Why dressing appropriately for your internship matters

Making your way into the world of work for the first time is an exciting experience. You have most likely been told to get a nice new suit or ensure that you dress smart to make a good impression on your first day. It’s good advice; dressing appropriately is always advisable but that might not mean what you think.
According to XpertHR’s latest research into dress codes, there is a clear shift from traditional business attire. Of the near 600 businesses they surveyed, three quarters operate a dress code policy. Among those businesses, 40% operate a ‘smart casual’ policy while only 17% require that their employees dress in ‘business attire’. Very few workplaces allow their employees to dress as they please. We spoke with a number of our leading consultants and managers about why it remains important to dress correctly in the workplace.

How and why do dress codes vary by industry?

Some industries do still employ a smart dress code. Consultancy is a sector where businesses need to project a smart, professional appearance. Kyra Cordrey, director at Michael Page Consultancy, Strategy & Change, tells us that in her sector everyone is suited and it is pretty much industry wide. The exception is boutique consultancies where they will mirror the client’s approach. She says it is important to separate work and play; you can tell a lot about someone by the way they dress for different situations.
  • One piece of advice on dressing for work: I always tell candidates to dress as if they care. 
You might have expected that much of the legal profession adhere to a business/professional dress code. This can be the case, especially in top tier practices, but as David Forsdyke, managing director at Michael Page Legal explains, many legal teams and law firms are trying to demonstrate a more flexible approach to the working environment. This is often reflected in a dress code which is smart casual rather than a formal/professional dress code. In the case of in house legal teams in creative industry sectors, such as digital or media, the legal team usually adopts the more casual approach appropriate for that business environment. David notes that while people should judge you on your skills, experience and competencies, human nature is such that judgements are made, rightly or wrongly, on attire and personal presentation. While smart means different things to different people, he suggests that regardless of dress code if you make a real effort, it will be appreciated.
  • One piece of advice on dressing for work: You spend more time in work gear than in casual attire – budget accordingly!
Logistics varies from many working environments in that it is often based around depots, warehouses and transport offices. It is a hands-on environment so formal suits and smart attire are unusual. Ben Lyons, operating director at Michael Page Logistics tells us that even in an industry where formal attire is not the norm, you rarely meet senior level people who are dressed in scruffy and ill-fitting attire. It is important to dress in line with the organisation’s dress code and represent the company correctly. 
  • One piece of advice on dressing for work: Dress for the job you want to be doing! Look at the senior people in your company; how do they dress and present themselves? Follow their lead.
Not every industry subscribes to these traditional dress codes though. Creative sectors such as digital and fashion are much more likely to snub standard dress codes. Katie Self, manager at Michael Page Digital tells us that even in an industry where dress codes are more relaxed, dressing to impress is still important. Your employer may be dress down, super smart, trendy; whatever their dress code, make sure that your attire is relevant and ensure you look like you have made an effort. First impressions count for everything; they linger past the first interview and if you get the position can even last throughout your time with the company.
  • One piece of advice on dressing for work: This is a seriously competitive market; don’t let yourself down by making a simple mistake. 
Fashion is another industry where traditional dress codes are almost non-existent. Nicola Wensley, director at Page Executive is a specialist in the fashion sector and tells us that more often than not the internal dress reflects the company’s product. For example, teams within a high street fashion retailer will be wearing this and next season’s fashion items. In fashion, part of your job can be interfacing externally on a daily basis; PR, industry events, meeting with suppliers etc. Therefore what you wear is important because it demonstrates that you live and breathe the brand.
In the fashion industry, your style is a reflection of taste and particularly if you are in a role that involves making product decisions, it is a key indicator of your ability to perform
  • One piece of advice on dressing for work: First impressions count, so what you will be wearing should play a part of your interview preparation.
One thing is clear, how you dress for your internship is important. Whatever you do, wherever you are placed, your attire is an important part of your identity and a key factor in how you are perceived throughout your internship with a company. Starting with your interview make sure you get it right. For more tips on interview preparation and career guidance visit our career centre.