Avoid Being a Skintern at Your Summer Internship

What Women Really Think
May 14 2013 5:28 PM

Don’t Be a Skintern. What Not to Wear to Your Summer Internship.

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First day at work!

Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

It’s that time of year, folks. Winter coats are being stored away, blossoms are dappling the trees, and before long, the annual summer parade of skinterns will begin.

Skintern is a term I first heard from a male colleague who disapproved of the yearly ritual of scantily-clad young women showing up to do summer internships at our company. (This was before I started working at Slate.) Every June there would be a new batch, just as clueless about appropriate office attire as those from the year before. Think dresses so clingy they leave nothing to the imagination, tops worn without a bra and tied together with string, daisy dukes, sheer harem pants, and cleavage straight out of a men’s magazine.

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But don’t worry, ladies. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help.

I spent most of my early 20s is a state of panicked confusion about what was appropriate professional attire. And I get that when it comes to office wear, summer is the worst of all: It’s hot outside, you want to look good, and often there’s no clear company dress code. But fear not! Follow the tips below, and I promise you won’t get fired—or the intern equivalent—for your sartorial artlessness. (No luck if you’re terrible at your job, though. The perfect A-line skirt can only do so much.)  

Nothing see-through. No sheer shirts, dresses, or pants. If you are wearing anything that doesn’t block light, you should wear something that fully covers you underneath, like a full slip or cotton tank top.

Your bra and underwear are your business only. When it comes to thongs, lace, and patterns, to each her own. You rock whatever garments make you feel great. However, no one at the office should know anything about your preferences.

Save your skin. Mini-dresses, mini-skirts, short-shorts, halter-tops, and half-shirts should not be worn in a professional setting. (When in doubt, if the article of clothing has a hyphen in it, it is probably off-limits.) More than a hint of cleavage should be avoided—and no bare backs. Showing skin in the office does not make you look sophisticated, it makes you look naked.

Shoe choice matters. I’m less bothered by sneakers and flip flops than laceup, over-the-knee boots and sexy four-inch heels. You may have picked a wonderfully appropriate skirt or dress, so continue the winning streak by saving the glittery platform sandals for another occasion, like pole dancing class.

The shorts conundrum. I am unable to offer you a hard and fast rule about shorts. I wear (appropriate-length) shorts to work. My boss does too, because “What else are you supposed to wear when it’s 90 degrees outside?” Slate’s HR manager, however, says shorts are a no-no—though she would not stage a shorts intervention unless the offending culottes were “distracting.” Since opinions vary, this brings me to my next point.

When in doubt, ask. I hire and manage some interns during the summer, and exactly one intern has asked me what was appropriate to wear to the office—and I respected her for asking. A friendly HR manager, internship coordinator, or person you report to should be happy to give you a few guidelines specific to your office, especially if it means she won’t be getting an eyeful en route to the coffee machine.  

Now that you are armed with this essential knowledge, go forth into the workplace and impress everyone you meet with your hard work and keen intellect. Ladies, I will see you on the other side of the glass ceiling.

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