As you know, first impressions count. According to an article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the outward appearance and what you wear is a top factor in how you’re perceived by others. Among others are a firm handshake and a good posture.
As an attorney, you always want to look understated, professional and dignified. You don’t want to be perceived as flashy, dandy-like or fashionable. After all, you want to be respected as a man of the law and not that guy who’s just known for his colorful outfits. At th e same time, you don’t want to be like a cartoon character who wears the exact same thing every day.
Please watch the video as it contains visual details not outlined in the written guide and check out our guide on business attire dress code because it will help you dress better in your profession.
How To Look Like A Respectable Lawyer
This guide is about what to wear at the office, when you meet clients and what to wear in court. If you want to learn how to dress for a job interview as a lawyer, please check out this guide. Of course, if you work in environmental law, or if you have a lot of musicians or artists as your clients, your dress code will be more relaxed.
The Suit – Dark Solids Are Your Friend
A suit is the hallmark of a lawyer’s wardrobe. An ideal suit would be a single-breasted one, with a notched lapel. Ideally, you have some cuffs at the bottom or you can go without a cuff, maybe you want pleats, maybe you just want an iron crease.
Single Breasted Is Ideal – Double Breasted May Work Too
Overall, a two-piece suit is a good way to start. If you want to be a little more formal, you can add a three-piece suit using a vest out of a matching fabric. If you’re just starting out I suggest you stick with single-breasted suits because they’re the standard.
Double breasted suits are very traditional, they’re very classic and they’re a tad more formal than single-breasted suits. They also work really well for people who have a v-shaped body. However, some people may interpret them as being too overpowering and too Wall street-like so be careful when you invest in those. I think double-breasted suits work well with a softer fabric such as a gray flannel. When you’re just starting out it pays to invest in a second pair of pants or trousers because you wear them out much more quickly and that way, your entire suit will last you longer and cost less than if you have to buy two full suits.
Suit Patterns: Go With Solids, Subtle Stripes & Plain Weaves
When it comes to patterns, solid colors and a plain weave are your friends.
Apart from solids, a subtle stripe can also be acceptable. What I mean by subtle is maybe a pinstripe in a very plain color such as white, off-white, maybe dark blue or grey.
Subtlety Is King
Stay away from bold yellow, green, or pink stripes. You want the spacing not to be too wide and bold. The stripe itself should be subtle. So a fine pinpoint is okay, maybe a subdued rope stripe is acceptable too, but a wide chalk stripe is simply unacceptable. Alternatively, you can also go with a Prince of Wales check. I suggest going without an over plaid. It’s a very classic pattern and it’s appropriate as a lawyer if it’s very fine. Ideally, you want to stick to a 100% natural fibers because artificial fibers make you sweat and uncomfortable during the day. A 100% wool or maybe some additions of cashmere to make it softer are what you want. Keep in mind, heavier fabrics will always drape better and look better on you than thinner lightweight fabrics. So if you work mostly in an air-conditioned environment, go with something heavier and you would always look more elegant.
Suit Colors: Navy Blue & Charcoal Are Best
In terms of suit colors, you want to keep it professional, so navy blue and charcoal are your friends. Black is usually something worn at evening events, or for funerals, not at an office. Some will even argue navy or blue are better than grey because it connotates truth. In my opinion, both colors work very well.
Apart from black, ideally, you should stay away from brown because it’s too casual of a color unless you may go with a very dark charcoal brown. Green is something I would always avoid just like any other bright colors when it comes to suits. The reason being, you always want to look professional and bright colors have a tendency to make you look like a joke and people won’t take you seriously. Apart from that, they’re also a distraction and not really serving your client.
Nothing says I’m a pimp or a drug kingpin like a white suit so never ever wear that in whatever situation.
The Exception: Seersucker
The only exception to bright colors is seersucker. In many courtrooms across the country especially in the south, seersucker is an acceptable material, so if you do that, go with a classic blue and white and try to tone down the rest of your accessories. Make sure you always wear a dress shirt and not any kinds of polo shirts. You want a long-sleeve dress shirt, never short sleeved ones.
A Lawyer’s Dress Shirt – White Or Light Blue
Ideally, you have barrel cuffs with buttons or French cuffs or double cuffs for cufflinks. In terms of colors, white and light blue are your staples. You can play around with the textures, have subtle stripes, waffle weaves, twill, plain weaves or whatever you want, maybe even some contrasting stripes, but make sure they’re not too bright and everything looks subtle and professional. Also, avoid extremes, that means no extreme cutaway collars, no seventies collars. If your face is round, ideally go with a more closed collar. If you have an oval face, go with a slightly more spread collar.
