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Internships can be a great experience, for employers and interns alike. Sometimes, however, the intern-employer relationship can result in friction, when expectations aren’t met or unclear from the start.
Seemingly, that’s what happened to former Vogue intern R.J. Hernández. In the summer of 2011, Hernández was two months into his internship at renowned fashion magazine Vogue, when one day he was asked not to return. According to Hernández, he was fired because the company didn’t appreciate the clothes he wore to work, including his high-heeled shoes.
Commenting on his dismissal to Human Resources magazine, the former intern said: “It was difficult at first to grasp that employees in the offices of magazines dedicated to fashion risk-taking are not fashion risk-takers themselves, and in fact, obey an unspoken code of relatively conservative dress”.
He continued that he had wrongly assumed that freedom of self-expression would be a cornerstone virtue of work environments like Vogue, but it wasn’t.
“It was naive, but where else would one expect to dress up if not working at a fashion magazine? That was my thinking at the time, and the source of the conflict–I just didn’t understand why I should dress like I was going to work at a bank if in fact I was working at a famous fashion magazine”, he said.
Although Hernández emphasises that the main reason for his dismissal wasn’t explicitly the heels, he feels that they were the final straw.
“I started wearing women’s shoes—chunky heeled boots with a pointed toe. That, I’m sure, was the moment I crossed the line—although I had no idea until it was too late”, he previously wrote in a Paris Review piece.
Being fired over his shoes was only part of the disillusioning experience Hernández had interning at Vogue, which he has based his recently released novel on.
Employers who would like to prevent similar situations might want to take some time to clearly explain the office culture and dress code before the start of an internship. Be aware that new interns could assume that a company’s office culture is just as daring or innovative as its reputation, even when it isn’t.
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