This post is for the guys only. (Sorry Ladies… women’s professional fashions are soooo complicated, I wouldn’t know where to begin).
Most of this I learned on my own through trial and error. My purpose for writing this is not to chastise bad fashion choices, but to educate young lawyers like me who don’t know some of this stuff.
Young male lawyers – here are your basics as to how to dress appropriately:
(caveat: different areas have different styles. Your white shoe Manhattan firm might expect something like cuff links - and ironically, would not allow white shoes. Texas firms may like bolo ties. This is speaking from my experience as a midwesterner).
This doesn’t matter much. Keep it neat, even if it is a bit longer. No mohawks or unnatural colors. Keep it clean. Think of your clientele – would they feel comfortable with a lawyer who sports a pony tail or the Jim Halpert shaggy look?
Here’s a hard and fast rule so you’ll never screw up – wear white dress shirts. Only white. You’ll hardly ever go wrong (as long as it’s a decent white dress shirt). What’s a decent white dress shirt? Its threads shouldn’t be visible by anyone who isn’t super close to you. It should be solid enough that people can’t see your chest hair/nipples/tattoos/etc through the shirt. No one wants that.
Buy wrinkle-free. Non-wrinkle-free shirts wrinkle, even if you ironed them that morning. Don’t be wrinkly shirt guy. Iron your wrinkle-free shirt.
Don’t buy cheap shirts. Your $8 Wal-Mart dress shirt will look bad. Your $20 JC Penney dress shirt will look good at first, but after several washes the wrinkle-freeness will become nipple-seethroughness. You don’t want that. Pony up a little bit for, say, the $50 dress shirt. It’ll look better and last longer.
Don’t want to wear white? Go with light, subtle, solid colors. Bright red shirts look bad. Dark blue shirts look bad. There are exceptions to all of this though, but if you have a good enough eye to know what they are, you wouldn’t be listening to me in the first place.
The final possiblity are white shirts with subtle stripes or patterns on them. Some people pull this off, but it has to be the right shirt. Here’s a tip if you really want to rock this look – go to your men’s clothing store, and look at the displays. If it looks great, feel free to go for it.
Wear one. There’s no excuse for buying anything other than matching suits when you’re a young lawyer. I can forgive the old guys who have mustard-colored houndstooth sport coats left over in their closets. Heck, I admire them for apparently staying the same weight since the 1970s. But you’re young. Don’t be that guy.
The exception to the above is owning a navy blazer. This works well if you didn’t wear a matching suit to the office, but you need to go to court unexpectedly. In my parts, it’s acceptable to wear a navy suit and khakis or gray slacks. Keep it in your office.
As for suits, go solid or pinstripe, but stay neutral. No green, unless you’ve won the masters. No light blue. No red, unless you’re a blood… and if you are, you should know there may well be crips at any major courthouse. I’d avoid it anyway. Stick with shades of gray (especially dark grey). Browns are ok for some people. Pinstripes should be small – do not look like you’re in the mafia.
Your suit doesn’t need to be super expensive. I can’t tell the difference anyway, so I’m guessing most people can’t. I CAN tell the difference between a decent suit and the cheapest suit you could find. Again, think threads – if they’re big and visible, you suck and need to find a better suit.
Black or brown. Solid colors, with the possible exception of brown saddle shoes if you can pull it off. They should match your outfit (in other words, no black suit and brown shoes). Black works with nearly anything. Shiny is good, but shoes don’t have to be military shined. They MUST clearly be dress shoes. If it looks like you could comfortably run in them, they are not dress shoes. If it looks like they have steel toes and should be work in a construction zone, they are not dress shoes. They should only look like they serve an orthopaedic function if they actually do.
My personal preference is against little tassle penny loafer looking shoes, but I’ve seen lots of great lawyers wear them, so feel free… if you’re that guy. Oh, and no boots (except maybe in Texas).
Ties should be simple patterns. Not too thin. No novelty ties (ie Budweiser, Cubs, Looney Tunes, etc). The simpler the pattern, usually the better. If your kids give you an ugly tie for fathers day, though, feel free to wear it. Oh, and I’m a big advocate of tie clips… otherwise I look like Dilbert. The tie should break below the top of your belt, but not below the bottom of your belt. Buy a decent tie – you can get name brands for really cheap at places like TJ Maxx. If you buy a cheap tie, it won’t make a good knot and won’t lay right. I learn from experience on this. No bolo ties (once again, the potential Texas exception may or may not apply).
Watches should be gold or silver-colored. The watch must match your other jewelry (in other words, if you wear a gold watch, your tie clip must be gold colored, as must your wedding ring, etc). Do not mix gold-colored accessories with silver-colored jewelry.
Jewelry should be minimal. If you absolutely need to wear your class ring or your BFF bracelet from your college roommate or something, do it, but try not to. Ideally men shouldn’t wear more than a watch, wedding ring and tie clip. If you wear a lot you’ll look like Bruiser in the Rainmaker. No one trusts that lawyer.
Belts must match your shoes. Keep the buckle simple (Texas exception?). Wear a thicker belt. Thin belts look bad. Don’t wear the newest, stylish, Abercrombie-esque belts with holes or fancy things. Keep it simple.
Did I miss anything?