Dressing the Part: Fashion Tips for Lawyers
Dressing smartly can accelerate a lawyer’s success at any stage of their legal career
On TV, lawyers are some of the best dressed people on Earth– but real life doesn’t necessarily mirror that trend. While some lawyers dress extremely well for work, others don’t quite know what to wear– and their lack of legal fashion sense could seriously be holding them back. If you’re an attorney, dressing well isn’t just a good idea; it’s the only way to maximize your chances of career advancement and solidify your reputation as a qualified legal professional.
Offices across America have become more casual, but law firms haven’t (for the most part)
While appropriate office workplace attire has become significantly more casual in the last few decades, in America, law is still an extremely conservative profession. This is especially the case at older and larger firms, which often have a particularly entrenched culture and a unique dress code. Additionally, legal fashion customs vary by region, practice area, and specific firm. For example, employees at a mid-size real estate law firm in Honolulu might wear sandals every day to work, while employees at a NYC criminal law firm don’t go a day without a suit and tie.
As a lawyer, it’s better to overdress than underdress, especially if you’re a young and hungry attorney still trying to prove yourself. While it’s important to dress well every day, displaying good legal fashion sense is especially important for interviews, performance reviews, big meetings, and courtroom appearances.
Women and more experienced lawyers have more fashion options– but greater opportunities for error, too
In the game of legal fashion, women have more options, but more opportunities to mess up– as they can wear both suits, dresses, and skirts. Additionally, more established lawyers, law partners, and solo practitioners have significantly more options than entry level attorneys. However, these more experienced lawyers still need to make sure they don’t sabotage themselves by dressing sloppily. Unlike younger lawyers, senior attorneys and partners may not be fired or reprimanded for not dressing well, but doing so may hinder their career advancement by turning off potential clients and other important decision makers.
Legal fashion for men
While it might sound stale or old-fashioned, the truth is that most entry-level male law associates (especially those at big firms) still need to wear a well-pressed suit and tie pretty much every single day. Legal career experts recommend that first-year law associates stick to a formal dress code (i.e suits), even on birthdays, holidays, casual Fridays and any other time the firm allows employees to dress down.
Since you’ll likely be wearing a suit nearly every day (at least for your first few years as a lawyer) you’ll need to buy quality. That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive, but if you’re not willing to plunk down top dollar for a suit, you’ll probably need to invest a lot more time searching for quality items at a reduced price. It’s a good idea to mostly stick to grays and blues for most of your suits– charcoal is an excellent choice, as it’s subtle, elegant and can seamlessly coordinate with a variety of shirt and tie colors. You may want to have one black suit– but if you do, you’ll need to use it sparingly and make sure to coordinate good corresponding colors for your shirt and tie. Done right, black suits can look elegant and professional– but done wrong and they can look overly flashy or even funerary, both things you’d probably like to avoid.
Wearing a suit also means wearing a tie, and smart attorneys think before deciding which ties to purchase and wear. If you’re a younger lawyer, you’ll likely want to avoid wearing red– it’s a power color and could be viewed as cocky or even aggressive by your senior colleagues. As a junior attorney, you’ll also typically want to avoid bold patterns, printed words or images, and garish colors. Shades of light and dark blue, as well as yellow, are generally safe bets, but you can go with almost any color (other than red) if the tone is somewhat subdued and the pattern is subtle. In comparison, senior attorneys and solo practitioners usually have a lot more leeway when it comes to tie colors and patterns, but they should still be careful not to let them become a distraction.
Legal fashion for women
Much like their male counterparts, many female lawyers may find themselves wearing formal suits during much of the first year or two of their legal career. Female attorneys, however, aren’t limited to pantsuits and dress shirts– especially if they’re more established in their profession, they can branch out to blouses, and even dresses, if they’re business appropriate. In terms of accessories, experienced female attorneys may want to consider pairing dresses with plain or patterned tights, necklaces, and earrings, and footwear including work-appropriate heels, pumps, or flats. For both men and women, watches can be a nice accessory, but they shouldn’t be too flashy or distracting.
Practicing good legal fashion can help attorneys avoid getting attention for all the wrong reasons
Law, as previously mentioned, is somewhat unique in its continued formality despite decades of increasingly casual workplace dress policies. That means that for lawyers, it’s better to risk blending in than to stand out for the wrong reasons. Part of this is because of the important and sensitive nature of legal work. Lawyers are expected to be calm and professional while guiding their clients through a variety of stressful situations– so they need to be mindful to keep everyone’s focus on helping the client, not on their attention-getting sartorial choices. Bad, strange, or outlandish outfits can detract from a lawyer’s appearance and professional reputation, making them appear less dependable and trustworthy– especially in the courtroom.
No matter what, make sure your clothes are reasonably new (i.e. not overly worn or distressed), clean, and well-pressed, ironed, or dry-cleaned on a regular basis. Many attorneys have all work clothes dry cleaned to ensure a professional appearance at all times– and this isn’t a bad idea, if you can afford it.
Good legal fashion sense isn’t rocket science, but it can help propel your career in the right direction
Having good fashion as a lawyer isn’t rocket science; all it takes is common-sense and a little effort. Surprisingly, however, many lawyers of all genders, ages, and types just don’t “get it” — often harming their career in the process. Like everything else you do, you want your clothes to make a statement. If you make sure they’re saying the right things, you’re in the clear.
To learn more career advice and tips for attorneys of all ages, as well as our law practice management strategies, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.