Holiday Gift Guide: What to Get Overworked (and Underpaid) Interns

Washington is a city built on the labor of 20-somethings and recent college grads. Here, some gifts that are nicer than what they might buy themselves.

All product images from retailers.

Every summer, spring, and fall, young people descend on the Capitol to work long hours for low or often no pay for Senators, newsrooms and nonprofits. Beyond a living wage and benefits, what can you get someone in this position? Get them something nicer than what they could buy themselves. From ways to consume caffeine to comfy but work-appropriate shoes, we asked junior staffers both past and present what items they got that made them smile, then added some picks of our own.

French Press

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Nothing gets you off to a roaring start like a cup of good coffee. French presses are compact, portable and idiot-proof, so even the inexperienced can make a good cup of Joe. If you’re shopping for an espresso drinker, try the classic Bialetti Moka pot.

Bodum Brazil 8-Cup French Press Coffeemaker, $19.99

Bialetti Moka Express 1-Cup, $24.99  

An Insulated Water Bottle

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Nothing accentuates the swampiness of a DC summer more than packing a dozen blazer-clad bodies into a tiny elevator or a stuffy hallway. Give the person you’re gifting the sweet relief of hydration with an insulated water bottle that will keep their drink icy and can double as a cocktail or wine receptacle after hours. Also, deodorant.

Hydro Flask 24 oz. Standard Mouth Insulated water bottle, $34.95

S’well 17 oz. insulated water bottle, $35

Comfortable, Work-Appropriate Shoes

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A day in the life of a Senate staffer usually doesn’t involve a lot of downtime, so comfy shoes are essential. Washington is a walkable city that moves fast, so you never know when you might need to break into a sprint (remember Cassie Semyon, the NBC intern who sprinted out of Paul Manafort‘s trial and lit up Twitter?). Make like an Instagram influencer and snag a pair of comfy (and machine washable) All Birds for the commute and running around the Senate basement. A classic pair of baby heels from Sézane, a chic online boutique based in Paris, help make any outfit a little dressier. January in Washington isn’t a joke, but a pair of stylish boots will keep feet warm and dry. Classic dress shoes from Steve Madden get a cool twist with multicolored leather.

Sézane “Helena babies” heels, $195-$205

Steve Madden “Dirk Tan Leather,” $129.95

All Birds Women’s Wool Runners, $95

The Rail “Tempe Chukka Boot,” $54


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A crowded row house can get smelly fast, and what better way is there to unwind from a long day than to light a candle? This one from Capri Blue (left) has a whopping 85 hour burn time and comes in a beautiful mercury glass jar that’ll spruce up any English basement or shared-living situation. A soy-based candle from hip California favorite PF Candle Co. comes in a reusable amber apothecary jar and a fresh scent.

Capri Blue Iridescent Jar Candle in Volcano, $30 for 19 oz

PF Candle Co. Standard Soy Candle in Amber & Moss, $18 for 7.2 oz

Classpass subscription

The hustle and bustle of Washington can be a lot sometimes. Give the gift of a relaxing work out with a Class Pass membership and get your entry-level staffer into classes at studios all over Washington. After a frustrating day on the Hill they can center themselves with a yoga class at Yoga Del Soul or take out their anger at in a boxing class from Nuboxx.

Classpass, $49 a month for 27 credits, about 3 or 4 classes.

Rent the Runway Subscription

Your giftee might be called upon to attend a work party or dinner at the boss’s house, and floor-length gowns aren’t easy to find in a pinch. When something from H&M just won’t suffice, a Rent the Runway subscription comes in handy. Stop by the store in Georgetown or use the website and pull four items per month from the company’s extensive closet of designer gowns, dresses, suits and accessories. Free two-day shipping and dry cleaning take the hassle out of the equation.

Rent the Runway Unlimited Subscription, $159 per month

Business Cards

Networking is what Washington runs on, so don’t leave your newb hanging when someone asks for their information.

Vistaprint business cards, starting from $16 for 100 standard 3.5″ x 2″ cards

A Sturdy Journal

Help your staffer or intern keep track of their days on the Hill with a solid journal that they’ll keep forever. We like how this desert inspired, handcrafted leather journal from Jenni Bick comes in a variety of colors. Get it embossed with their initials or name to make it really special.

Jenni Bick Joshua Tree Leather Journal, $36-46, embossing $15 per line

A Grown-Up Bag


Nothing says newbie louder than a ratty old backpack. Every staffer needs an everyday bag fit for an adult, just make sure it’s big enough for a laptop and all the work they’ll be bringing home. Splurge on a well-made bag that they’ll have for years and years.

Kate Spade “Hayes Street Nandy,” $298 

Kenneth Cole Reaction “Manhattan Leather Single Gusset Laptop Briefcase,” $129.99 at Macy’s

A Planner

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If your giftee needs a little more structure, these cute planners have helpful grids and sections to keep everything organized.

Moleskine 12-Month Weekly Notebook Planner, from $17.95

Rifle Paper Co. Linen 2019 12-Month Planner, $30 at Anthropologie


Still stumped? When all else fails, gift cards and cash!

Web Producer and Social Media Fellow

Helen joined Washingtonian in January 2018. She studied Journalism and International Relations at the University of Southern California. She recently won an Online News Award for her work on a project about the effects of the Salton Sea, California’s greatest burgeoning environmental disaster, on a Native American tribe whose ancestral lands are on its shores. Before joining the magazine, Helen worked in Memphis covering education for Chalkbeat. Her work has appeared in USA Today, The Desert Sun, Chalkbeat Tennessee, Sunset Magazine, Indiewire, and others.

Adia H. Robinson
Editorial Fellow