
    LW; if you could institute something like that- it might also help your company not have to deal with case-by-case dress code issues if it’s addressed once as a group.

    1. Manager-at-Large*

      I was sure that I posted here suggesting this same approach – HR holding weekly “here’s how work works” for dress codes, culture, meeting etiquette, phone ettiquette, use of IM (here at XY corp), email best practices (here at XY corp), recognizing and avoiding harassment, using a common kitchen – so many things.

  50. Amber Rose*

    No advice, just sad face. I wish people would understand that weird hair colors and shirts without buttons are not inherently unprofessional.

    Especially since on me, a button down shirt is extremely unprofessional. They don’t make ’em for the busty ladies, and my buttons always pop off or the shirt has weird gaps. I had a sun dress with some buttons on it once and the buttons held, but the seams split. :(

    Anyways, I’m dying my hair purple this coming weekend because I work somewhere where the dress code is just “nothing that could get tangled in power tools.” And that’s good enough for me.

    1. (Different) Rebecca*

      My advice (if you want it, if not, ignore) for button downs: Buy a large sized fitted (with gussets) button down ladies shirt. PIN/SEW/SNAP THE ASS OUT OF THE FRONT up to the third button from the top. Layer over a tasteful and supportive tank top over a substantial bra. And there you have it! No gap, no worry about spilling out, and very professional.

      1. Amber Rose*

        This rests on the assumption that I have sewing skills. But in reality, there’s a scar on my boob where I once embedded a sewing needle trying to repair some pants.

        Everyone always tells me to just make my own clothes or adjust clothes. It’s just not plausible for someone like me. These skills are not taught and trying to self teach leads to horrible injury.

          1. blackcat*

            Have you ever had one of those pop open? On your boob?

            I have. I no longer recommend placing sharp objects on boobs.

            (I sew snaps onto some stuff, which helps a great deal. I have moderate sewing skills, but insufficient time.)

        1. Allie Oops*

          Amber Rose, I am busty and sew snaps in between my buttons. If that isn’t in your skill set, may I suggest fashion tape? It’s double-sided, and you can put it between the fabric plackets or between your skin and the shirt–whichever works best. It’s the kind of thing Hollywood uses for red carpet gowns. It’s a PITA to use daily, but if you really want to wear a buttondown every now and then, it may do the trick.

    2. Purple Jello*

      Hi Amber Rose, I feel your pain. The best way for busty women to wear button down shirts is to make them yourself: you put a button right at the largest part of your bust then space the others out evenly. (i.e. don’t follow the pattern for button placement.) This puts a button where you most need it and avoids weird gaps. It also assumes your size doesn’t change much, which is not always the case.

      Like you, I don’t sew. I can do buttons, but this method assumes you’re sewing the whole shirt.

      1. Anonish*

        Think it would work to sew down the front of a shirt that fits nicely and install a side zip? That would eliminate the gap issue.

    3. AW*

      I was, very briefly, excited to see some button down shirts in Lane Bryant that had extra, hidden buttons between the regular buttons. “Oh, this will keep the shirt closed! This is excellent!”

      Except they only had them in one spot.

      And that spot didn’t cover my bust.

      An excellent idea poorly executed. I was so disappointed. I’d love to be able to wear a button down shirt but manufacturers have decided not to make them for folks at my size with my proportions.

      1. ACS*

        I have several buttondowns with hidden snaps that I bought from New York & Company. It wasn’t this year, but the style may be classic enough that they still carry them.

      2. VermiciousKnit*

        For awhile, Target had a line of button-downs with spandex poplin. It was stretchy enough that I just sewed the whole button placket closed and pulled the shirt on over my head. It was the only time I ever wore button downs that were not totally indecent.

  51. Manager-at-Large*

    I wonder if this sort of thing exists:
    If a company has many interns, have an HR career advisor position. Not full-time, but someone to meet with the interns, 1:1 or group, to talk about professional norms, dress, expectations of using brain and not just the handbook and so forth. Maybe even once a week for the first couple of months or a quarter. Include how to receive feedback, what to do if it seems like your work is boring, what professional norms are for conduct, harassment rcognition and prevention, what a performance review is like and how it is different than getting a grade in a course and so forth. It seems like a lot is put on managers to do this training when it is hard enough to train and manage the tasks of the internship itself.
    Do any companies do this?

