Dress for Success: A Guide to Businesswear for Law Students
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Fifth Year Law Student/serial shopaholic, Maria Howard shared with me some of her tips for Dressing for Success - from the classroom to the courtroom.
Casual Fridays (Office-Appropriate Casual Wear)
Many medium-to-large size firms will have a ‘Casual Friday’ policy permitting staff to wear their casual attire to work. However, casual still needs to be office appropriate to respect the setting! It’s also helpful to keep this dress code in mind for any casual or networking interactions so you’re always well-dressed. An easy way to dress in the ‘casual but office appropriate way’ is to pair a casual wear and a professional wear item together.
What to Wear:
Jeans: Are totally appropriate for the casual dress code as long as they are slim or straight legged, without rips or distressing, and are blue or black denim.
Blouses: Are casual in fun colours and prints but in a cut that hits just below the collarbone and doesn’t show cleavage.
Skirts: That are knee to midi length, can be loose or straight cut.
Dresses: That are knee to midi length, in an a-line or similar cut and cover the shoulders. Collared dresses are a great way to go.
T-shirts: Can be worn in a plain cut and colour WITH a casual blazer (not on their own).
Blazers: Loose cut or boyfriend fit blazers are a casual staple, and casual means colours and pattern are also acceptable.
Shoes: Clean tennis shoes and neutral heeled sandals can be worn alongside high heels and loafer style options.
Business Casual is often considered the most difficult dress code to nail. You don’t want to be overdressed or underdressed… and that can certainly cause more stress than is warranted. But no worries, it’s actually quite simple - Business Casual is just the looser, more fun friend of Businesswear. The biggest difference is the ability to wear a looser cut or heels without covered toes.
What to Wear:
Pants: No jeans, you should wear slacks or trousers in a straight or slim fit; but you can also wear a looser pair of slacks as well.
Skirts: A suit skirt, pencil skirt, thick-material mini skirt (no shorter than mid thigh though!) or a pleated midi skirt are all suitable.
Blazers: Can still be loose cut or boyfriend fit when paired with slim fit slacks.
Blouses/Shirts: Can be patterned, loose fit as long as it’s tucked in, and collars are optional. A sleeveless knit is also a great option.
Shoes: A neutral heeled sandal or low high heel style are appropriate, but a loafer style or leather boot can also be worn.
Everyday Businesswear should be corporate office-appropriate, something you would feel confident meeting a client in. A blazer does not have to be worn all day, but the outfit should have a blazer component.
What to Wear:
Pants: Slacks or trousers must be in a straight or slim fit.
Skirts: Can be a suit skirt, pencil skirt, thick-material mini skirt (no shorter than mid though!) or a pleated midi skirt are all suitable.
Blazers: Should be a slim or tailored fit but should match the slacks/trousers.
Blouses/Shirts: Should be a solid colour or simple pattern (like striped) and shirts should be collared. A silky blouse, a la Rachel Zane, is a great choice under a simple blazer.
Dresses: A structured dress no shorter than knee length, can be worn with or without a blazer.
Shoes: High or low heels with an enclosed toe or a loafer style.
Business Formal is best expressed as what would be expected when appearing in Court. Formal, fitted suits and dresses in dark tones such as grey, navy or black are your best bet. Hair should also be very well kept and off the face, swept back or in a bun or ponytail.
What to Wear:
Suit: A fitted suit is a must! A plain collared shirt or simple blouse should be worn beneath.
Dress: A dress must be slim fitted and no shorter than knee length, the more structured the better.
Shoes: Low heels (they don’t call them court shoes for nothing!) with a closed toe are the most appropriate. Make sure those leather shoes are polished!
The cocktail dress code is certainly the most fun to shop for and wear! As the cocktail style for work functions is worn amongst colleagues, remember to keep it classy and leave the sexy dresses at home. Avoid cleavage, showing too much skin, glitter and sequins. Look for clean, simple lines; the kind of items that can be worn over and over.
