When I started law school at Columbia, all new students were required to take a two-week orientation course in August before the start of the first semester. The administration seemed to give wide latitude to the professor to determine what sort of introduction to law school to provide. I think it’s fair to say that, in addition to teaching us about how to succeed in class, my professor wanted to help us learn something about how to succeed in the profession. I remember one class where the professor told us that it was very important for us to dress professionally as lawyers because it increased our ability to influence others and maintained the image of the profession. He said that every time we put on our lawyer hats, we should also put on our suits. Now, I have to admit that as a twenty-four-year-old law student, I brushed this piece of advice aside. But try, as I did, to continue wearing my loud, rainbow-colored t-shirts and think nothing of it, I soon (i.e. a couple years later) realized that there was some truth to my professor’s advice. Lawyers are paid to speak with authority. Adults don’t listen to kids: I had to learn how to dress like an adult.
But once I decided to update my wardrobe, I quickly realized that I was in need of a small fortune. That’s when the research started. I had to find a few quick and inexpensive ways to buy more adult-looking clothes (casual ones too because I didn’t want someone who knew me with my lawyer hat on to run into me looking like a complete slob outside of the office). Here are the results of my research:
The first place that I found for casual clothes was the sales section at Uniqlo. I liked their sweaters, khakis, and corduroys because these are fairly plain and come in classic colors. Uniqlo’s clothes are not expensive to begin with, but the best thing about Uniqlo is that much of their products go on sale at the end of the season. The sales can be incredible. A $30-40 pair of pants can go for as little as $7-8 if you buy them at the right time, but prices under $20 are still quite common. My advice is to check out Uniqlo for fit and then wait for a sale to shop. Once you’ve determined what your size is in a particular item of clothing, you can order from them online and receive free shipping on orders over $50.
Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store
I don’t have a lot of clothes from the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, but it strikes me that this store is pretty good for finding more casual clothing (especially polo shirts). The basic idea with outlet stores these days is that they all seem to sell clothing specifically made for the outlet. You generally don’t walk into an outlet and find clothing that was ever sold at the main store. That being said, I can barely tell the difference between a $40 polo shirt from the factory store and a $90 one from the main store. Did I mention that the factory store offers a 15% student discount?
Brooks Brother’s Friends and Family Events
Brooks Brothers has been my go-to for courtroom attire for quite some time, but it’s not cheap. The trick with Brooks Brothers is to buy only the few items that you absolutely cannot do without and to do so at a Friends and Family Event where you will get 25% off the entire store (at all other times, Brooks Brothers has a 15% student discount). At Brooks Brothers, you should get shirts, ties, and belts. You will need at least one of their three dress shirts deals (two whites and one light blue) without any collar buttons or anything like that, a couple ties (boring is best), and a black dress belt. In today’s world of more casual office styles, there aren’t many more places that you can go for courtroom attire and pay the kinds of prices you’ll find at a Friends and Family Event.
Century 21, Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off Fifth, T.J. Maxx, etc.
Discount retailers can be a great source for cheap suits and jackets, but beware: these stores also sell a lot of flashy clothing that would be inappropriate for work and might earn you a dirty look from the judge. It is generally pretty difficult to find really professional stuff at these types of stores. I would advise primarily shopping there for more casual clothing and maybe a professional piece or two once you can tell the difference between a professional and a trendy suit.
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