Everyone always says that you should dress to impress, but in the museum world, this can be a particularly tricky endeavor. The way you dress for your job can depend on where you are geographically, what department you are working in, what type of museum you are at, and what the social climate of your office is. A two piece black suit with white blouse (or shirt, guys) might be completely appropriate in one context and absolutely ridiculous in another. This is a lesson I began learning this past year during my first couple of months in graduate school. The Cooperstown Graduate Program draws in a diverse group of emerging museum professionals from all over the country. Who knew that geography played such a large role in what clothing and fashion choices we make as individuals? Each of my classmates has a different idea of what “professional” dress entails, but we all have one thing in common – we each want to make a good impression while representing our own personal style choices with confidence.
Interns at the Field are no different. I assumed that we would all arrive in HR on day one excited, nervous, and dressed to the nines, but as I looked around the room I knew immediately that I was out of my element. There were a few of us in skirts, a few in dress pants, a few in denim, and even a couple of lab coats! Converse sneakers dominated the scene. Here I was in a blazer and new Ann Taylor blazer and bold colored skirt, ready to take the field by storm and feeling completely absurd. What I didn’t factor in is that the Field Museum is a research institution. A lot of my fellow interns spend time in the building’s basement and science wings working in laboratories and accomplishing tasks that my blazer could never even dream of!
Work attire is a hot button topic on the Emerging Museum Professionals’ Facebook page this afternoon. When do you know if it’s appropriate to wear jeans? How does your status in a museum change the way that you dress? What if you’re climbing ladders, giving speeches, engaging the public, or shelving artifacts? What about if you’re doing all of that, in one day? My biggest conundrum at the Field is how to dress professionally while still reflecting the ideals of the multiple departments that I work in.
For the Education Department tennis shoes are a must. I came in dress pants and pointy-toes flats for my first day of work in the PlayLab and knew that I would never make that mistake again. The dress code is casual – khaki or black pants, closed toed shoes, and a solid color shirt (or dino-print neon concoction!). I need to be able to crawl through a pueblo, sit cross-legged during story time, and run after three year old escape artists!
In the Exhibits Department it’s a different story. The developers that I work with are business casual but trendy, with a bit of edge and have lots of vintage inspired garb. My biggest issue here is that I look very young. My office is filled with 20 and 30-something year-olds and more than a few mature-looking interns. I’m 23 and look like I’m about 16! A few days ago I got mistaken for a high-schooler while in the PlayLab! Thanks a lot converse shoes! I dress up as much as possible while I’m in Exhibits so that I can try to exude a professional nature while still representing my personal style. To tell you the truth, the women in my office are very fashionable and I’m envious of the risks they get to take with clothing. As an intern in a museum that is full of different types of clothing norms, I can only strive to be as professional (and comfortable) as possible. Who knows what tomorrow will bring – am I daring enough to bust out my colored pants?!