  52. Michelle*

    We had a female employee show up in a shirt that… well the only way I can describe it was like a long tube-top that had tiny pieces of cloth attached that I think were supposed to be sleeves. (I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be one of the popular “cold shoulder” tops) She also had a couple of large tattoos* that were showing. Both of those are against our dress code and her dept. director had actually gone over the dress code 3 days before she wore the shirt. According to the dress code rules, she should have been sent home to change. Her direct manager was going to wait until she left the day (the manager was leaving early), then call back and tell the employee that she could not wear that shirt anymore and according to our dress code policy, “any and all tattoos must be covered”. The manager lets her 2 full-time employees act as team leads, so one of those people told her that waiting until she left and calling back was cowardly and unprofessional, so she (the team lead) went to the employee and told her. They didn’t send her home, but boy was she mad that she couldn’t wear a popular style of shirt to work.

    We are employed by a museum and the shirt girl works the front line. Honestly, she knew better, especially as the dress code had been discussed 3 days before because several of the front line staff members were getting borderline with some of their attire. I guess she wanted to push the issue and see if she could get by with it and she did not.

    * I have no problem with tattoos at all. Our dress code states that all tattoos must be covered and tattoos on the face, neck and hands may disqualify you from employment.

  53. AnnaleighUK*

    This is timely, because my housemate is writing a program for 16 to 24 year olds in schools and colleges to show them what’s appropriate for the office and what isn’t. She’s a stylist so she has the edgy fashion smarts but she also was a corporate type for eleven years so she knows what flies and what doesn’t. And her company that she worked for was like mega London City business strict about their dress code. I’m going to show her this – she would find it interesting.

    I have to say that I think the US and UK have slightly different business dress codes, and from what you guys are saying, we are luckier here with shops that do work-appropriate clothes in all sizes. Here, shops like Next and New Look are reasonably priced and pretty reliable for getting work wear. Also we have a brand called Pepperberry that my housemate swears by for shirts cut properly for ladies who are curvy up top but small of waist. They cut by ‘curve’ and have three levels of curve from curvy to ultra-curvy (I think – I am not blessed so have never shopped there).

    We also got work-appropriate dress drilled into us in sixth form at school. But it was a Catholic school so everything was already conservative. I think it actually helped me when I finally got to the world of work. Schools and colleges should be teaching this, in my view.

    1. blackcat*

      Once I am done (or nearly done) with grad school and am interviewing for jobs, I plan to get a Pepperberry shirt or two. I’ve been coveting them from afar for years. Unfortunately shirt + shipping (to US) is out of my budget for now.

      All of my bras come from the UK, too, but from websites that don’t charge extra to ship to the US and have a means of returning them at a reasonable rate. I have no idea why American companies aren’t as sensible as British ones when it comes to accommodating women’s bodies.

      1. virago*

        I live in the US and have had good luck with dresses and T-shirts (both short- and long-sleeved) from the English website of the Polish brand Urkye. Their tailored shirts also get good reviews, though I haven’t tried them yet myself.

        Urkye’s offerings are sized by bust and waist like Bravissimo, but they’re cheaper and the styles seem more up to date without being over-trendy. Plus the owner, Ula, is great about getting back to me when I email her with a question about which size to buy.

        (I’m circling back to my comment last night on Bravissimo; in addition to having a US website, they also plan to open a brick-and-mortar East Coast store next year. Also: In the US, they’re apparently marketing their clothing brand as Bravissimo rather than Pepperberry.)

    2. Nico m*

      I think my conservative school uniform was harmful for later work.

      Ive never really shaken off the feeling “suit = school uniform = schoolboy” .

