Smart Casual Vs Plain Old Smart: The Intern Shows How Workplace Fashions Have Changed

25 Sep 2015

When you think of an office, the chances are there are one of two images leaping to mind. The first is like Jason Bateman’s office in Horrible Bosses, all suits, ties and spreadsheets. The other is the “cool start-up” — you know, the kind of place where you dart from desk to desk on scooters and everyone wears T-shirts with funny slogans on.

In a lot of ways, it’s a generational gap, as shown in Nancy Meyers’s new film, The Intern.

Suited Up

Robert De Niro The Intern

In The Intern there’s a telling exchange between aging intern Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) and his new boss, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). When Jules tells Ben he’s free to dress down at work he replies, “I’m comfortable in a suit, if it’s okay…"

That’s something you don’t often hear people talk about any more – the idea that in some environments where formal might be more comfortable, as well as making an impression. The generation gap is a strong theme in The Intern, and it’s seen nowhere more clearly than in the contrast between Ben’s style and that of his younger co-workers. As Ben himself says “Why doesn’t anyone tuck anything in anymore?”

Costume designer Jaqueline Demeterio explains that Ben Whittaker’s outfits were chosen with a very deliberate style in mind: “We tested different shirts and suits on Bob and he ended up in a lot of Brooks Brothers and Hickey Freeman. In the film, he wears a lot of blue and grey.”

Ben’s outfit is impeccable, and reflects a man who presents himself well from top to toe.

Talking About My Generation

The Intern

Meanwhile, his younger colleagues are taking a different approach. Their outfits are less formal, more expressive. The Intern is set in a creative industry, and that creativity shines through in the way people express themselves.

Demeterio explains, “The look in the ATF office ranges from young hipsters to chic fashion types.”

She continues, “Their look has a Brooklyn hipster vibe that is mixed with lower end vintage pieces and some higher end pieces from Barneys and Bergdorf.”

It’s a look that is far more casual than the pinstripes-and-braces or bowler-hat-and-umbrella uniforms of previous eras, and it often reflects a more freethinking, expressive and informal way of doing things.

But not everyone agrees that it’s an improvement. As Jules says in The Intern: “How in one generation have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to...” It’s probably for the best she never finishes that sentence.

“Smart” doesn’t mean “Boring”

The Intern

“Casual and expressive” has its place, but it’s also worth remembering that you can express yourself through more formal attire as well. “Smart” doesn’t necessarily mean “conformist”.

Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca is seldom seen without a dinner jacket, but nobody can deny he has a unique style. Throughout The Intern, Ben begins to make an impression on the younger guys in his workplace, driving many of them to ditch the jeans and t-shirt for proper shirts, jackets and ties.

Making an effort also means having a better opportunity to show what you’re made of, whether you’re the head of your own business, or just the intern.

The Intern

Want more from The Intern?

Head over here to check out the live stream of the European Premiere in Leicester Square.
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