It’s one thing going to an interview in your beaten-up, go-to interview outfit. It’s another thing entirely having to dress for a mini-pupillage, vacation scheme or when you start working full-time. Whatever you do, don’t get complacent with your work-wear. You’ve got to look the part to get taken seriously – there’s no way around it.
Working as a lawyer and wearing professional work-wear isn’t just for ‘posh’ people or Harvey Specter…
We’ve all watched Silk, Suits and The Good Wife. We know the typical image of a lawyer is someone impeccably dressed in the finest suits and shoes and who almost always has a fancy leather briefcase. Every woman is in some kind of stiletto heel and a tailored dress or pencil skirt.
But some of us have never dressed like this before and may be the first person in their family to enter this type of professional/corporate environment. As a consequence, it can project the image that lawyers are only from a certain type of ‘posh’ or privileged background and can put people off from pursuing or working within law entirely.
…and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
The reality is that everyone is on an equal footing when it comes to dress code for work-wear. Who’s going to know where you’re from or what your postcode is when you’re all dressed up equally as smartly? Obviously there will be the few people who flash around their accessories or labels, but when it comes to looking good for a legal workplace, breaking the bank is not a prerequisite. What matters is that you look presentable and serious – and who says that has to cost a fortune?
The Primark work-wear selection is paradise. My trousers in the pictures above are from Primark and the shirt is from Marks and Spencer (number 2 on Blessing’s essential list of places to get affordable work-wear). ASOS is another brilliant place for workwear that doesn’t make you feel frumpy and uncomfortable. They always have brilliant work-wear edits too. For the boys there is an almost endless selection of places you can go to get a suit and accessories. One or two good quality pairs of polished shoes, a suit and a few good quality shirts and ties and that’s a brilliant work wardrobe sorted!
Dressing well doesn’t mean you have to be boring either…
Before my mini-pupillage I asked a friend of mine what I should wear. ‘Dark colours, nothing too bright and try and stick to black and white’ I was told. That’s just what tradition dictated barristers wore and how I should dress too. But I’m just not comfortable if I can’t wear something bright or colourful (note: I currently have red hair). So the biggest challenge for me has been balancing looking smart with avoiding looking boring. I try and mix-match prints, and almost always involve some sort of fun patterns into my work-wear. When I got to my mini I actually saw that the black and white rule wasn’t law (I’m so sorry), and barristers and clerks were wearing arrays of different colours. The point was that they looked smart and well-dressed regardless of what colours or prints they were wearing.
Find your work-wear inspiration!
There are so many places to draw inspiration from when planning your work wardrobe. Fellow Warwick graduate and founder of ‘The Us programme’ Victoria Azubuike recently did a post on her blog The Sister’s Wardrobe called ‘That Intern’ . Here you can find her talking about stylish and appropriate workwear that’s ready for the City. She’s got beautiful pictures of what her and fellow interns were wearing and also tips and advice on how you can dress the part. Follow her on Twitter here: @victoriaazubuike.
Search Instagram for inspiration too. It may not seem immediately obvious to think of being fashionable in the workplace, but if you can come across comfortable and confident with what you wear, it will deliver a really positive message about your personality. Take the time to invest in your style. You wouldn’t show up to a motive looking trash so why not put the same effort into your workwear?
Advice from my mum: Use your work-wear to project the image of yourself that you want the world to see.
My mum (aka my personal hero) is a formidable business woman and attributes at least 40% of her success to how she dresses. She almost always goes to work in impossibly high heels and the most glamorous tailored dresses I’ve ever seen. In short, my mum is iconic and has passed down the importance of dressing well to me.
Whilst I never really cared too much about clothes, she said it can help you feel more confident and ambitious if you are dressed like someone who is confident and ambitious. Makes sense. “Project the image of yourself that you want the world to see” she says.
So ask yourself, do you want to seem as if you’re the kind of person who rocks up looking they put in effort or someone whose choice of dress screams ‘I don’t care’? It’s up to you. It doesn’t take too much time, effort or money to make yourself look professional and like you mean business.
Know yourself…and KNOW YOUR DRESS CODES.
It’s also important to know your audience and know your dress codes! I’ve seen it far too many times. People who show up to black tie events with High Court Judges in jeans and other casual clothes. People who show up to networking events looking like they’re ready to hit the club straight after… I know not everyone cares about what they wear, and not everyone has lived under the puritanism of my mother (she would throw away all offending clothes when I was a kid) but when you’re entering into professional legal environments, you pretty much have to dress to kill. It sets the tone and sets you apart. Ignorance is simply not an excuse.
Before you go to an event check and double check the dress code. If you can, speak to other people who are going and see what they are wearing. Run your outfits past your friends or your mum if you’re brave. But the damage you can do to first impressions if you don’t dress appropriately can be massive. I’ve heard first hand from pupillage recruiters about candidates who haven’t made it to the final stage because they rocked up looking a hot mess. Don’t be that person. When I’m stuck with dress code a quick google does the trick.
Good luck! Turn up, look great and kill it.