    3. virago*

      Pepperberry used to be the name for the house brand of clothing at Bravissimo; now Bravissimo call their house-brand apparel “Bravissimo” as well.
      (I hope that made sense! I spent several moments composing it in my head.)
      Anyway, as someone who wears a 32G bra and has had trouble finding office-appropriate apparel (i.e., neither body-con nor tentlike), I’ve been meaning to check out Bravissimo. They’re now marketing to US as well as UK customers, which means no more costly returns. :)

  54. MsMaryMary*

    Flouting the dress code in high school makes you cool, at least within your peer group. My high school had a uniform, and it was almost a game to tip toe to the very edge of the dress code to see how much you could get away with (they revised the dress code the year after I graduated and I could identify which rules were inspired by specific classmates). Sometimes young people need to be told that the same is not true in the workplace. Antagonizing your boss is not a game, and pushing the dress code is not going to inspire admiration.

    1. seejay*

      Totally. I went to an all-girls Catholic highschool and it’s part and parcel of teenage rebellion to try to find ways to push the dresscode, plus find ways to be an individual. It might not be *right* but it’s what teenagers do. We did things like short socks instead of knee socks, embroidery on the collars of our blouses, black sneakers or docs instead of dress shoes (the handbook said “black shoes”, it didn’t specify what *type* of shoes!) and some girls started rolling their skirts up at the waist to make them shorter. I even got away with a non-uniform sweater over my blouse, arguing that I was cold, having to go between buildings. We drove the teachers nuts and I know some of them would just roll their eyes and not say anything unless it was really egregious.

      It might be cute/quaint as a 14 year old, not-so-much as a 24 year old and you look like you’re going to the club.

    2. Sparkly Librarian*

      Someone I knew in high school inspired the addition of “no bathrobes” to his school’s dress code.

  55. kb*

    This letter intrigues me because I was pretty certain intentional thong-showing was more of an aughts thing. Maybe people younger than I have already cycled back to it, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t even a young people fashion-thing these days. High waisted pants and skirts have been in (which I like!).

    If it’s an intentional thing where their midriff and underwear are plainly visible in normal standing and seated positions, it’s more baffling as to why they’re doing it, but easier to address.

    If the situation is that their underwear can be seen while, like, crouching or in odd positions, that’s a wardrobe malfunction and should be handled more delicately. Long women’s shirts that will stay tucked can be hard to find, especially in the lower price range. Also, pant waist-gapping is an issue that often has to be solved by tailoring, which is something interns likely are not used to doing or may not have accounted for in their clothing budgets. One issue I found when trying to buy business-wear on an intern’s budget is that H&M, Forever 21, and other fast fashion places do have work-wear, but a lot of it does not fit well. Often pieces will look fine and professional on a very thin model, but they will be all wrong on someone with a different build. Obviously clothes that don’t show underwear are a necessity for most workplaces and ultimately has to be figured out, but I have a lot of sympathy for young people in the process.

  56. zsuzsanna*

    Oh, another intern dress question! I think the reason some of us react so strongly is that it’s not about dress codes per se, or someone’s financial ability to dress appropriately, etc. It’s something many of us see among many young people, the attitude that the world should accommodate them instead of the reverse. Not saying we should;t try to change the world when it’s bad, mind you. BUT – this defiant ides that thins who I am, this is how I dress, and it interferes with my self-expression to dress otherwise – it’s very self-centered and unprofessional.
    I work on Capitol Hill, where there was recently a kerfuffle over a complete,y misleading web piece on how the current Speaker was refusing to allow women to wear sleeveless dresses in the Capitol – the piece made it sound like some conservative oppression of women. Well, the dress code is for the Speaker’s Lobby only – not the whole Capitol – and goes back the several decades I have worked there. It’s not Speaker-specific. It’s much more onerous for men, who must wear coats and ties, so I hardly see it as singling out women.
    It’s not that sleeveless dresses are inherently unprofessional, but (as this letter indicates) we have to evaluate the standard differently for each office. A lawyer might wear a sleeveless dress to work, for example, but not in court. I see (mostly young) women on the Hill in dresses and skirts that look like something you’d wear to a club. Some of ti is way too sexy for any office work. Or, colored jeans and sandals. Nope, not appropriate. For a casual office or on casual Friday, maybe, but not in the US Capitol.
    When I was a young reporter, I bought my cheap suits (or skirts and blouses) from TJ Maxx and I’m sure I didn’t look well-dressed in the classic sense. But I looked professional and appropriate. I knew what I wore to work was about WORK, not about me and how I wanted to present my personality, fashion sense or sexuality.

