Lawyers abide by a, largely unwritten, dress code. Whether he is advocating in Court, closing a deal, winning new business, or doing any of the many other things an Attorney is called on to do, the well-heeled lawyer can be identified by his tailored suit and polished appearance. And while every law firm has its own dress code; this post lays out the principles that apply across the board.
To inspire confidence, it is not enough for a lawyer to be good at his job – he must dress the part. After all, perception is half the battle and dressing well is good manners.1 Clients want to trust their lawyer; they want him to be a competent, successful, put-together person. Nothing spoils that impression faster than a poorly fitting suit, beat-up shoes, or a cheap tie.
Ironically, while it is crucial to appear well appointed, it is just as important to look approachable and down-to-earth. Obviously, balancing “high-tone” and “relatable” is tricky. After all, the point of dressing up is to send a signal. But while some will welcome that signal, others will be alienated and intimidated.
Getting the Balance Right
So, how does one impress as a brilliant lawyer without rubbing clients and colleagues the wrong way? The answer is equal parts attitude and appearance. A lawyer should dress for success, but keep his feet planted on the ground. That means he should respect traditional styles and colours but accentuate and accessorize in shades that show style and individuality.
From Monday through Friday the lawyer’s suit should stay within a traditional color palette - charcoal, gray, navy – and be paired with a crisp white dress shirt and muted tie. Ideally, the suit should be fully tailored (Bespoke) or fitted to his measurements (Made to Measure).
The shirt may also be Bespoke or Made to Measure and should be made from high-quality cotton with a thread-count of 150 or above. It should always be freshly laundered or pressed for a crisp appearance.
The tie pulls the ensemble together. The lawyer’s tie should complement the main color of his suit or allude to highlights such as windowpane checks. For example, a gross-weave navy grenadine silk tie will pair well with a grey or navy suit while giving the outfit a subtle, sophisticated flair. To avoid leaning too heavily on navy, a burgundy tie can also be worked into the rotation to change the tone of the outfit without looking flashy.
On casual Fridays and weekends, lawyers should extend their professional dress code by opting for casual trousers or khakis, paired with a high-quality cotton or linen Polo or casual collared shirt. T-shirts and jeans should be avoided, as they do not send the right message.
Dress for the Audience
Does dressing for the audience mean always sporting a power tie? Of course not. The law affects every industry and all social stations - from criminals to CEO’s - so the lawyer’s wardrobe should be tailored2 to his audience. After all, no matter who he is addressing a lawyer must instill confidence. This is accomplished by dressing slightly better than the client or prospect to signify authority, not need. The lawyer does not “need” a prospect’s business or a client’s approval. Instead, the lawyer can be trusted to give objective advice and do the right thing.
Take for example the initial meeting. Sure, this will be the lawyer’s chance to make a good first impression; but it turns out that, in the age of worldwide remote communication, it may also be his only chance. And while confidence is key to winning business; being stable, reliable, and relatable, is even more crucial. For such situations, the lawyer should consider a sky-blue silk fine-weave grenadine tie to convey trust, stability, and confidence, or opt for a green tie to emphasize practicality and reliability. The key is knowing the audience.
In short, dressing for the audience requires an extra step, but is worth it.
Get the Details Right
We’ve discussed how a fitted suit and pressed shirt makes an impression. But since the Devil is in the details, let’s review a few other choices that signal a lawyer is both professional and affable.
The Shirt: While the lawyer should not wander far from the classic white dress shirt, a light blue or eggshell white also sends the right signal. And the ultimate power-play is to wear the contrast-cuff and collar ensemble with cufflinks. In all cases, the dress shirt must be lighter than the suit jacket to create a contrast.
The Tie: In contrast to suits and dress-shirts, which do not permit much wiggle room in terms of pattern and color,neckwear is often the ultimate statement of personality. While he should still avoid colors that are too bold and designs that are jarring, lawyers don’t have to live in sartorial jail. A patterned, deep blue, silk, six-fold tie pairs perfectly with traditional suit colors while the subtle pattern offers something different. For a little more personality, a wide purple dotted tie will do the trick without being too loud.
While the right clothes will not make a lawyer better or worse at his job, we have established that dressing “like a lawyer” sends the right signal. That signal may be “I am aggressive,” “I am reliable,” or even “I want what you want.” Whatever message a lawyer wants to send, he can do it subtly and without a word if he pays attention to what he wears. Remember, perception is half the battle: the rest is up to you.
Looking for more style tips and inspiration? Browse Aklasu’s Zenith and Prestige collections and read about our Pillars of Style so you can achieve an understated sophistication that will help you look the part no matter where you are in your career.
1This quote is attributed to fashion designer, Tom Ford. ↩ 2No pun intended.. ↩