Neckwear – Classic Ties Are Best
As an attorney, you want to wear neckwear. Traditionally, it’s a necktie. I would stay clear of bow ties because they’re a little too flashy. Of course, you should choose the right tie. So forget all the nineties and the hand-me-downs from your uncles because they look very dated and not professional. You always want silk ties either printed or jacquard woven and stay clear of textured materials which are great for a casual wardrobe but not for a lawyer’s professional wardrobe.
Tie Colors: Start with Red, Burgundy & Navy
In terms of colors, tones of red, burgundy, navy and blue are best. Alternatively, you can go with other subdued colors such as maybe a bottle green or a very dark orange or yellow. If you want to, maybe even a very dark purple. In any case, you want them subtle and not bright. Stay clear of shiny satin ties because they make you look cheap. Instead, the best solid tie for a lawyer is a grenadine tie. It adds texture to your outfit without being too bold or overly different. You also want a tie that is exactly right for your length because ideally, it should end just above the waistband. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find ties in different lengths and for that reason, we designed a short, a regular, and a long tie so no matter your height, we offer grenadine ties in all kinds of colors appropriate for lawyers in the exact right length for you.
Subtle, Classic Stripes Work Too
If you want to go with a stripe, I suggest a classic repp stripe in subdued colors works. You may also go with a polka dot or a pin dot tie but make sure it’s not too large so it’s all proportional and attractive. Alternatively, you can wear subtle patterns such as a Glencheck or Macclesfield neats which are small micropatterns that are recurring.
What Not To Wear
Stay clear of bold colors, bold patterns, and any kind of cashmere or wool texture, or maybe even shantung or dupioni silk because they’re not really appropriate for a lawyer. Also, nothing says I’m an investment banker as much as an Hermès tie with little animal critters on them in pink, and bold yellow, or turquoise. Stay clear of those ties. You’re a respectable lawyer.
The Most Underrated Ties For Laywers
Another tie that is very underrated for lawyers is the silver and black tie. It’s a very formal tie at the same time it works well with navy, blue, charcoal, and mid grays. It works well with all kinds of hair colors and it’s just a wonderful tie for any kind of formal occupation such as an attorney.
To start, I suggest you invest in these 12 neckties.
Over The Calf Socks Are A Must Have
No attorneys outfit is complete without proper over the calf socks. A lot of lawyers out there wear short socks that expose their calf. Not only is it unprofessional, but nobody wants to see your exposed leg hair. The golden rule is to pair the color of the socks with a pair of your pants and your suit. The problem is, it’s very difficult to match because there are hundreds of shades of navy. To avoid this issue, you should go with a pair of two-tone socks that has either two-tones of gray or two-tones of blue and that way, it works with any kind of suit color and it always looks stylish yet subdued and understated. My two pairs of go-to socks for lawyers would be the navy and blue shadow stripe as well as the charcoal and light grey shadow stripe. If you want to go a little bolder, you can either have the navy and yellow shadow stripe or maybe the navy and red. If you want something solid but you want to be different, I suggest going with socks with clocks. They have a solid background in mid gray, charcoal and navy, but the fine clocks make them look different, make them look professional, and you stand out from the crowd in a very subtle way and only if you sit down.
Accessories – Keep It Simple
With accessories, the same rule applies as with all other things in a lawyer’s outfit. Keep it simple. If you wear a French cuff or double cuff shirt, go with simple cufflinks in gold or silver. Stay clear of precious stones, maybe semi precious stones, in multiple colors as well as enamel. It’s simply over the top. Apart from cufflinks, a wedding band is acceptable and maybe a signet ring or a pinkie ring if you wear it, or if you’re at an interview or you’re just starting out, it may be wise not to wear that and just keep it plain and simple.
So if you’re a partner, you can think about wearing tie bars or maybe collar pins. If you’re just an associate starting out, I would suggest not to wear those because it could be interpreted the wrong way. In terms of tie knots, I suggest to keep it simple. Avoid a Windsor knot because it’s too big and it makes you look like a used car salesman, instead go with something like a four-in-hand knot. Now some people prefer to go with a dimple others prefer to go without.
Be Careful With Suspenders
Should you wear belt or suspenders? A belt is probably your classic choice and it’s okay. Make sure it matches the color of your shoes and ideally you want the metal parts to be tone and tone with your briefcase and maybe your cufflinks. Also, maybe your monk strap buckle if you decide to wear that.
