Work experience is usually a whole lot of nothing, but it is one of the first opportunities to test your mettle in the adult world. If the prospect of swapping playsuits for work suits terrifies, read on.

Don’t believe the equal opportunities manifesto. What you look like matters – why else would there be a dress code? First impressions count, and decent clothing will a) make you feel sexy and b) make everyone else think you’re professional.

A word to the wise, however. It turns out that when it comes to sophisticated workwear, less is more. Not skinwise – keep skirts knee length, because they’ll actually be thigh high when you’re sitting in an office chair all day anyway. This season’s re-invention of the midi is a blessing, but avoid patterns unless you want to remind new colleagues of Peggy from Mad Men. Ever notice how the higher she rose through the ranks, the better she dressed?

Keep it simple, not skimpy. It may be summer, but chances are your City building will be frostily air conditioned. Uncluttered necklines (if your hair is long enough to interfere with a collar, put it up) are a must.

High heels are one of the evils of patriarchy. I succumbed by buying new wedgy contraptions (they scared me less than towering stilettos) but soon found out that whatever the heel, it’s still hard to keep up with the walking pace of any man in the vicinity. My instep was screaming by 9.30am Monday – suffice to say Tuesday saw their swift replacement with gladiator sandals. Note I said sandals, not pumps.

Don’t even get me started on the trouser suit. Yes, we can equal men in the work place, but it doesn’t mean we have to dress like them. Suits on women? They’re not supposed to work: they’re supposed to make you look like your mum. Avoid at all costs.

Take advantage of the fact that you don’t actually have to adhere to dress codes just yet by wearing colours; bright blouses are perfect smart casual. Nothing says consummate adult woman like sleek, shiny silk – if you can afford it, Paul Smith, and if not, 50% nylon from River Island or Topshop.

If you really, really must do sexy intern, then go for the classic: white blouse, black bra. Preferably sleeveless and with a pussy bow.

Forget the networking, CV points and genuine work experience – one of the most important things you’ll learn from a summer internship is that business attire is not designed for young women. Toeing the line between clothes which suddenly make you age 20 years and clothes which make you look like you’re trying too hard is a job in itself. Good luck.

 

Beth McKernan

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Women are not supposed to be sexy in the work place. This is not what we want our success to be based on. I’m sure you worked very hard, or at least called into play some very impressive Friends in High Places, to get this internship. That being said, I am a choice feminist. And it is my choice to look damn good every damn day.

Fashion does not have to be neglected just because you’re filing. Every major Spring/Summer 2011 trend can be channelled – breasts out or breasts bound, it is entirely possible to put your best fashion foot forward and prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for the working day ahead. For me at least, dressing is the beginning of a psychological journey. One that starts, absolutely petrified – doing a lap of the Circle line rather than getting off and trying to find your office – and ends, pencil skirted – a Real Life Adult.

Summer is all about the colour. All our favourite fashion houses embraced bright hues, from Aquilano.Rimondi to Jil Sander. Professionalism comes from the cut. Straight lines, boxy frames. Avoid frills. They’re distracting, and frankly irritating. This is a trend that requires a bit of drama. Coral ballet flats to act as your ‘colour POP!’ (single most irritating phrase in fashion journalism) is more New! magazine than Numéro. Pink pleated maxi skirt and a crisp white button down shirt. And this way you don’t need to wear heels.

The thing about fashion is that it has a way of fixating, acquiring a bizarre tunnel vision, focusing on one item, in one particular style. This season its objet d’art is the ‘midi’, an affectionate pet name for a skirt that falls just below the knee. You have some leverage here: fit ‘n’ flare, or tight. Fashion is, of course, all about freedom of expression… It is though, perfect for this internship of yours. It shows you are Serious, Conscientious and even Punctual (clothes say so much about a person you see).

And then there’s the trouser suit. The dreaded trouser suit. Polyester from Primark looks horrible on everyone. Honestly, it isn’t just you. Polyester from M&S is also not going to look great. Silk is the Holy Grail. If you’re really made of money go for Derek Lam or 3.1 Phillip Lim – your bum will be forever grateful. Alternatively, stick with Zara. Sleek European women began their relationships with tailored trousers in utero, they know how to do it best.

That all being said. My particular internship has been in one hundred degree heat New York City.

I’m just sweating my way through sack dresses.

 

 Agnes Arnold-Forster