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Need to learn how to shop/dress like a professional

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

I'm starting law school in the fall and one of the things I'm going to have to buy is professional attire. The problem is, I have never in my life had to do this before (shop for and then dress in professional attire). Last time I was in a professional environment, I was in the military and hence a uniform. Since I got out, I've had an informal student/mom wardrobe, plus semi-uniform attire for work (discount retail).


Any tips or guidance? I feel in over my head in this area.

post #2 of 17

Where do you live? Is there a mall close by? I get my professional work clothes at either The Limited or Express because they come in short sizes for the pants and regular pants are way to long on me.

Does your school make you dress up for classes?

post #3 of 17
I was told - find someone who dresses how you want to and find out where they shop.

You should also try to dress for the next level up. If you are staff, dress like a supervisor. If you are a supervisor, dress like a manager...etc.
post #4 of 17

I wouldn't spend to much before you graduate. One formal  navy interview suit (pants are fine) and one or two other formalish outfits. Pants and a nice sweater or a tailored dress.


 Do you have an Ann Taylor near you? Traditional, updated suits either with a pants or suit.


Whatever you do, don't based your outfit on the J Crew catalog. I am sick of our associates wearing super tight pants and four inch sandals with low cut shirts.

post #5 of 17

Also, many big law firms are casual at least part of the week...

post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 

At this point, I need one outfit for certain in-class presentations, interviews, etc. Given that I'm currently working on losing baby weight, more than one outfit would be uncalled for I think.


I'd follow that "imitate someone whose style you like" thing, but I can't think of anyone I actually know.


I wish I was a guy in this respect. It's a lot more straightforward for them!

post #7 of 17
post #8 of 17

Outside of courtrooms, people wearing full formal suits is pretty rare.  Most places and situations are more casual.  Nice wool slacks, good leather shoes and a sweater set is probably a good choice.  Try to avoid going trendy.

I work in a corporate environment and the most dressed I get is pant suits and silk blouse.  


If you are still losing weight and this is not investment clothing, consider going to a thrift store.  

post #9 of 17

I made it through law school (plus some) with just one suit. I've found that I really only needed one for going to court. I got a suit with pants & a skirt so that if I had something back-to-back I could just switch out the blouse & the bottom half & voila - new suit! I thought I'd be dressing more nicely in law school... but jeans ruled the day for me. In the end I could have cared less if I was the most casually dressed student in the classroom.


Before my first summer job, I bought a pair of khakis, a pair of black slacks & some tops & cardigans on sale. There was some ridiculous sale at the Banana Republic Outlet store & I was totally set with minimal damage to my bank account. Those really got me through. Unfortunately, I had to do the same before my next internship given the "changes" my body underwent after carrying a baby for 9 months. winky.gif Lately, wearing skirts & dresses has added some flexibility to my wardrobe & I have found I feel more confident wearing skirts (they're definitely more forgiving for my body!).


But, I'd agree that if you feel your body size is in flux, definitely opt for gently used clothing or sales.

post #10 of 17

You won't need a suit until you're interviewing.  Wait until spring to get one.  In class presentations are pretty rare (I think I did 3 in 3 years of law school, and only one of those was a dress up one). 


Go CLASSIC.  Only buy styles that will still be in style in 5 years.  The super trendy stuff doesn't generally go well with suits.


I would shop at outlet malls to get deals, or go on DiaperSwappers under the For Mom and Dad forum - I've found some good stuff on there that I can definitely wear to work.  I wouldn't go super casual to work, I'd wear nice slacks and a nice shirt.  But no jacket, unless its an interview, or you work at a very formal job.  My friend is a DA and he has to wear a formal suit to work every day (but that could just be him, he always dressed to impress in law school too!)


