Director’s 5 Tips for Smartly Building Your Professional Wardrobe

As many of you begin new jobs or clinical experiences, you may be wondering if you need to go shopping for work clothing, or how to you can get by with the few ‘professional’ looking items of clothing in your wardrobe. Below are just a few tips on how to build up a professional wardrobe.  The link at the end of this article provides anonymous tips from attorneys on the 5 biggest attire “issues.”

1. Ascertain the attire expectations at work. Before you rush out to buy suits and high heels, make sure you understand what your office expects.  As the lowest person on the totem pole (probably), it is true that you generally won’t want to be the most casually dressed.  But that doesn’t mean you should be wearing suits with jackets when every other person in the office is in khakis and polo shirts. Take a look around to determine what the attire is for the people you will be working with and who seem to set the most professional tone for the office.  Follow their cues, or even ask a trusted mentor about what the expectations are.

2. Remember that your supervisors know that you are a law student, not a wealthy partner.  Your clothes should fit the office dress code and be clean, ironed, and match. Your shoes should be shined and should go with your clothes.  You should attempt to accessorize as best you can. Your hair should be well-kept.  But that does not mean you need to have the very latest styles or the most expensive brands of shoes.           

3. Take stock of what is already in your closet & drawers.  How many times have you gone clothes shopping on a whim, only to come home to find that you have purchased something almost identical to an item that is tucked in the back of your closet?  Before you go on any shopping excursions, take a thorough inventory of your closet.  Find out what fits, what is worn out, and what needs to be tailored or repaired.  You may be surprised at what you find, and save yourself some serious money by simply finding, organizing, and having tailored the clothes in your own closet!

4. Before you shop, make a list of some of the most important pieces you (ideally) want in your wardrobe (think classic items).  Once you have taken an inventory of your closet, think carefully about what it is you need to add—and prioritize those needs.  Having a concrete list will allow you to keep your eyes open for the right items, to request them from family members and loved ones at holiday and birthday times, and (just as important) to refrain from wasting money on items that you that are unimportant.  As attorneys, you clearly will need a few suits over time.  You will need shirts, dress shoes, ties (men), and basic accessories (women).  Over time, you will also need nice “business casual” clothing.  For women, this may include sheath dresses which can be dressed up with jackets or cardigans.  For men, this will include a sports jacket that can be paired with varied slacks.  For all, this includes nice “in between” slacks, sweaters, and shirts.  Personally, when I was a new attorney, I would consciously watch the attorneys who seemed to look “put together” and try to figure out what it is that made them so.  Often, they would use the same colored basics (blacks, greys, browns, blues) and then change them up with different jackets and sweaters.             

5. Shop around to find sale prices and brands that work for you—thinking fit, comfort, and colors.  When you are on a limited budget, it can be tempting to shop sales willy-nilly, and simply buy whatever items are marked down the most.  This is not wise, and may actually lead to you wasting money over time.  Take some time to find out the decent quality brands which you like and which fit your body well.  Watch for sales on those brands. Once you know your sizing and brands you like best, shopping becomes much easier.  I actually buy gently used clothes on ebay in the brands I know well (and I read the measurements very carefully).  I save a lot of money that way.