Photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net/Ambro

Photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net/Ambro

Dressing appropriately in a legal office environment is important. The bottom line is that appearances truly do matter.  The way you dress can help you command respect, establish authority and convey a polished, professional image that will win the trust of supervisors, clients, opposing counsel and judges alike. Choosing the right attire reflects your sound judgment and inspires others’ confidence in you.

Although some law firms have adopted casual or business casual dress policies in the past decade or two, the legal industry remains one of the few professions where wearing a suit is still mandatory for most. Once every day wear, in our increasingly informal world of today the suit represents business formality and is a sign to others that you are a successful professional who is highly skilled.

Because of the perverseness of casual dress throughout our modern world, including most other industries, professional and business casual dress are often mistakenly lumped together. Princeton University provides a great guide to the difference between professional dress and business casual. Basically, business casual models professional dress but in a slightly more relaxed way. For legal professionals, business casual is generally not an accepted manner of dress in the office or at court.

Professional dress, the preferred dress code for most legal professionals, is easily recognized by the iconic, polished navy suit, white shirt and tie. However, professional dress can extend beyond the basic. We have put together a list of wardrobe essentials for legal professionals – both men and women.

Suits
Choose classic non-season-specific suits in black, gray and navy. Solid fabrics are the most classic, but can be broken up with the occasional pinstripe, glen plaid or windowpane design. Suits made of light wool material are the most versatile for the different seasons. Women may choose pants and/or skirt suits.

Shirts for men and blouses for women
Several classic, crisp white button-ups are a must for any professional wardrobe of both men and women. Men’s shirts in pastels of blue, pink, purple, yellow and green have also become popular in recent years. For women, shirts and blouses should be conservatively cut but made to fit a woman’s body. For both men and women, patterns (if any) are best if small and understated.

Blazers
Neither men nor women can go wrong with the classic navy blazer. Modern updates include tweed for men and black wool for women. These should fit well with the sleeve hitting half way between the base of the thumb and the wrist and should be able to easily button when standing.

Pants
For men, wool or twill dress pants and/or kaki pants offer a slightly more relaxed choice. For women, classic, straight legged wool pants in black or gray are the non-suit article of choice.

Accessories
A man’s suit is not complete without a tie. Avoid ties that are too skinny or too fat. Choose a middle-of –the-road option with classic stripes or small print. Avoid ties with loud colors or pictures/drawings on them. For women, conservative scarves and jewelry can add the finishing touch to the classic suit or pant/blazer combination.

Other clothing options for women
Women have the added bonus of a few additional pieces in their essential professional wardrobe. The classic pencil or A-line skirt can break up the monotony of pants. Be sure to select a skirt that is knee length and made of light wool material. Another option is a sheath dress. Classic sheaths in a solid, neutral hue like black, navy or gray will be a staple in your wardrobe for years. For both skirts and dresses, be sure that the garment fits your form without being too tight.

Shoes
For men laceups in black, brown and camel are preferred. For women moderate-height (2-4 inch heel) closed-toe pumps are the go-to shoe.

Remember, the key to professional dress is pairing classic, versatile and functional pieces. Your wardrobe should contain clothing with clean lines that is comfortable but well-chosen enough to convey a professional image. Exercise good taste and common sense when selecting appropriate business attire and, if you are unsure, err on the conservative side.

Looking for more specifics or examples? Check out these articles that have great insight into professional dress for both men and women.

Ladies first:

Six ways to style a suit

Lauren Conrad’s tips for modernizing women’s professional dress

Tips for summer interns but great for any professional in all seasons

For Gentlemen:

Men’s suiting article from Forbes

8 closet essentials for the professional man

Style essentials from Business Insider