Dress for success – it’s not just a cliche
If you are fortunate enough to have landed a great summer gig, as a summer associate intern, or volunteer in your field of interest, you want to make the most of it. The last thing you want is to convey an inappropriate impression of yourself, or to be concentrating more on fitting in than excelling at your assignments.
Even if you have had a career prior to law school or your graduate program, going into a new office environment for a short period of time means two things:
1) you are under a microscope; and
2) you have better things to do than worry about the length of your skirt or color of your dress shirt.
Thankfully, in this post I have teamed up with Shauna C. Bryce, Esq., founder of Bryce Legal, and author of How to Get a Legal Job - a dynamo “recovering attorney” who now focuses on working with legal job seekers on resume writing, job searching, and interviewing techniques. We have combined forces to give you part 1 of a 2 part guide on how to survive your summer associate position, from the fashion perspective anyway. (For tips and techniques for surviving with appropriate behavior, see a recent post from our friends at The Law School Toolbox).
We’re not telling you to become part of the pack or to become materialistic, but if you stand out this summer, you want to stand out for your stellar performance, not be remembered as the guy who wore bright purple shirts, or the girl in the short skirt…earn the respect your deserve.
It’s all common sense, right?
Shauna and I both hear the same questions over and over, when meeting with law students and new professionals. If you have been wondering any of these, don’t feel bad, but keep reading for answers.
Do I have to wear pantyhose?
Why can’t I wear a shorter skirt?
What’s wrong with open-toed shoes and sandals? I got a pedicure!
Do I always have to wear a jacket? I feel so man-ish
Hair up or hair down?
Do I have to wear a tie?
It’s hot outside! If I have to wear a dress short, why can’t it be short sleeved?
No one’s going to notice if I polish my shoes, so why bother?
Colored dress shirts are fashionable, can I wear colored shirts under my suit coat?
Shauna answers some bigger questions I posed to her, to help get your feet wet, and to avoid having to ask these questions to new colleagues:
It’s my first day in a new office – should I err on the side of being overdressed rather than underdressed?
You want to make a good impression on that first day! You’ve probably already visited the employer’s office, so you know what people wear on a daily basis. Although some offices now go business casual in the summer, you still need to figure out exactly what “business causal” means to your new boss(es). Different offices have different policies on this, so be sure you understand exactly what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Also keep in mind that you’ll likely be going through an orientation of some sort. That means taking a tour of the office, meeting department heads and other leaders, and taking your photograph for your office ID. Show you understand and respect the workplace and your employers; show you’re a professional.
I’m not getting paid that much this summer. I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe. How can I stay stylish, without spending thousands on a line-up of new suits?
How many suits and other business casual outfits will depend upon a few things. For example, just how hot does it get where you are? How much do you sweat? How often will you participate in business formal events like going to court or meeting clients?
One way to save money on a new work wardrobe is to keep your suits plain, well tailored, and classic. Your co-workers likely won’t notice if you wear the same black suit with narrow pinstripes every Monday, but they surely will notice if you wear a canary yellow suit every Monday. You can save your fashion statements for less expensive parts of your wardrobe—ties, scarves, barrettes, and fashion jewelry. If you’re lucky enough to have business casual everyday, the same principle still applies. Invest in plain, well tailored, and classic pants, shirts, sweater sets, and shoes.
I don’t think I will be going to court regularly, and am told business casual is acceptable. What does this really mean?
Even if your office has business casual everyday as its standard summer policy, you will still need a suit. There are many times when you’ll need to go back to traditional office wear, including whenever you are representing your employer in public or to the public. Attending court, meeting with clients (whether in your office or in theirs), going to the printers, going to depositions, and visiting other law firms or businesses are all occasions when you need to wear a suit. You may even need to wear a suit to firm outings, unless you have been instructed otherwise. Be ready for last-minute invitations by keeping a complete suit outfit in your office. If a partner stops by and invites you to attend a $100M mediation, you don’t want to have to decline because you’re not appropriately dressed!
And we didn’t forget our answers to the common questions above:
Pantyhose are pretty much a pre-requisite. Take cues from other women in the office, but don’t be the only nude-legged woman in a skirt. And keep an extra pair in your desk drawer and briefcase – you will thank us.
Skirts should at least reach your knee, and stay put when you sit down. Don’t dress to feel frumpy, but make sure you are sitting on your skirt fabric when sitting, not on the chair.
As cute as your toes may be, open toed shoes are less formal than the attire required for most offices. Slip into some wedges or flip-flops after work, but keep it a bit more conservative in the office.
I personally struggled with finding jackets that don’t make me feel like “one of the guys” but modern cuts can be quite flattering, and you should have a jacket on the back of your door at least, if you are starting your day in a cardigan or blouse. Be prepared.
Your hairstyle is within your control, as long as it is neat and doesn’t draw attention. A sleek ponytail can be just as professional as styled curls – be yourself, just your best polished self.
Like a woman’s pantyhose, a necktie is now your best friend, like it or not. Steer towards 100% silk, contemporary ties, in a Windsor knot.
While perhaps appropriate at firm outings, a short-sleeve shirt is just not formal attire for an office.
Supposedly, the first thing people notice about you is your shoes. If this is true, do you want them to think of you as scuffed and word? Maintain your shoes with regular polishings, and mend shoes as needed to keep them looking spiffy.
White, ivory, light gray and neutral colored shirts are safest. When I was a summer associate, a conservative partner (ONLY wore starched, white, monogrammed shirts) called a fellow summer “Batman” after he showed up to work in a dark purple shirt under his suit.
Later this summer we will bring tips on what to wear in specific occasions you may be confronted with during your summer position. Thanks again to Shauna C. Bryce, Esq. for offering her advice!
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