    1. Justin*

      I agree with you.

      Women and POCs (and I’m one of the latter) certainly have it harder in many ways. But I had to learn professional dress and attire over the years after a boss called me out. And she wasn’t really wrong to do so, because I didn’t know.

  57. EddieSherbert*

    I’d also add that if you are not going to send people home, maybe have the “your outfit is inappropriate” conversation towards the end of their shift – I’d feel really really self-conscious and awkward being told my outfit was inappropriate and then having to stay, knowing everyone else is thinking that (or feeling like they are thinking that)!

  58. ACS*

    Also an important part of teaching the dress code to interns: be specific about which parts of it do and don’t apply to them. For example:

    “You may see some full-time employees wearing jeans on Fridays. This is part of our charity initiative, and anyone doing so has agreed to donate $50 a month from their paycheck to the United Way. This will not apply to you. Do not wear jeans.”

    “Those of you working in the customer service facility will be subject to our standard dress code, outlined in document X. Those of you working in the manufacturing facility will be subject to our enhanced safety dress code, outlined in document Y. Note that document Y is stricter, and includes covered legs and closed-toe shoes at all times.”

    1. Kyrielle*

      Oh, yes! And – probably not in this office, but in some – mention exceptions. “You may see Fergus and a few others wearing clothes that don’t conform to the dress code as tightly as I suggest. They have been with the company for a long time, are highly valued, and have the political capital to do this without being viewed badly. At this stage of your career, you don’t; don’t copy them.”

  59. Bex*

    Back in the dark ages I interned for a summer at the US HQ for a super conservative Japanese company. Not only were jackets required, but also pantyhose, heels, etc. On my first day, one of the women pulled me aside and let me know that they had a few things for me. They knew that college students didn’t usually have a ton of blazers and pencil skirts, so they had all collected a few things they’d been planning to donate and gave them to me as a “starter pack.” All the items were a little outdated and definitely weren’t high fashion, but they were 100% appropriate and they fit decently and they were free, and that was good enough for me!

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That sounds really nice, but what if they gave you a ton of things in the wrong size? That would be my only concern. But I do think that’s a very kind gesture for an intern who is likely nervous and eager to make a good impression. Thinking a little further… even if the sizes are wrong, it’s always nice to have a shopping template in those situations.

      1. Bex*

        I’d met a couple of them when I came in for the interview, so they had a general idea. And a few of the things were definitely a little too big, but still worked. I don’t think it would work for every office and every intern, but it’s probably worth considering in some cases!

      1. Bex*

        It really was! It’s been almost 20 years and I still remember it. And I actually just realized that I still have one of the jackets/blazers! It’s a gorgeous open front cream blazer… it used to be a bit oversized, and now it’s a bit snug, but it’s made it through so many moves and closet purges.

  60. Purple Jello*

    Dress code “do’s and don’ts” descriptions should definitely be part of orientation.

    I found that I have to explain things like “the company provides complementary coffee and tea, but if you empty a pot, you need to make more. Any other food or drink belongs to someone, whether or not it is labeled. Also, we have a dishwasher you should place your dishes in and then run it or wash your dishes by hand. The cleaning people do not do dishes.”

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’d say that the food and drink belonging to someone part is pretty obvious but the rest is stuff that new employees really can’t know if you don’t tell them. Just like dress code “do’s and don’ts”.

      1. HannahS*

        If you’ve never worked in an office, your parents don’t work in an office, then you wouldn’t necessarily know. Obviously someone’s boxed lunch belongs to them, but coffee/tea on the counter, milk and creamer in the fridge next to…a carton of orange juice and a bottle of ketchup. That’s so nice! The company provides beverages and condiments!

