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Internship in DC… How to dress?

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    Internship in DC… How to dress?

    Hey all,

    I got accepted to an internship with the Department of State this summer in DC, which means ten 40 hour weeks in DC in the dead of summer starting at the end of May. My dress code is "Please dress to convey professionalism, competence, and respect," which research has shown means coat and tie every day.

    What I've got now is a good selection of dress shirts, a dark charcoal suit (think 80-85% black if you were color picking on a computer) and a navy blazer. What I need is help from you all on what I need to complete the wardrobe. I know for sure this will include pants (I've got a navy and a gray pair of slacks, but could use more) and shoes, probably another suit and who knows what else.

    I'm looking for versatility above all else, and am willing to invest in a couple of pieces (out of everything I get) since I haven't grown substantially in the last 5 years or so.

    Any ideas on what would be appropriate or good to get?

    PS: Also, I'm going to school near Austin, TX, for anyone that has tailor/store recs. Thanks!


    You're in a pretty good position already, with a charcoal suit and a navy blazer - two staples of professional menswear. They are neutral enough that, with a good rotation of shirts and ties, the fact that you're wearing the same suit and blazer all the time won't jump out at people.

    If I were you, I'd seriously consider investing in a navy or mid-grey suit to throw in the mix. A second blazer would probably be a good idea, as well - perhaps something slightly more casual and summery, like cotton or a silk/wool blend. If you plan to work in DC as a career, these investments will pay off in the long run.

    You'll want a handful of nice wool dress slacks in colors that will complement your blazer(s). A few pairs of pressed cotton chinos, too.

    As far as shoes go, a pair of black plain-toe or cap-toe oxfords (no brogueing) and a pair of brown cap-toe or wingtip oxfords or bluchers (brogueing optional) should be a pretty safe basis. In any case, you will want at least two pairs of dress shoes (so you can rotate through them and keep them dry), at least one of them should be black and fairly conservative.

    I don't know what you know about garment care, but you can extend the life of your stuff if you care for it properly. If you wear your suit and blazer a few times a week each, I'd recommend having them steamed and pressed every two weeks or so. This will keep them fresh and wrinkle-free, but is cheaper and not nearly as damaging as dry-cleaning. You will only want to have them dry-cleaned in the event that you actually get them dirty with a spill or a stain. You may even want to buy your own steamer to help relax any wrinkles that develop in the intervening period.

    When you take off your suit/blazer at the end of the day, make sure you give it a good brush-down with a garment brush (a shoe brush can work fine for this) and hang it up properly. Rotate through your shoes, giving them at least a day to air out. Cedar shoe trees are great for maintaining shoe shape and absorbing moisture, but if you don't have any, stuffing some newspaper into your shoes can keep them dry and shapely, as well.

    Congrats on your internship and good luck!




      I dont live in DC, but visit on occassion. I really love the city. Its very young and active. People tend to go out to the bar for happy hour after work, then during the evening there are a bunch of fun sports leagues that play on the lawns. People tend to be in good shape, lots of people running, cycling, etc... Its a wonderful place.

      As for attire, I notice everyone being fairly well dressed, suit and tie, but it didnt seem to be too dark and formal. People tended to wear lighter colours (light gray suits being the most popular). It also gets realllly hot there in the summer. So cotton/linen suits will be a big plus.

      Overall, the city had more of a bright youthful feel to it, and it was certainly not a sea of dark navy and charcoal suits like our financial district is here in Toronto. I can only help you this much having never actually lived or worked there, but make the most of your time there, it is one of my favourite cities to spend some time in.



        For tailors in Austin, I had a pretty decent experience with Ace Tailors (their Lamar location, right next to the Tavern and Austin Land & Cattle, although apparently they just opened a new location on South Lamar, too). They were pretty quick on a few suits I had done during school.



          Hola, kent! Are you a native Texan or a transplant? Either way, you're a lucky guy. :-)

          Now... I'm assuming you're ready for the cash-outlay this will involve? An additional suit plus shoes isn't cheap. :-S

          FWIW, I do recommend having two suits. If you're suiting up on a daily basis, having a second suit will instantly double the number of suit/shirt/tie combos you can pull off. If you're getting a second suit, though, definitely go navy. No need for another grey suit. Also, I don't know how heavy your existing suit is, but DC can be downright miserable in summer. It doesn't get scorching hot like Texas (unless you're in a heat wave), but the humidity is killer. So with that in mind, keep an eye out for lighter cloth. Some people call them "tropical wool". Others call them "summer weight wool". Either way, make sure it's wool. Cotton and linen are great summer materials, but they're mroe casual.

          As for pants, refer to the above. You'll want summer weight wool pants. Though to be honest, I'm not sure what you would be wearing navy or charcoal pants with if all you have is the navy blazer. So if you're going to expand your pant collection, consider a light grey or tan. Synthetic materials will be cheaper (and are marginally more acceptable than synthetic suits), but you won't enjoy your day when you soak your undies on your way to the office because of the heat.

          As for the shoes, a single pair of simple, dark brown shoes will work for either suit. It's the ultimate for versatility, and probably where you should considered focusing some substantial effort. Staunch shoe fanatics will tell you that you need at least two pairs so you don't prematurely wear one out, but if you're on a budget, don't beat yourself up over one pair of go-to dress shoes (but do buy some $13 shoe trees to minimize premature aging). You can always buy more than one pair, but don't go cheap on the first pair in order to do it. More than anything, I see undergrads and full-time grad students suiting up with CRAP shoes, and yes... It's obvious to the naked eye. If you feel the need to expand your shoe collection on a shoestring budget, spend sonme honest money on the first pair and go cheap on the second one. That way you have at least one that doesn't suck.

