Dress for Success: What to Wear in a Professional Atmosphere

Young, well-dressed lawyer
••• OJO Images/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Dressing professionally is something that many young women (and men!) struggle with when they are just joining the workforce. It is especially hard when dress codes are often so vague, and there is sometimes the question of how much personality you can show when you’re in a professional atmosphere. Fear not!  It’s not as scary as it seems. Here are three situations that you’ll undoubtedly face as a young lawyer, and how to handle those situations.

Situation #1: Job Interview

This is one situation where Barney Stinson’s advice is sound—you should always “suit up” for a legal job interview. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t show a little bit of your personality. Before your interview, do a little research into the company culture and then tailor your outfit accordingly.  For example, if your favorite color is green, and wearing something green makes you feel extra confident, make a judgment call on how vibrant you can be. This could take the form of a statement necklace, the shirt that is worn under your suit jacket, or your tie—whatever you think is appropriate.

You want to be your best self at a job interview, and if a fun accent color does that for you, you should find a way to fit it in. Another key to looking polished and professional at your job interview?  Make sure your suit fits you well. A tailored suit is the key to rocking that look, which is exactly what you want to do.

Situation #2: Networking Event

A networking event calls for a little more fun since there is often food or even drinks involved in these sorts of events. However, you still want to make sure that you are portraying yourself in the best light possible. Men, this is where you can wear more vibrant shirts and ties with your dress pants—don’t go so far as to believe anything goes, but it might be useful to stand out from the crowd a bit.  Women, here is where you get to show your personal sense of style. If you feel extra confident in pencil skirts, wear one.

  If you like high heels, rock your favorites (as long as you can walk and stand comfortably in them). Do you have a fun statement necklace that would add some pop to a plainer ensemble?  Wear that. You see where this is going. As with a job interview, you want to show the best version of yourself, and it is at events such as networking events where you can slide some of your personality in.

Situation #3: First Day of a New Job

Before you begin your new job, be sure to ask someone what the dress code is. If you’re lucky, they’ll give you a copy of a written dress code or direct you to where you’ll be able to find it. Whatever you do, be sure to follow the dress code on your first day of work. Within the confines of the dress code, wear something that brings out a happy medium between the two C’s associated with professional attire—comfort and confidence. You can likely dress similarly to how you dressed at your interview.

Since it will be your first day, you’ll probably be meeting a lot of people, and potentially walking around more than usual in the process. Consider that when you’re picking out your footwear. You also may not know what the temperature of the office is going to be—some offices are kept at warmer or cooler temperatures than others. For your first day, it is advisable to dress in layers—maybe a dress shirt or blouse under a blazer or sweater. This way, if it’s cool, you have something to keep you warm while you’re settling into your new desk, and if it’s warm, you can take it off and hang it on the back of your chair (for your first day, make sure your shirt has sleeves).

Whatever event you’re dressing for, keep this in mind—it is perfectly acceptable to infuse some of your personality into your professional wardrobe choices. As long as you abide by all dress codes and keep the vibe of the situation in mind, you are free to be yourself. Your professional self, that is. 

Happy styling!