WASHINGTON – One piece of advice sticks out in Meghin Moore’s mind from her internship orientation, and the 21-year-old recites it easily: “A dress code is the law, you must always obey it.”
Moore is one of the 20 interns at WTOP this summer, and the dress code she follows is likely less strict than others in the D.C. area. But even at a radio station, Moore can’t wear flip-flops, tank-tops or T-shirts. And Moore knows this because the station gave her a list of what not to wear before she started work on Tuesday.
“I had to go shopping for work clothes,” Moore says. “So my mom and I were like, ‘OK, I need business casual clothes.’ That was done over the weekend.”
But not all D.C. interns get explicit instructions on what to wear and how to act at their summer places of oft-unpaid employment. And with an estimated 40,000 interns descending on the city every June, the potential is high for cautionary tales.
“There are probably some kids at Penn State who would wear a midriff top,” jokes Moore, who attends the school in Happy Valley, Pa.
Emily Sobel is a slightly different story. WTOP is the 19-year-old’s second internship, and she wears clothes she either already had or that her mother bought for her.
“My mom is really into buying me work clothes,” Sobel says.
But despite her comfortable wardrobe, Sobel was a little nervous when she started work on Monday.
“It’s a little awkward. You don’t really know how to act or how people are going to act around the interns,” she says.
The answer to both concerns – what to wear and how to act – is easier than one might think.
“Number one, they want to mimic the style and dress of whatever office they’re working for,” says Patricia Rossi, a business etiquette coach.
“If you’re in doubt, always kick it up a couple notches – not down.”
Rossi emphasizes that interns should be noticed for their ability and expertise, not what they wear.
“We’re judged before we even open our mouth. We’re judged from the head to toe,” Rossi says.
“You want to go ahead and invest in a nice suit, you want to fit in.”
If you’re not sure what other people at the company will be wearing, Rossi says, “Google, Google, Google.”
“Google everyone in the company. Google any social functions that might have come up that have some pictures. That way you can see what other people are wearing.”
Sue Rushkowski, human resources director at WTOP, says the most important thing is that interns dress in a respectful manner, meaning they should cover up.
“All of our people are at the top of their game, and you want their endorsement. It’s very important. Dressing inappropriately can impede your success,” Rushkowski says.
She also says no one needs to spend a fortune. A few new purchases can mix with some items already in the closet and make for a nice summer wardrobe.
Moore spent less than $300 on her new clothes. She got all of her new items at Target, Old Navy and consignment shops, which, according to Rushkowski, are great places to shop for internship clothes.