  61. yet another Kat*

    It seems like in the future this can be best addressed by simply reviewing the dress code during intern orientation and giving examples of what is and is not acceptable. However, to reiterate some points above, it might be good to first review the dress code and make 100% sure that it isn’t discriminating by gender, body type, race, or religion – many, many “professional” dress codes really are.

    Fun story: I once had an internship at a quarterly magazine that was under the umbrella of a monthly magazine. Both magazines had a very young and urban demographic and most employees dressed in a not very professional manner. Being 19, I dressed probably even less professionally. Since I was the only intern at the quarterly, I never got an orientation, but was legally required to attend the official intern orientation that was actually on my last day (the timing was shifted due to quarterly vs monthly). Cue me in shorts and a tanktop in a conference room of besuited interns listening to a breakdown of the dress-code no one had ever shared with me.

  62. Landshark*

    Just going to devil’s advocate a bit here, and please don’t take this as a slight to your company or its policies, OP, but please do realize that, especially for women, who may not necessarily have as many dress button-down blouses because there’s a very wide variety of blouses in women’s dress fashion, they may not have as much clothing that matches your dress code in their closets. This shouldn’t excuse them from the dress code, but I think it might be nice to include this information in the application material or in the offer for internships so that your interns know to get something that fits the dress code before the internship starts. That way, they can self-select out, discuss any potential issues with it with you ahead of time (real issues such as needing to wear a brace that might look weird, a foot injury that might prevent dress shoes, etc., not “I don’t wanna” issues), or have a chance to go clothes shopping for appropriate clothes before you have to have these conversations. Just a thought, since I know that, through college, I think I had one suit, and it was a dress suit, not a button-down pantsuit. It might cut down on some of this, though I don’t know if anything could dissuade Mr. Swear-Word-In-The-Hair.

  63. LizM*

    If you do pictures, please make sure there is a diversity of body types. As a plus sized woman, a lot of styles that are appropriate for slimmer women would not work for me at all. Don’t assume that plus sized individuals will know how to translate standard sized professionalism into something that works for their body (or that that’s even available, especially at an intern’s price point).

    1. Anonish*

      Yes! I’m thinking about skirts, button-front shirts, hose, spanx, and realizing I haven’t tucked in a blouse or shirt in about 17 years! Nor do I own anything that would meet this dress code

  64. kindnessisitsownreward*

    I work in HR and recruit our summer interns. I get really specific. We have an orientation for all our interns at one time. I have a fashion show with men and women showing appropriate and inappropriate attire and why it’s appropriate or not. I suggest they send me photos of the clothes they plan to wear on day one if they aren’t sure.

    Some of them give me a little incredulous look when I suggest going to a consignment store or to Target to buy clothes, but I explain it by saying that this is a corporate uniform. Don’t spend more than you have to on a uniform. Simple basics from the Thrift shop or Target (or H and M) work just fine and you can save your wardrobe money for clothes you want to wear, not clothes you have to wear.

    We also have places where they can change when they leave work so they can wear whatever they want to on the way home. They are required to arrive in their work clothes, but they don’t have to leave in them.

  65. Non-profiteer*

    Count me as officially UNINTERESTED in any job that requires me to wear a button down shirt every day. There are other tops women can wear under suit jackets that are equally as professional, and we have these things called boobs that make button downs unflattering or unworkable for some of us.

  66. Sonya*

    Christ. When I was a mere work experience girl at the Magistrate’s Court in tenth grade (in 2004, at 16. Years. Old.) I knew how to dress. Sure, it was Kmart brand but I had a vest with shirtsleeves and collar attached, a couple of pencil skirts just above the knee, a pair of conservative black block-heel Mary Janes, and tights or pantyhose. Not terribly difficult for me to comprehend as a teenager, really quite worried about what this generation is coming to.

