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dressing for a law firm interview, business, business casual, casual friday, career fashion, casual office, office attire, office wear, officewear, work clothes for women, work fashion, work wardrobe, workwear, professional style, apparel, clothing, fashion blog, fashion website, new york fashion, texas fashion blog, designer clothing, 9 to 5 chicHow to Dress for a Law Interview for Women

By: Diya Liu

So you’ve landed your first interview with a law firm, or perhaps you’re about to face the week-long endurance test that is On Campus Interviews (OCI). What do you wear to the interview? 

Most of us know that dressing the part can help you put your best foot forward with the interviewer. The more difficult question is how exactly to do just that? Women have come a long way in the sphere of workplace attire. One law firm partner recalled, “the 80’s and 90’s law firm clothing for women mirrored that of the men: a suit, bow tie, and a starched oxford shirt.” However, the legal industry is still much more conservative than most other industries.
As you may see below, what is considered interview attire varies slightly from interviewer to interviewer. When in doubt, go the more conservative route. No matter what, you do not want to be remembered as the candidate who wore neon nail polish or the trendy leopard pumps to OCI.

Certain factors you should consider when determining the levels of formality for law firm dress codes:

  • The “BigLaw” firms are more conservative in dressing than small or mid-sized firms.
  • East Coast (especially New York City) firms are more conservative in dressing than anywhere else.
  • Firms that typically serve clients in creative or tech industries will have a slightly more relaxed dress code than firms that typically serve a more conservative industry such as finance or banking.

Err on the side of caution and dress more formally if you are unsure of the firm’s or your interviewer’s level of formality, an interviewer said:

If you are not certain how conservative the law firm is, you should opt for a skirt suit in a dark color, a light colored blouse, pantyhose, pumps and minimal jewelry. Dressing appropriately for the interview is key to your success, as your appearance should not detract from your resume or presentation—you want to be certain the interviewer is focusing on your words rather than your outfit.Lisa Ferri, Partner and IP Practice Leader 

The Tailored Suit:

Wear a matching skirt suit or sheath dress suit in grey, black or navy blue. Be sure to wear nude panty hose. I would personally save the pant suits for after the job start, as the most conservative camps of the interviewers still view the skirt suit more favorably than pant suits. However, a BigLaw partner mentioned that a “well-tailored trouser suit is appropriate for most law firms as well,” after emphasizing that tighter pants are still too inappropriate for interviews. {I personally like to purchase a matching set of skirt, blazer, dress, and trousers so I can mix and match with other pieces for a variety of formal and business casual looks. (See related: 7 ways to rework your suit.)}

Material: Choose a suit where the skirt and blazer are both fully lined and avoid anything with polyester. While a wool suit is the most conservative option, consider the temperature outside and inside during your interview. Wearing a black wool suit when it temperature is 100 degrees outside (for my fellow Texans) might not be the wisest choice.

Fit and Length: The skirt should be no more than one or so inches above your knees. When in doubt, sit down in your skirt in front of the mirror to see how far the skirt rides up. I have also heard more conservative female attorneys stating that the skirt should not be so tight as to showcase the contour of your behind.

Tailoring and Cleaning: How well the suit is tailored is sometimes more important than the suit itself. Be sure to get the suit tailored more than a few weeks in advance just in case your tailor makes a mistake and you need to get something redone. Get your suit dry cleaned well in advance of the interview. Finally, consider carrying a small steamer if you are flying out for an interview to get rid of any last-minute creases.

When preparing for an interview, be sure to plan your outfit at least 3-4 days in advance. There is nothing more stressful on the night before your interview than realizing that the suit you had planned to wear is still at the dry cleaners! Try everything on, including hosiery, to make sure your complete outfit is in perfect condition. Also, be mindful of your audience.  If the interview is with a big firm or district attorney’s office, dress on the conservative side- dark suit, neutral top, low-mid range high heels in black or nude, and minimal makeup. However, if you are interviewing for a firm that services a more creative sector (e.g., fashion or art law), I would try to wear one piece that shows your artistic side, either with a printed blouse or silk scarf tied to your bag. A subdued, colored heel that complements your outfit can also be a nice touch. At the end of the day, your outfit should reflect the intelligent, hard-working, confident person that you are, while still displaying a hint of personal style. – Elisabeth Conroy, