Watch any legal television show or movie and you will see that every lawyer portrayed is dressed to the nines. Dressing the part is one aspect of being a lawyer, and the question “What does a lawyer wear?” is one that has plagued many young lawyers.
We asked a few young lawyers to share their perspectives based on their experiences working in various legal environments, and their different approaches to professional attire. They share tips on how young lawyers can develop a professional identity through clothes.
The first step to building your professional wardrobe is determining your style. Beyond traditional norms and expectations, determining your style is about being true to yourself. Attorney Jerome Crawford advises that you integrate rather than assimilate.
When asked to define their styles, young lawyers answered:
- A European look, with fitted and tailored clothing. —J. Alex Mazzella
- Classic with a modern twist. —Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019
- Clean and crisp; a tailored fit. —Jerome Crawford
- Reserved and masculine of center. —Julie Dick
Expressing your style in your workwear will help you feel confident and comfortable in your professional life too. There is no need to hide who you are at work.
What Dressing Like a Lawyer Means to You
Once you identify your style, consider what dressing like a lawyer means to you.
- It means dressing in a way that demonstrates confidence, competence, and professionalism. —Cheslie Kryst
- It establishes the first impression to others of who you are as an attorney. —J. Alex Mazzella
- It has absolutely nothing to do with the exact pieces you wear. The essence of dressing like a lawyer has mostly to do with whether you present excellence. —Jerome Crawford
Your work environment matters. Some work environments call for business casual, while other environments always call for formal business wear. Regardless, courtroom wear should always be formal business wear. Clothing worn during meetings with other lawyers, associates, and clients should display professionalism and respect. According to Attorney Crawford, “You would rather be overdressed than underdressed.”
Moving Toward the Future
Older lawyers offer a lot of outdated advice that doesn’t always consider changing societal norms. Your clothing should reflect and compliment your work, not archaic rules. Young lawyers generally agree that other young lawyers should dress for the job they want. It helps place you in the right mentality each day. It’s better to overdress and prepare for that promotion than to underdress and appear unprepared.
Building a wardrobe takes time. Consider these tips:
- Shop sales to buy quality clothes without breaking the bank.
- Choose pieces that are multifunctional and versatile.
- Invest in staples and then add statement pieces.
- Do not be afraid to inject some personality into your outfit. Whether it is colorful socks, a statement necklace, a print blazer—just be yourself!
- Invest in a good steamer or iron. Wrinkled, ill-fitting clothing suggests that you are not prepared or, worse, that you are incompetent. In contrast, tailored, starched clothes indicate you are sharp and well-informed.
Attorney Mazzella suggests spending a little extra to tailor suits—a properly fitted suit makes all the difference. Attorney Dicks suggests that if you dress outside of gender norms as she does (she only wears men's suits), you should shop at progressive stores.
Experts note that it only takes people 30 seconds after initially meeting someone to form an opinion that is primarily based on appearance. With so much at stake in so little time, putting the extra effort into looking your best is will set you on a path to success.
Cheslie Kryst, Esq., is a civil litigation associate at Poyner Spruill in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Miss USA 2019. Ms. Kryst also runs White Collar Glam, a workplace attire blog for women.
J. Alex Mazzella, Esq., is a business and legal affairs associate with For the Fans, operated by LAX United Marketing, LLC., located in North Haven, Connecticut.
Jerome Crawford, Esq., is senior corporate counsel at MAHLE located in Michigan, and co-chair of the Men of Color Project with the American Bar Association Young Lawyer Division.
Julie Dick, Esq., is a family law staff attorney at Community Legal Aid in Worcester, Massachusetts.