          I notice you didn't mention owning any ties. If you're starting from scratch, thrift stores are a fine place to start. the going rate for thrift store ties is about $2. Nobody is going to flip your tie over to see the name on it so just pick something that works for you. Dark colors in solids or simple patterns (dots and stripes) are safest unless you find out otherwise when you get there. Do make sure they're silk, though. If you can find enough that you like at thrift store prices, I personally don't think there's any harm in buying 10+ ties. If you're forced to go the retail route, though, I would still not have less than 5 of them. If you ahve to go retail, check out places like Marshalls where you can find ties in the $10-12 range. Also, if you can just borrow ties for a few months from dad/uncles/friends, that'll save some money for other parts of the wardrobe.

          I also didn't see any mention of belts. If you don't already own a suit-worthy belt, you may want to cosider getting one. If you only want to buy one, make sure it reasonably matches the color of your good shoes. If you can find one that's reversible, you can get two belts for the price of one. More than novelty or convenience, a reversible belt is a real deal if you can find one that suits your needs.

          Lastly, I have a friend in consulting who has been on a DC government contract for a while. He says that they definitely wear their suits up there, but the federal "lifers" apparently aren't afraid of a little panache. I would suggest starting out conservatively, but perhaps also keep in mind different ways to liven it up. For instance, my friend said bow ties were making a real comeback up there. if you save a bit of your budget until you get there, you can adjust your wardrobe to compensate for whatever it is you might be missing. (Of course, make sure other people are doing it first. Don't be the trend setter. Wait til you're the boss to do that.)

          Final thoughts:

          1.)Don't try to wear the navy blazer you already have with your existing navy pants. They don't combine to form a navy suit. :-)

          2.) If you find that the place is casual enough to wear the navy blazer, it should also be casual enough to wear some khaki chinos with that blazer. If cotton pants are pushing it (highly unlikely if you can wear a blazer), you can still wear light grey or khaki dress pants with it.

          I probably forgot something, but my fingers hurt from all the typing... :-P



            Kentb, congrats on your internship. I've been in DC my whole life so I think I can offer some insight.

            For an internship at a Federal department you will be fine with shirt and tie and khakis or slacks, and will probably out dress most of your fellow interns.

            But of course you're here because you have an interest in style and dressing well, so I would echo what BenR said above. Get at least a navy or lighter grey suit and a good pair of dark shoes. I've found cheap clothes look fine if they fit well but cheap shoes can be spotted a mile away. Splurge now on a quality pair and you'll have them at least 15 years if you take care of them.

            You'll also want to keep in conservative since your biggest task is to impress those above you who can help get you a job when you graduate.

            So best of luck. I'd be happy to show you around and tell you where the best watering holes are if you want.

            Dress for style, live for results.



              I'm going to have to disagree with BenR about makign the first pair of dress shoes black. You won't be able to wear them with a navy suit. Dark brown, however, would work with both a charcoal and a navy suit.



                Alan I can attest. Bowties are making a huge comeback here! This guy probably deserves some credit!

                Dress for style, live for results.



                  Alan, black dress shoes are the traditional pairing for a navy suit. Brown shoes are a newer, more fashion-forward choice.



                    @ Alan - Not sure why you think black shoes don't work with a navy suit. If anything, brown shoes are a little risque with a navy suit, as they can look pretty fashion-forward. Black shoes with a navy suit is a pretty traditional, conservative look.

                    Black shoes aren't that exciting but they can be paired with virtually any suit that isn't brown or tan. And a brown or tan suit is more of a 5th or 6th suit, not a suit staple for a young professional.

                    Esquire seems to agree:




                      @bruschetta: I know, but if nobody is doing it, do you want to be the only one that is? I DO see it sometimes, but not nearly as often as the brown.

                      And it only strikes me as fashion-forward when the brown is too light. I picture something darker than the brown shoe in the illustration.

                      EDIT: GQ says we're both right. :-)




                        I work in DC (though not on the hill).

                        Biggest mistakes I see interns/young people wearing:

                        - suits that are way too big

                        - really ugly shoes

                        - black pants/etc

                        For some reason in this city it seems like almost everyone is very conservative and wears black shoes. Buy yourself a pair of AE Park Avenues in black and a pair of AE Fifth avenues in brown and that should cover you for a while.

                        Are you required to wear a suit to work or no? It's not really clear from your OP.

                        If not, I'd stick with just a few basic pairs of pants (mid grey, navy, brown) and plenty of basic dress shirts (white, light blue, and then textured versions such as twill or end on end. add a few with checks. not generally a big fan of stripes).

                        As others have mentioned, it gets TERRIBLY humid here, since DC was built on a swamp. If you have to wear suits, it may be worth investing in at least one lightweight cotton or linen suit for the worst days.



                          Alan, am I right in remembering that you're in the south? kentb's internship is in DC. The east coast is more traditional. Black shoes are the norm.



                            bruschetta: Yes, I am. Fair enough. Point taken.



                              First, congratulations!

                              I'm new to this stuff, but why not try something like a navy seersucker? I've heard they're really cool, and a navy suit would be a great addition to your wardrobe. Here's one from bonobos:

                              And from what I can tell, there's no way you'll be overdressed wearing a suit at govt position in DC. The better you dress, the better impression you'll give off.

                              As for ties, I'd say anything with more than 3 main colors is out of the question. I personally love purple, it goes great with a charcoal suit. It's conservative yet exciting. Black is also a very conservative choice.