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Dress for success: What to wear in law school

Ab Initio
|Written By Ted Flett
Dress for success: What to wear in law school

Admittedly, with the grind of exams at this time of year, few students have fashion top of mind. But, in the day-to-day of law school, styles vary as much as the student body. And similar to how someone dresses for the gym, office, or club, what a law student yanks from his or her closet to head to class — whether its sweatpants and a hoodie or a suit by Hugo Boss — is no accident.

Three of my best-dressed classmates at the University of New Brunswick share their dress-for-success approach.

Chic casual: Bryinne McCoy

When Bryinne McCoy of Grand Falls-Windsor, NL stepped into Ludlow Hall on the first day of school, her approach to style was recalibrated. What was once her go-to casual wardrobe during her four years as a political science undergrad at Memorial University in Newfoundland was promptly pushed to the back of her closet.

“On the whole, people dress well,” McCoy says of her fellow law school students. “When everyone dresses well, it makes you want to look good, too.”

So, T-shirts gave way to “significantly more dresses and blouses” and, after reading and case briefing, McCoy began dedicating more time planning the next day’s outfit to look “put together.” She even bought her first pair of heels in 1L.

McCoy says the cross-section of students — with many from larger cities — inspired her to take more fashion risks.

“Having friends from Toronto and Calgary who knew what was ‘in’ definitely helped to shape my current wardrobe,” she says. “Seeing their outfits and different pieces that I normally wouldn’t see at home helped me to branch out and broaden my style.”

Landing a coveted summer job in 1L and 2L with McInnes Cooper  in St. John’s, McCoy found her wardrobe took another shift.

“After dressing office-appropriate for four months, it was nearly impossible to go back to a daily, undergrad-level casual,” she says.

McCoy gravitated towards “dual-purpose” clothing “that I can wear out socially, but that is also work-appropriate.” So blouses and tops that she paired with a skirt and heels in the boardroom were paired with jeans and flats for the classroom.

And the effort and change also helped McCoy’s performance.

 “I try to take a more ‘Look good, Feel good’ approach to what to wear to school in hopes that it makes me more productive,” she says.

Comfort first: Geoff Kowalski

“My day-to-day style is based almost solely on comfort,” says 3L Geoff Kowalski of Freetown, P.E.I. “Sweatpants have been my go-to class attire for years now just because it makes it more bearable to be in school for hours. I’m concerned less about what I look like to others and more about how I feel sitting and moving around.”

Denim is as dressy as Kowalski will take his style. Khakis are a non-starter. Shirts only come untucked.

“I wear jeans probably once a month and it’s only because I haven’t done laundry in a while,” he says.

But don’t confuse comfort and slob. The sweats are high quality. “My mom buys me a new pair every Christmas,” he says. And Kowalski admits he sometimes hang dries his Lululemon pants and has been known to use his steamer. It may be cozy, but for Kowalski, it’s also crease-free.

The approach to fashion runs head to toe.

“My Birkenstock sandals are also in play for about eight months of the year because not only are they incredibly comfortable, it’s so convenient to slip them on and off,” he says.

Mid-lecture, Kowalski will slip out of the sandals for even more comfort. Slippers have also made an appearance at school.

As a flanker on UNB’s varsity rugby team, Kowalski frequently leaves the field bruised and battered, which further informs his clothing choices.

“A post-rugby game can be quite painful, so being comfortable and loose in recovery is definitely ideal,” he says.

To succeed in law school, Kowalski knows the formula to putting his best Birkenstock-clad foot forward.

“I actually really enjoy putting on a suit and tie, and it makes me feel great when I look in the mirror,” he says. “But as much as I like looking my best, I just don’t feel my best wearing a pair of jeans and a cardigan every single day.”

Suit up: Mark Mancini

“I have always been a formal dresser, for as long as I can remember,” says 2L Mark Mancini of his propensity for Hugo Boss over Hurley. “It is just how I feel most comfortable.”

It’s not uncommon for Mancini, whose fashion role model is Don Draper of Mad Men, to reach for one of his five suits when dressing for school and accessorize with fresh cufflinks, multi-coloured socks, and a pocket square. His hair is styled in a sharp part, held by Brylcreem. His dress shoes are polished.

Well dressed. Well tailored. Well accessorized. Well styled. Perhaps it’s a look that is typical of Bay Street but less so on UNB’s campus. Mancini admits that reactions from peers are mixed.

“I do get some compliments in addition to puzzled looks from my classmates,” he says. “Overall, I analogize it like this: A lot of people are comfortable in sweatpants, whereas I am comfortable with a collared shirt.”

Dressing down for Mancini usually takes the form of dress pants and a collared shirt — tucked in. He just recently added jeans — dark wash only — to his wardrobe.

“It’s something I picked up from people at school,” he says of the new denims.

Constrained by geography and budget, Mancini is creative in mastering his classic, tailored style. With limited fashion retail in Fredericton, he buys online and when travelling. While he prefers custom suits, to work within his student budget, Mancini will also buy off the rack and then tailor to fit his trim physique.

There is purpose to Mancini’s apparel.

“I feel like I am on top of my own personal game when I invest time in preparation before the day,” he says. “In today’s world, I think quiet confidence, not outright arrogance, is vitally important, and dressing well helps me to achieve that quiet confidence.”

It’s apparently working. Last year, Mancini’s quiet confidence helped him reach the top of his class and cross the stage multiple times at the law school’s scholarship and awards ceremony.

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