I wore a suit for 3 months. Not a bathing suit, not a body suit, a button down shirt and blazer ensemble that could only be described as “western business attire”. Terrible, right? I was interning in the U.S Senate, a place where legislature and good fashion go to die, and those three words were my dress code.
All jokes aside, it wasn’t that bad. Stifling, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. I know how to dress up, and I’ve worn some crazy looks- dresses over shorts, two skirts at once, a prom dress in the middle of November- but it takes a certain kind of confidence to wear a suit. You’re always buttoning and re-buttoning, adjusting your pants, or pulling up a sock. It’s exhausting.
Dressing professionally is hard. It requires a certain level of investment into good clothing, and a willingness to dress monotonously. And working in a place where most people wear ill fitting and uninteresting (though incredibly expensive) suits stifles any creative dressing urge. To fit in, you have to look put together, but not like you tried. It’s the ultimate French girl paradox, except the goal isn’t to look Parisian but to look like you belong on C-Span.
Throughout my internship, and with a good deal of trial and error, I uncovered a few fashion gems, and a few tricks. Read on for a few, and be sure to let me know what you think!
- It doesn’t really matter. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. I spent hours agonizing over my work wardrobe. Did I have enough blazers? Were my shoes too fun? Should I bother with pantyhose? In the end, how I was dressed wasn’t super important. For most of the day, I sat in a cubicle and absolutely no one saw if my pants matched my jacket. The quote “If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable” seems to be the header on everyone’s fashion moodboard.
- But dressing well can help. On the last day of my internship, I got a compliment from the senator I was interning from (and she asked where my blazer was from). It was tiny, but that little recognition that I was dressing well was something other people did notice. Plus, enclothed cognition is a thing.
- You don’t need a lot. If you’re working as a staffer or as an intern, a blazer is a must. You have to wear a blazer on the Senate floor, even if you’re a baby. I had one black fitted blazer, and one grey herringbone oversized one. That was plenty. Nobody cared if I rewore them, and the two allowed me to play with proportions and have different looks. Most people in the office would take off their blazer once they were in (there are actually special cabinets meant to hang jackets). Plus, on days when the senate is out of session, staffers all wear jeans and no blazer is necessary. When the cats are away, the mice decide to stage a fashion coup.
- Bags also don’t matter. Some interns carry backpacks (if you’re a staffer, this is something I would not do. It makes you look like an intern). Most male staffers carry an atrocious black messenger bag. A leather or canvas tote works well.
- When in doubt, a suit is the best way to go. The dress code for my office was not too tight and not too short. I had no idea what this really meant- who’s to decide? Lots of women in the office wore pencil skirts, but I don’t love that look on me, so I stuck to trousers, a button down, and a blazer. It was very Hillary, very Annie Hall, very Miranda. It made me feel cool.
- Buy quality, but don’t spend a lot. I got most of my pieces from Everlane (with an employee discount), Aritzia (on sale) or in vintage shops. It’s important to get pieces that look nice, and will be comfortable enough to wear for eight hours while sitting in a dinky office chair, but there’s no need to get a $200 blazer. I scored a couple of higher end pieces while thrifting, but places like Everlane, Aritzia, Uniqlo and the Gap have great workwear for not a lot of money.
- Don’t let the bad suits get to you. Sometimes it was all too much for me, and I would have to put on my bright red heels and look at pictures of Nancy Pelosi rocking an orange suit.
Thoughts? Feel like strutting your stuff in a suit? Let me know in the comments!