    1. Kickin' Crab*

      I don’t think it’s a generational thing. I am a little older than you (I was 16 years old in 2001, so you do the math), and while I mostly did dress professionally for high school internships in govt offices, my sense of “professional” was still kind of in flux. I vividly remember my dad refusing to drive me to work one morning until I had changed out of my brand-new, first paycheck skirt … which hit mid thigh when I sat down to breakfast and had a sheer lace overlay. He wouldn’t have said a thing if I’d been wearing it to go to the movies or even to school, but he knew, way better than I did at the time, that it was not appropriate for the Capitol Building, and he was able to tell me so because he was my dad.

      No one is born knowing what conservative professional attire looks like, and like all other parts of being an adult, you learn by having people around you, like parents or supervisors, willing to have slightly awkward conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. Kudos to the OP for being willing to be that person in these kids’ lives.

      1. Sonya*

        My point is that I didn’t need help to know what was appropriate.

        But I also wore a uniform and attended a private school, and we had a few pre-work experience intro sessions which kind of covered these topics.

        1. Kelly L.*

          So, in other words, you had help. You were taught that, in school, by teachers.

          And your vest outfit wouldn’t fly at this workplace, either. It’s stricter than that.

          1. Sonya*

            Actually, on second thought, I didn’t need that training session at all. I already knew what would be acceptable to wear to a law court through sheer common sense.

            Kelly L., why wouldn’t a vest and collared shirt combo with a pencil skirt be acceptable corporate attire? Or black trousers and a blouse or collared shirt? With a matching blazer? It was good enough for the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and Victoria Legal Aid.

            I work in a bank now and the standard of corporate dress hasn’t changed in twelve years. I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

            The point is, I think the interns are just plain ignorant and there are eighty-four thousand other young people more deserving of the opportunity to shine.

            Corporate attire is not news to anyone in a Western society. Parents, teachers, other adults in different professions – these youths, somewhere, somehow, have seen what corporate attire looks like. Solicitors coming out of court on news reports. Professionals giving expert opinions on a matter on some current affairs show. Their paediatrician or general practitioner. Mad Men episodes. Law & Order episodes. Boston Legal episodes. The Practice episodes. House episodes. Scandal episodes. They’re so in tune with pop culture, it shouldn’t be news! Good grief.

            1. AW*

              You’re making several bad assumptions here.

              1) That all/most young people watch shows like Law & Order where there are characters in conservative business dress. There are way too many entertainment options out there to make this assumption.

              2) That all/most young people *don’t* watch any shows where the characters in conservative jobs are wearing clothes that wouldn’t fly in a conservative office in real life.

              3) That all/most young people aren’t seeing professionals in real life in casual clothing.

              4) That all/most young people aren’t getting conflicting or incorrect information about what’s considered business appropriate clothing. (Please see the comments about what retailers claim is business attire.)

              You can’t expect people to learn things via osmosis and also expect to get perfect and consistent results. It’s not fair to accuse someone of not having common sense just because their teachers wore polos, they read their news instead of watching it, and they prefer anime and Let’s Plays to legal and medical dramas.

              1. Sonya*

                I stand by my conclusion that these interns are ignorant and other young people deserve the chance they are getting and my mind will not be changed on that. Every day people of all walks of life from all sorts of economic backgrounds manage to dress themselves appropriately and corporate attire is not a new concept. In my opinion, this is in the same vein as using some sort of medical condition as an excuse for poor behaviour.

                1. Gov Worker*

                  I very much agree with everything Sonya is saying.

                  I never had to have help to understand what was appropriate and what wasn’t. I learnt from watching people around me.

                  I think it really is about mentality. Some have common sense and some don’t

                  Simple as.

                2. AW*

                  Every day people of all walks of life from all sorts of economic backgrounds manage to dress themselves appropriately…

                  Sure, because it was explained to them. I fail to see the problem with teaching people the behavior you expect from them. We do it with any other rule of etiquette or cultural norms and this is no different.

                3. Susana*

                  I agree, Sonya. I mean, within reason. Yes, perhaps it needs to be spelled out explicitly the first day, what is appropriate and what isn’t. But some of this is intuitive, and I wonder about someone who can’t (or won’t) come even close to wearing something professional. A visible thong? On what planet is that work-wear (unless your work is streetwalker)? It’s like those who excuse sexual harassment by saying there had been no or inadequate training – if you need to be “trained” not to call women the c-word or said/done other things we’ve all read on this blog, training isn’t your problem, and someone else should have your job.

