With the winter semester well underway, many students are turning their attention to their upcoming summer student or articling position. In an effort to reduce some of the anxiety associated with beginning an unfamiliar job, Canadian Lawyer 4Students has compiled some wardrobe tips to allow you to focus on your work, and not on your outfit.
First and foremost, keep in mind each workplace is different. Styles and norms vary greatly depending on your region, firm size, and type of practice. To get a general idea of what you should wear to your firm, look at what other students and young associates at your firm are wearing.
Typically, workplaces have dress codes that will either be business formal (suit required) or business casual (more on this below). If you are uncertain and concerned about the dress code, try e-mailing the HR person or student contact at the firm.
Many women have difficulty deciding between skirts and pantsuits. There are varying schools of thought on this topic, but the best advice is to wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. Skirts come with a number of added stressors, the worst of which is unquestionably the constant vigilance that needs to be directed toward crossing your legs appropriately.
If you do not normally wear skirts and dresses, stick to pants, at least at first. If you feel uncomfortable wearing a skirt, you will most likely look uncomfortable, and this will come across to your co-workers. If you are concerned that wearing pants is less feminine, try substituting a silky blouse for the standard collared button up.
Depending on your firm, the dress code may switch to business casual dress in the hot summer months, you may have a casual dress day on Fridays, or perhaps there is a firm barbecue that you have to attend. The problem lies with the broad meaning of business casual.
It typically does not include jeans, but dark denim can sometimes work at more casual workplaces. In general, it is best to err on the side of formality when selecting outfits as a student.
Whatever you decide to wear, it is imperative you remember to accessorize when you dress down. Wearing tasteful jewelry and a belt can help keep your outfit looking work appropriate and not like you’re headed to the movies.
To err on the side of caution, wear a blazer and dressy shoes with your outfit. These two items can dress up nearly any outfit, and if you arrive at work and you decide that your ensemble underneath is appropriate, you can always remove the blazer.
Wardrobe malfunctions can happen to anyone, and knowing how to deal with them quickly and efficiently can significantly reduce any potential embarrassment.
Keep a stain-removal pen such as Tide to Go and an extra pack of pantyhose in your desk drawer. I guarantee these things will get used, either by you, or one of your colleagues (who will thank you for it).
An extra pair of shoes can be kept neatly under your desk, preferably a comfortable pair in case you have to leave the office to run an errand on short notice.
Finally, if you are not wearing a suit every day, it pays to keep a spare suit in your office (or a jacket at the very least) for times when a partner might ask you to attend court or a client meeting. There is nothing worse than missing an opportunity because you are not properly attired.
Tips from the trade
The most important tip is to remember to be yourself, and try to develop your own style within the dress code, because you are going to be dressing like this for many years to come!
Keep your options open by buying the pants and skirt (and dress, if there is one) co-ordinates for your suit; this greatly increases the versatility of the suit.
When you’re building your wardrobe, stick to neutral colours that are easy to match like black, grey, navy, brown, and beige.
Additionally, be practical about what jewelry you wear — bracelets can get in the way of typing, earrings with posts can be uncomfortable while talking on the phone. Be cognizant of the fact that whatever you put on in the morning, you’ll be stuck wearing all day, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Finally, when in doubt, Google it! There are many helpful Internet resources dedicated to the ‘what to wear to work’ dilemma. For a comprehensive resource on all things professional apparel-related (including polls, reader questions, and a wealth of reader advice), check out the Corporette blog, designed as a tool for women lawyers and professionals.
Lindsay Hollett is a third-year student in a combined LLB/MBA program at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Click here for Lindsay’s wardrobe advice for male law students.