Personally, I really like to wear suspenders a lot because they keep my pants at the same height all day long. Now, if you take your jacket off a lot and you show your suspenders, in some law firms, that may be a symbol of office hierarchy, so figure out if it’s okay for you to wear suspenders or not. When in doubt, stick with a belt because it could be interpreted the wrong way and be held against you.
For winter, I suggest you invest in a dark overcoat either single breasted or double breasted. Double breasted helps because it keeps you warmer. Also, invest in a solid cashmere scarf maybe in a shade of blue or go with a subtle pattern such as a herringbone.
The ideal pair of gloves for a lawyer is not black, but gray because it provides a contrast. It pairs with everything that you have in your wardrobe. At the same time, it’s not as boring as black. It’s always professional and understated. For a selection of quality grey gloves please take a look here.
Pocket squares are an accessory that work really well with suits. For lawyers, however, I suggest you keep it crisp, simple and clean which means a simple white linen pocket square with hand rolled edges. Although you can have different folds such as a crown-fold or a puff-fold, I think for lawyers the most acceptable and some say the only acceptable fold is a TV-fold.
Dress Shoes – Start With A Black Captoe Oxford
When it comes to shoes I think most lawyers underestimate their impact. You can have a $5,000 bespoke suit but if you wear it with cheap shoes, it ruins the entire look. Apart from oxfords and derbies, you may also want to invest in a monk strap shoe or maybe a double monk strap shoe. Word on the street is that older lawyers will always judge you by the look and the quality of your shoes. So I suggest you buy the best pair you can afford. If you take care of them, rotate them, and put them on shoe trees, they should wear you for decades to come and the cost per wear will be extremely low. You definitely want a pair of Goodyear welted shoes.
Now, I’m not saying you have to invest $500 in your dress shoes. You can find Goodyear welted ones starting at $200. But in general, the more you pay, the better the leather, the more comfortable, and the better the last so you’re comfortable all day.
The first pair of shoes you should invest in is a black cap toe oxford shoe. If you have very big feet and it’s uncomfortable, you can think about going with a black derby, it’s a classic wardrobe staple that you will be able to wear in court, at the office and when your meeting clients.
Chocolate Brown & Burgundy Are Worth Considering
On top of that, you may want to go with a brown shoe maybe a very dark chocolate brown, or maybe something like a chestnut brown. If you go that route, you can go with a little bit of broguing maybe across the cap. Avoid full brogues and only stick with half or semi brogues at the most; anything else would be too informal. To understand the differences between an oxford shoe, a derby, and a blucher, please check out this video here.
Another underrated shoe color for men is deep burgundy or oxblood red. It’s something that pairs with everything in your wardrobe and it’s very classic but you can also wear it maybe with a blazer, or a sport coat combination on casual Fridays. If you can just invest in two shoes, I would go with a black and a burgundy. If you can afford three pairs of shoes, go with black, burgundy and dark brown.
For a fourth and fifth pair, I would go with another black pair. One as a plain cap toe oxford, one with slight broguing maybe on a cap toe because then, you create different outfits and you can rotate your shoes and that way, they last you even longer. Always avoid square-toed shoes because they make you look cheap. In the same vein, stay clear of snakeskin or alligator shoes because they make you look too flashy. For the same reason, stay clear of any other colors like blue or green; it’s just over the top.
Avoid Slip-On Shoes
Definitely, avoid slip-on shoes or loafers. They’re great for casual environments but not at a law office. Stay clear of shoe brands like Steve Madden, Kenneth Cole, Banana Republic or Johnston & Murphy. If you really want to know what I think about all kinds of different shoe brands please check out these live sessions where I discuss just that.
Get A Neat Haircut
First of all make sure you get a haircut regularly or maybe a trim in-between because that way, you always look very presentable and professional.
To shave Or Not To Shave?
That’s a big question. Traditionally, most lawyers would always go clean-shaven for a professional look. I think these days, you can find a lot of lawyers with a beard. So if you decide to go that route, make sure you have a clean well-groomed beard and own it, and wear it with confidence. No matter if you go with a beard or clean-shaven, wear it with confidence and it will make you look very professional like a proper lawyer. To learn more about the topic, check out our in-depth grooming & shaving guides here.
Bear in mind, this guide provides general guidelines; ideally, you want to talk to your secretary and ask her what’s appropriate or simply look around you at the office. What are the other people wearing and especially what is your supervisor wearing? That will give you a good indicator of what’s expected of you.
Keep in mind it’s always better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.