                4. neeko*

                  Yeah! They are terrible! Throw ’em by the wayside because they haven’t learned yet! That is they way people really learn! *eyeroll*

                5. Candi*

                  I only know because in senior year of high school they sat our butts down in class and spent the period instructing us on what to wear for business, and to always err conservative if we weren’t sure. And that was only the FBLA members. (You had to be a member of FBLA if you took computer or business classes.)

                  My dad? Military, retired military, worked jobs that required a uniform (security) or a uniform shirt with specifically spelled out requirements for pants, shoes, etc. Only time I saw him in a tie and button up/down was for interviews and church, and in a suit was for weddings and funerals.

                  Mother? She was a library technician. Her stuff was what is now high-end business casual for customer-facing, high to low casual for backroom work depending on the system she was working for. We also did not agree AT ALL on colors, patterns, fabrics… you name it. (I do not do ruffles.) And weirdly enough, even though we both have brown hair (hers dark, mine light) similar height and skin tone, and enough similarity in our faces that people can tell we’re related… I look awful in what looks good on her. Go figure.

                  The school class and one workshop I attended at an FBLA event were the only grounding I received before entering the work world. Fortunately, it was good, solid instruction that would still work well in most conservative to high-business-casual workplaces.

            2. Kelly L.*

              The vest outfit wouldn’t work because OP’s work requires a suit.

              And some of what’s worn on those shows isn’t actually right either.

            3. aebhel*

              Well, if you read this thread, you’ll see plenty of people who had a very steep learning curve on corporate attire, plenty of whom are older than you, so it clearly isn’t as obvious as you seem to think.

              I went to a low income public school. None of the adults I knew wore business formal attire, ever. Sure, I’d probably seen it on TV, but that doesn’t really translate into knowing how to put together a professional wardrobe. None of this was obvious to me when I was a college student; a lot of it still isn’t, and I’m 32.

              Also, internships are supposed to teach people professional norms. That’s the whole point.

    2. KR*

      Honestly I can see your point that some of these interns aren’t using common sense and context clues. The point needs to be made though that some of us started out ignorant. I didn’t use common sense when I first started working about dress code and I had mentors have conversations with me about how they wanted me to dress for work and I had to learn the hard way sometimes about how my clothes can make an impression to other people. My work style is still evolving as I grow and learn how to dress my body type and curate my own interpretation of “business casual”. Everyone has to learn somewhere and I think if someone is an intern supervisor or generally employs entry level people, they have to be prepared and willing to have a clear discussion on dress code and their expectations about workplace attire. Not everyone is just going to “know” – some people are going to start out “ignorant”.

  67. kikke*

    We teach the “ID Card” method in middle school on how to check if your outfit is appropriate for any situation.
    After showing some pictures that give the general look you’re going for (i.e. full business, business casual, casual-casual) and introducing the general rules of requirement (ex: no jeans, yes tie, etc.) have student stand up and get out their ID card.
    Place the card along the top on your collar bone. If your shirt collar comes down further than the length of the short edge, chances are someone standing while you’re sitting can see straight down your shirt. Button ups on either gender should not be unbuttoned below this line.
    Hold the ID card to the should seam of your shirt. You need a sleeve at least as long as the short edge. Or, you may wear sleeveless, but the straps need to be as wide as the short edge of the ID card, and paired with a jacket or sweater which should be worn when away from your desk.
    Sit down. If you’re wearing pants, place the card longways against your Achilles tendon. The hem of your pants should not be higher than the length of the long edge from the bottom of your shoe. If you’re in a skirt, it should not be shorter than the long edge from the knee when seated, with a kick or split no longer than the long edge.
    Belt buckles, tie knots, and watches should be smaller than the short edge squared. Necklace pendants or beads smaller than the ID picture.
    Raise one arm. Run the edge of the card along the top of your waist band outside of your clothes, all the way around. If you hit skin at any time, you need a new shirt.
    Slide the ID card under the fabric. If you can see an outline of any pictures or wording on the card, the fabric is sheer and should be considered invisible when making the assessment. If all four edges of the card are sharply defined and standing out, and the card does not move at all even if you jump or twist, the piece of clothing is probably too tight. If placing the card at your waist repeats the result, it is definitely too tight.
    Run the corner of the card across your eyebrows. Any hair it touches needs to be pulled out of your face.
    Any logos, words, pictures, or initials should be smaller than the picture section on the ID and contain no profanity.
    The only other rules are 1) do not wear a single pattern or color from head to toe and 2) clothing should be clean, unstained, and without accidental or purposeful holes.

