Welcome to law school! Now, how should you dress?
Don’t worry. It’s completely normal as a 1L to have no idea what you should wear that first day of school, or the days that come after. Keep in mind that while your fashion decisions aren’t the ‘make it or break it’ part of law school, your clothing decisions do have an impact on those around you and their perceptions of you as a professions. Like it or not!
Goldman Sachs recently made headlines by offering its employees the freedom of a new “flexible” dress code in an effort to recognize “the changing nature of workplaces generally in favor of a more casual environment,” as noted by Chief Financial Officer Stephen Scherr in a memo. Although the legal profession is traditionally more conservative with fashion choices, notably due to higher standards required for attorneys and legal professionals that frequently work in and out of a courtroom, the trend is moving towards more casual attire. However, the socially acceptable attire still varies greatly from one practice area to another and from one law office to another, so its worth doing more refined research within your targeted area of law.
Whether its for your own mindset shift, to make a statement with color, or simply reduce the amount of effort you spend getting dress each day, below is some guidance for navigating the sea of fashion options during law school.
During your law school orientation, you will likely be told what you are supposed to wear, as opposed to the freedom to choose for yourself. Most law schools require a suit or similar “business formal” attire during the first few days of orientation. You likely already have this information available in your orientation materials. If you are unsure, don’t ask a 2L or 3L… who knows what they might tell you! Simply email your orientation coordinator or advisor and they’ll help point you in the right direction. Still unsure? It’s orientation, so dress to impress! At a minimum, business casual is the better option.
Invest in at least two suits. Every law student should start their law school career with at least two tailored suits in their arsenal. It’s fairly easy to hit a sales event at the local suit rack store, or somewhere like Banana Republic or H&M. Never pay full price for a suit, and always ensure you have it fitted and tailored for your body. As far as color, go for a traditional black, gray, and/or navy blue. Use accessories to add your own style or personality.
Classes & AROUND THE SCHOOL
Attire during the regular law school season is completely your choice. It’s extremely rare, if not unheard of, for a law school to mandate a specific dress code for the normal school day. We’re all adults, so what else do you expect? Honestly, the best advice is to simply not worry about it and be yourself. If that doesn’t work for you, then continue reading for some ideas.
Casual, yet elevated. Jeans. Button-down shirt. Fitted t-shirt. You are casual and comfortable, but you aren’t concerned if you need to drop by a professor’s office to chat.
Relaxed, workout ready. You were up until 2 a.m. the night before and you aren’t in the mood to think about clothes when you’ve barely managed to get a cup of coffee in your hand. In these circumstances, which will happen, you might end up wearing workout gear (we’re looking at you, yoga pants!) and that’s totally okay. It’s not going to keep you from being a stellar law student.
Business casual, or fail miserably! (no, not really) I’m not advocating for a suit, dress slacks or similar formal business attire become the norm for law school daily wear. However, it might not hurt to dress it up a little beyond what you wore to bed the night before or workout clothes. As you progress into 2L and beyond, it will become likely that you will be commuting directly to an internship or externship following classes. In this case, you will likely be jazzed up a little more than normal, or pack a change of clothes. Most law schools have locker rooms that provide students with the space necessary for wardrobe changes.
If you need help with style, there are great resources available, such as Stitch Fix, that pair you with a personal stylist and take the guesswork out of the entire process. It’s helpful to think about whether or not your outfit choice will result in peers and professors remembering you for your clothes, as opposed to your many other attributes. If you know that you have a scheduled meeting with a professor, administrator, or someone in the career services office, I recommend that you take the time to dress with a little more care that day.
Guests & Special Events
When guests, such as practicing attorneys or judges, come to give a lecture or serve as an adjunct professor, I recommend you rock a business casual look from your wardrobe. These visitors are on campus and the overall experience will likely be a limited view of both yourself and your school. Do you really want them to see students in sweatpants or skin-tight yoga pants? Step it up a notch and make a strong impression that showcases professionalism.
You obviously can’t control those around you, but instead you should focus on your own appearance and your own brand. If jeans and a blazer or a full suit are the norm for the legal area or industry, then dress to match the visitor. You should be planning (in advance) how you will introduce yourself and carry on a conversation with the guest. The same rules apply as when you schedule a coffee meeting! There’s no reason you shouldn’t treat the opportunity to meet the visiting attorney as a networking opportunity. You want to stand out, but not because of what you were wearing.
Let’s be clear… basically, anything goes when it comes to exam time. You are no longer in the routine grind of going to class, reading, going to class, reading, etc. There’s a level of understanding that your focus is on more important thoughts than “What am I going to wear today?”, or even the crazy idea that you’ve had a chance to run a load of laundry or drop off dry cleaning.
During exams, you can get away with sweatpants. You are likely exiling yourself to a quiet corner of the library, or not even leaving your apartment, so the focus shouldn’t be on what you are wearing or why. Instead, take the time to relax and focus on your studies.
Have any questions or comments about law school fashion? Share them in the comments below!