What to Wear:
Suits: Should be a dark colour, ideally navy or charcoal, with a simple shirt. Show your personality through a patterned tie or pocket square.
Dresses: Keep it around knee to cocktail length, although a midi is also still appropriate.
Jumpsuits & Pantsuits: Should be fitted or loose and not tight.
Shoes: Heels are best but flats can be worn too - just match your outfit. Leather dress shoes are also a must (you might even get away with coloured socks).
Work From Home
The WFH has become the most-worn dress code in New South Wales. In all honesty, you can really wear whatever you like that covers the shoulders (just in case your Solicitor/Associate decides to call you out of the blue and asks you to turn your camera on).
What to Wear:
Pants: Choose dark coloured (black or navy) sweatpants so no one realises you’re wearing them if you stand up on a Zoom call.
Shirt: There’s no need to wear a dress shirt, no one will know it’s a comfy linen number over the phone!
Blazers: Just no, we’ve well and truly evolved from the blazer at home (with the exception of court appearances of course!)
Where to Shop
Now you know what to wear, you just need to know where to find it (and where to find it on sale!).
Knowing which items of clothing to invest in is an important skill any Law Student should have. There’s no need to splurge on workwear basics! Big W have a fantastic range of trousers and pencil skirts that would go perfectly with that shirt (or three) you impulsively bought during your Criminal Law lecture last week.
One place splurging is okay is on interview attire! Cue is definitely on the expensive side for the student budget, but it’s well worth the price tag. There are always great options for an ‘interview’ or ‘court’ dress from Cue that are structured but feminine.
Forever New is my ride-or-die workwear retailer. For dresses you can wear from the office, to drinks, to brunch; you really can’t go wrong. There are also petite and curve lines, meaning finding you fit (which can be a total nightmare) is a lot easier than you might fear! If you need your first blazer/slacks set, Forever New should definitely be one of your first stops, stocking simple and well designed office basics in black, navy and beautiful shades.
Who isn’t a fan of The Iconic? With hundreds of brands right at your fingertips, shop using the Workwear Edit to find exactly what you didn’t know you needed. You can even shop from the comfort of your home office (bedroom) with free returns!
If you’re looking for quality, fit and style, you can’t go past M.J. Bale! They offer a large selection of trousers, shirts and suits - and you can even filter directly for casual wear that is office approved.
Myer & David Jones
Myer and David Jones are actually great places to snag a bargain. At the end of the season, even timeless workwear styles go on sale, meaning you can get a high quality piece to add to your workwear wardrobe at a fraction of the price. As both department stores stock large ranges of brands and styles, you can try on a number of items to see what kinds of workwear/which workwear brands suit you best.
Don’t sleep on Target - they stock some of the latest workwear trends on a Law Student’s budget! Pairing a shirt or blouse from Target at the lower price point with a staple suit can help you mix it up without breaking the bank. And who can resist yet another cardigan?!
Tarocash is the perfect place to shop if you’re looking to start your suit collection. You won’t break the bank as Tarocash regularly holds sitewide sales, and huge discounts on past-season items. Even if you don’t have to wear a tie into the office every day, it’s still a good idea to start building a solid collection of ties for every occasion!
Classic work blouses and tops are the staple of every corporate wardrobe. If you like a silky blouse or a sleeveless knit - Witchery is a great place to shop. There are also great options for business casual skirts and dresses in simple patterns or neutral colours.
You know how it goes - you ask someone where they got their jacket from, they say they got it from Zara, then you go to Zara and struggle to find anything. Zara is especially good for a casual blazer or business casual slacks! One day you will find your hidden gem, and then you too can brag about it to all your friends and colleagues.
About the Author
Alicia is studying her fifth year of a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts (Applied Psychology). In addition to her position on the NDSLS as Education Director, Alicia has a passion for reading, rules, and roses. #law #studentlife #fashionblog #businesswear #whattoweartocourt #businesscasual #uni #NotreDameAus #NotreDameSyd #ndsls #lawstudent #lawschool