    1. Kyrielle*

      This is kind of neat, probably too much for some environments, but still very very clear.

      However, the eyebrows one got me. I was baffled and sputtering, until on I think the third re-read, you mean hair like head-hair, as in ‘get your bangs away from your eyes’. I thought you were saying to run the card across your eyebrows and then pluck anything it touched, and I was wondering how that didn’t leave everyone with no eyebrows. ;)

    2. Candi*

      This sounds like a version of the four finger rule, but with solid measurements. A bit much for some folks, but very clear.

      Four finger rule, shorthand for part of the dress code at the middle school my kids went to. Clothing on the leg (yes, they phrased it that way), could not be more than four fingers above the knee, when the little finger was resting against the top of the joint, just above the knee cap. Collars could not be lower than four fingers below the collarbone when the index finger was just below the bone. Sleeves must be four fingers long when the index finger is touching the top of the joint and the little finger is touching the hem. (In practice, no armpits or straps showing was fine.)

      Other rules: No underwear showing. (There’s a story still going around that bras, boxers, and such were added after the rules lawyers tried ‘well, you didn’t say that specifically!’ Backed up by their parents!)

      No see through clothing. Thin fabric, loose weave, knitted/crocheted, nope.

      No flip flops or open backed sandals -basically, anything that could get lost by a hurrying student moving across linoleum flooring. Closed toe shoes in all science labs and classrooms, on the principle it’s easier to remember all rooms are included.

      The funny part is the rule book officially says no unnatural hair colors, and limits makeup colors. The school went with “if it’s not distracting, we don’t care.” The principal at the time (he got promoted! Yay!) specifically said in orientation, “We have other things to worry about.”

      My favorite part was how gender neutral the whole thing was. Although it’s interesting that when the call went out every year for older students to model ”don’t where this” for the incoming students, more girls responded, every time.

  68. Christine*

    I’m coming to this conversation late. But I think it’s too much to expect college students to wear suits during an internship. It’s too expensive, both the clothing and maintaining them. I nice pair of slacks or pencil shirt with a button up shirt for the women, nice slacks, shirt and tie for the men. I would forget about requiring a jacket as part of the daily wear unless they are meeting with clients.

  69. Christine*

    Why don’t employers just require a particular attire, like a uniform for interns? Say black or khaki slacks/skirt and white blouses/shirts. You have them dressing professionally, within a narrow scope. They can observe what the permanent employees are wearing.

  70. Lauz*

    When I started my first job, a short session was added into the first day of induction. The trainer put the dress code up on a whiteboard and we had a discussion about what kinds of clothes would be acceptable at this work-place and what wouldn’t.

    The trainer then went round the group and confirmed for each person whether what they were wearing was unacceptable. Most were (day 1, everyone dressed to impress), but where there were any issues the trainer didn’t send them home, just recommended that tomorrow they wore a button-down shirt, a longer skirt, etc.

    Looking at this now, it does seem infantilising, but back then, just out of university, starting my first professional job, it was reassuring to know the rules, and gave me the confidence to spend my first pay packet on expanding my work wardrobe with clothes I knew would be acceptable.

  71. KikiD*

    Part of the orientation that military members go through before beginning an assignment at the White House is a full day workshop on appropriate attire. They have a consultant come in and hand out printed guidelines, she does a presentation with loads of photos (both acceptable and non-acceptable clothing and grooming) and she brings examples of men’s and women’s suits and accessories.

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