My Real-Life Devil Wears Prada Moment
Like any starry-eyed college student, I had big dreams, and they came in the form of career strides.
Summer was coming, which meant I needed to find an internship — a standard I had set for myself every June. My mom had been subscribing to this women’s health magazine for years, and, I, too, had fallen in love with its trendy tips over the years. Why not write for them? Sky’s the limit, right?
Dreaming of city lights and becoming an expert health reporter, my aspirational 20-year-old self did a little digging. I managed to find a contact email for the publication and casually reached out to the national magazine inquiring about internship opportunities, fully expecting zero replies. Magazine internships are hard to come by with so many young Carrie Bradshaws in the world, not to mention the (unrealistic) qualifications. Usually, you are met with a disappointing automated response. So, when my inbox pinged, I didn’t expect a human being on the other end.
“Thank you for reaching out, but we don’t do internships,” the magazine’s HR woman responded. I bravely asked her if they would ever consider one. From there, my perseverance passed me along the editorial chain three times until I reached the top of the ladder: the editor in chief.
I’m smart, I learn fast, and I will work very hard.
When applying for an internship at a national magazine, editorial experience is usually crucial, whether that be through your college newspaper or previous internships. I was wrapping up my sophomore year and had less than two years of the very basic, core journalism classes behind me — and virtually no experience apart from a summer internship at a television news station the year before. And broadcast journalism is a very different world from editorial. I didn’t have much to stand on.
So in true Andy Sachs fashion, Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, I pleaded my case to the apprehensive top dog, stating that I was “smart, learned fast, and would work very hard.” I’m a Midwest girl after all. I also passionately told her how much I adored the national magazine and dreamed of writing for them someday. All combined, I struck a heartstring of old. As everyone had said, she told me they didn’t take on interns, but my enthusiasm reminded her of her young self and she would consider it. We won’t make any promises, however. I told her I was grateful and excited for the opportunity, to which she shortly responded, “Don’t get too excited.”
Well, at least I tried.
I received a call later that week from their health editor that I was to be their editorial assistant for the summer. Despite the sizable odds, I had done it! I packed my bags full of Forever 21 blazers and business thrift-shop finds for NJ/NYC, equally thrilled and terrified at the new opportunity coming my way. I had never moved to a city where I knew absolutely no one, let alone the Big City. Nor had I ever had this big of an internship. It was something out of the movies. While my confidence at the time beamed in pride at my accomplishment, I couldn’t bury the fear that I would fall flat on my face once I got there.
A million girls would kill for this job.
On my first day, I threw on my best boss-babe business outfit — a black sheer top with a high-waisted skirt — and made my way to the offices that were situated just outside NYC in the very green, wealthier part of New Jersey. The minute I arrived at the grandiose welcome desk of the offices, the reality of the situation set in: I was playing in the big leagues.
My editor met me at the front with a smile, and a quick look up and down. She introduced me to the lovely assistant editor I would be primarily working with to help write blurbs, do research and attend press events. Unlike Andy, my team made me feel extremely welcome — no Chanel boots required.
Shortly after, the queen bee herself strode over to my desk, where my editor quickly jumped up to introduce us. Her confidence resembled that of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, but her manner was much less abrasive. “Welcome,” she said with a smile after my brief introduction. “We’re happy to have you. I’ll be curious to see what you take away during your time here.” And with that, she turned on her heel and headed back to her office. Was that a subtle hint that I might not have what it takes? Or just New York-speak for good luck? I honestly couldn’t tell.
I would spend those eight weeks in the summer navigating the city and the industry and absorbing everything. At times it was truly a dream come true. I attended lavish rooftop brand events in the heart of New York City (complete with amazing gift baskets) and was sent to a women’s conference on the magazine’s dime for those seeking to break into the magazine industry. The experience was fueling my confidence, drive, and guttural need to make it in this industry. Despite the odd looks I received from PR reps from time to time — who were clearly aware I wasn’t from New York City — I started to feel like I truly belonged in this glitzy and glamorous world. And I was soon lost in it.
Other times, I understood the meaning of “all that glitters is not gold.” There were lulls of nothing to do, or simple work that glued my eyes to the clock hands. And the offices always felt tense with productivity. During those eight weeks, my oh-so-elusive EIC remained a mystery to me. She didn’t appear much, but her presence was always felt. When she did emerge, while my peers weren’t quickly switching out their Birkenstocks for Jimmy Choos, I noticed they’d sit a little straighter.
You have no style or sense of fashion.
When my EIC invited me and my team into her office for lunch on my last day, my stomach was in knots. She was in good spirits and we spent a majority of the lunch going over my experience and newfound sense of maturity. Her intimidating manner softened, and she felt more motherly. She told me she admired my drive and how I managed to make the internship happen at all, and that I should stay in touch. Her kind words left me beaming on the inside.
“Oh, and darling,” she started, “You need to learn how to dress and switch up that wardrobe. That’s not what you wear in this industry at all. At. All.”
I felt the color leave my face.
I needed to learn how to dress? Ouch. I had been dressing in business attire this entire time. I had even taken a picture of my outfit on my last day — clearly oblivious to the fact that I was in Emily’s category of “attending a horrible skirt convention.” And she was just now telling me I stuck out like a sore thumb? For a second, all that sense of pride and accomplishment faded away.
Today, I can giggle at that gut-wrenching moment. My EIC and I kept in touch, and after college graduation, I met with her again in her white, picturesque office and received advice that set me on my successful career path today. The more she and I talked, the more I saw her true intentions. She wanted me to succeed, and looking the part, in her eyes, was entwined with success. Despite her blunt approach, she felt it was helpful feedback. New Yorkers. Go figure.
Fashion sense or not, having the sense to know who you are and what you’re capable of always makes a bigger statement.
This post is part of a month-long April CircleAround series, tied to April Fools' Day. We've all made memorable mistakes and embarrassing gaffes that still make us cringe. But what did we learn from those moments of foolishness? We asked writers — and readers — to share stories and advice on what we gained from some of our cringiest memories, and how those became teachable moments. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."