First impressions mean a lot for lawyers, whether you’re showing up to court, meeting clients, or showing up at your law firm. Of course, your professional image has a lot to do with that. For every situation, different levels of business dress are expected. It can be tricky to navigate the different rules and expectations of each setting, especially when there isn’t a ‘set’ dress code for lawyers. This guide will show you the best ways to make a good impression in any setting.
Here's a quick overview of really simple and safe options for both men and women in the law profession. Generally, a professional white collared shirt is the safest choice with light blue as an equally viable secondary option.
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Dress Code for Lawyers
Different settings call for different attire, although there are also classics you can rely on in any situation to dress like a lawyer, especially for court appearances.
Start with Color
As a professional, it’s important to keep your wardrobe colors in line with business attire. That means neutrals, and classic colors are your best options. Navy, dark to medium grays, and even charcoal are ideal suit colors. If you prefer lighter tones, a subtle gray is ideal. These color pairs are standard dress code for both male and female lawyers.
While black is usually a safe choice for many professions, lawyers tend to avoid it. Lawyers may choose to wear black for more formal firm activities in the evening, outside of office hours. However, since it’s considered a mourning, or funeral color, it’s best to avoid it if you’re in doubt.
Likewise, colors like brown, green, or tan may be acceptable in other professions. For legal practitioners however, these colors come off as too informal, and are best avoided.
Suits, blazers, and suit jackets are a common standard in law firm dress codes. While there’s rarely a stipulation that these should be tailored, it’s a good idea regardless. Bespoke pieces are always the best option; they’re made just for you, and they put a seamless finish on your appearance.
If you don’t go for bespoke pieces, at least make sure your suits and jackets are properly tailored. You may find an ideal piece, and have it hemmed or altered later. It’s much better to have a good fit than to settle for a baggy suit.
Leave Wrinkles at Home
One of the biggest keys to the dress code for lawyers is looking clean cut and professional. If you show up with wrinkled clothing, it throws off your wardrobe, no matter how nice your suit is. Clothes should be pressed or ironed, without any areas that look worn or tatty. If you prefer, get your business clothes dry cleaned to complete the image. To avoid accidentally showing up without freshly pressed clothes, it’s a good idea to have a backup outfit ready for unexpected events.
Dress shirts are an absolute must to dress like a lawyer. While the cut and style varies for male and female lawyers, a t-shirt simply won’t do. Just like with suits (and any other piece of your outfit), dress shirts should be pressed and wrinkle free. Light colored dress shirts are standard, with most lawyers choosing white, cream, or a classic light blue tone. Keep in mind that you should pair the color of your dress shirt with the color of your suit, or the rest of your ensemble. The shirt should also be well fitted, without being overly tight.
For business casual events, like an informal get together with the firm, or meeting with more relaxed clients, you can switch up your shirt a little bit. You may not need to go with a full button up dress shirt, but keep it professional. A golf shirt, sweater, or polo is typically acceptable, but your company’s policies should dictate how casual you dress.
Special Dress Codes for Gender
There are certainly different fashions for men and women, and as a result, there are different dress codes for business attire. While many things are similar or the same, such as: acceptable colors, the need for a jacket, and keeping clothing pressed, there are various differences. Next, we’ll look at dress code guidelines specific to male and female lawyers.
Dress Codes for Male Lawyers
Suits are the apparel of choice for any male lawyer. Dress shirts are still a must, and should be buttoned up sufficiently. Along with the dress shirt, male lawyers are expected to don neckwear, i.e. a tie. Some may choose to wear a bow tie, although it’s often discouraged. It’s not an issue of formal wear, bow ties are definitely a formal accessory. The issue is that bow ties are much less subdued than the traditional necktie.
There are special guidelines for neckties as well. Stay with a classic look to avoid too much ‘flash.’ Classic colors are always a safe choice, and in some cases, a subtle (the keyword is subtle) pattern is acceptable.
Jacquard knit is a favorite material choice, although you can’t go wrong with a silk tie either. Make sure your tie matches your suit and dress shirt. Following the guidelines on color, navy and blue are always safe choices, although red tones add a classy spot of color too.
Male lawyers should avoid casual shoes, and opt for a classic dress shoe that matches their suit. In certain situations, loafers are also acceptable. Dark leather shoes, paired with dark dress socks are ideal. Shoes should be shined and in good condition while facial hair should be shaved or well-trimmed.
Dress Codes for Female Lawyers
Female lawyers may have more difficulty navigating law firm dress codes, since the classic staple suit isn’t typically the option of choice. However, like the dress code for male lawyers (and any lawyers, really), the colors should remain the same, as well as the rules for dressing down. A tailored suit is a great option for women lawyers, although for women, a black suit is more acceptable in a legal setting than it is for men.
A blazer or suit jacket is typically a must in most law firms, whether you wear pants or a skirt. Skirts are perfectly acceptable for female lawyers, as long as the skirt conforms to a certain style. Avoid skirts that flare or have ruffles, as well as wrap style skirts.
The best, and most professional style, is a straight (or pencil style) skirt that reaches to the knees or below. Some law firms may also allow capris to be worn, as long as they’re business attire, and longer than the casual style.
More diverse styles of shirts are usually allowed, provided they aren’t sheer, too low cut, or extremely tight. Sweaters and button up shirts are good options, in either white, cream, or light blue. Avoid casual styles of shirts, like halter styles, tank tops, or tops with cutouts.
Female lawyers may wear heels or flats, although the color should still be neutral, and heel height kept within reason. Open toed shoes may seem too casual. It’s best to try and match shoes with jewelry and other accessories.
You should always keep your law firm’s specific dress code in mind before you choose your wardrobe. If in doubt, err on the side of more formal, professional wear. One of the most important things in any dress code is having a clean-cut, freshly pressed appearance. Remember to coordinate your ensemble, and tailor your style to each event.