Good luck!!!

post #11 of 17

you probably won't have free time,   but if you have time,   you can save a bundle by cruising the clearance racks at Ann Taylor or maybe Talbots  for suits.   Try things on periodically and only buy if they look great and also are a good deal.     Since you are a student,  you could also ask relatives to loan you an outfit for the day too ;)

post #12 of 17

When I needed professional clothes as I prepared to leave grad school, I used an image consultant. I told her my budget ($1200), that I needed a mix and match wardrobe that would take me through at least a six day conference without significant repetition and that I wanted to be able to wear everything for at least 7-10 years. She booked me in during their annual half-off sale. I went in, tried on a bunch of things she collected for me from their warehouse, and walked out two hours later with a complete wardrobe (two pants, two skirts, three jackets, three shirts, three sweaters) plus a new pair of shoes.


The consultant got paid a commission on everything I bought. I looked up retail costs later and found that I paid way less than it would have cost for me to put it all together myself. (Not that I have the fashion sense to do that anyway.)


That was 3 years ago. I've bought four new shirts/sweaters since then to go with the suits, plus a couple of scarves, but otherwise I already have everything I need. It was a major cost for me, but I saved up for it, and it has proved to be a great long term investment. I still love all of the clothes, and expect to have very few professional clothing costs over the next 7 years. About $120 per year is very reasonable for professional clothes.


Just something to consider if you have the option. It was an amazing experience for me. I am not a big fan of shopping at stores -- I don't mind it for an hour or so, but then I start to feel overwhelmed -- so this was perfect. (Two hours! Full wardrobe! Someone who actually has an eye for these things bringing me clothes! No decisions to make other than, 'do I like this or not?')

post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the tips! I like your suggestion, ~Pi. I might do that at the end of law school. For now I just need one formal business outfit--I got the heads up on the formal presentation in the L1 writing class at the welcome day.


Something like that "12 things every woman should have in her wardrobe" looks a little alien to me, to be honest. The only skirts I like are ankle or at least mid-calf length, none of my jeans currently fit (and frankly it's too hot for jeans here 6 mo. out of the year). The white blouse seems sensible...a "little black dress" is so NOT me! Ditto heels. I refuse to wear heels or even pumps; both my mother and grandmother had bunion surgery and I have no desire to follow in their footwear footsteps!


Casual will definitely be the order of the day most of the time, I just need that one outfit for now.

post #14 of 17
I've found that the clothes I get the most use out of are the black skirts & blazers. I rarely wear a formal suit unless I'm going to court. In law school I had a navy blue suit and a black one I got at the outlet mall - 8 years later I still wear both of them. I prefer longer, mid calf skirts because it's easier to hide a run in your pantyhose redface.gif at least half my wardrobe is black
post #15 of 17

I didn't own a suit until my second semester of law school, when I started interviewing.  A conservative black skirt suit, or pantsuit, a few solid-color shells for underneath, closed-toe black pumps and hose are all you need!  If you can afford it, or can find a thrift-store version, then a second suit in pinstripes, navy or gray is nice as well.  I would hit up a big department store, like Macy's or Lord & Taylor, to find the brands that work for you, then you can sometimes find discounts online if you need more.  Also check out sales at Ann Taylor ... LOFT is a bit more casual but has some good finds on occasion.  I also think that finding a proper fit, and taking care of your clothes (hanging up properly, dry clean as needed) is more important than shelling out the cash for a pricey suit.  As for everyday classes, I wore jeans - it's not like business school where you are expected to be dressed up for class.

post #16 of 17


post #17 of 17

Nordstrom has a personal shopping service that is free and pretty good for this sort of thing.


I second the recommendation for Ann Taylor. They sell consistantly classic professional work attire and reasonable prices. They  often have sales and discounts. The one thing lately is that they have trended towards shorter skirt lengths than are appropriate for more conservative work environments.


I have been working on building a 'basics' wardrobe. I've actually found the magazine "In Style" to be pretty helpful. Every issue they have 5-10 outfits put together and I can usually replicate versions of them appropriate for work with things in my closet now that I have most basics.

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