Deliver the assessment this way, she said: "You are a valued member of our team, but I need to tell you that your outfits are not in line with our company policy. I am telling you this because you have such great potential, and I want you to succeed."

Young people are often taking their fashion cues from their peers and not looking to the people who could be mentoring them.

"And I honestly believe in working with these college students," said Everding. "They are so hungry for guidance, and the more you give them, the more they appreciate it. But they won't go looking for it for themselves, it seems."

Think of it as a financial decision, said Gould. "If someone told you that you could command a higher salary or get promoted by dressing a certain way, would you do it?"

Lanzoni emailed a supervisor at National Geographic and asked what was appropriate workplace attire, but she was still nervous her first week.

"I was actually the most conservative of anyone," she said. So she loosened up a bit, wearing the occasional long skirts and neck scarves.

But never, ever flip-flops at the office.

"I leave my flats at my desk and I walk home in my flip-flops," she said. "I don't think my feet would make it any other way."

Sartorial smarts

We tapped experts and our own observations for workplace fashion tips for interns and college graduates. Better to go conservative until you know the culture:

• No flip-flops. Ever. No Tevas. No strappy sandals and no toe or ankle jewelry. For women: No open-toed shoes unless you have a good pedicure.

• The less skin the better. Skirts to the knee. Nothing sleeveless without a cardigan or a jacket. No cleavage. "Modest is hottest," said Callista Gould of the Culture and Manners Institute. "Dress so people respect you, not inspect you."

• No sundresses, tube tops or bare midriffs. Nothing too tight or form fitting.

• Not everyone has to wear a charcoal suit. Lighter versions of gray, blue and taupe are fine. "Let your personality do the shining," says Callista Gould. "Don't let your clothes shout you down."

• If you must have brighter colors, make sure the clothes are very traditional cuts. And pair strong color blocks with a neutral color. Don't wear them together.

• Piercings anywhere but the ears of women should be removed and tattoos hidden.

• Jewelry should be simple and traditional.

• Save the golf shirts for the golf course, the tennis shoes for the tennis and basketball courts, and the Hawaiian shirts for the beach.

• Shorts, even paired with a suit jacket, come up short in the workplace.

• Fine-gauge T-shirts under a suit jacket can be acceptable for men, but no V-necks. Chest hair on men can be a turn-off in the workplace. And nothing with slogans or ads.

• And everybody: Save the neon colors for the disco.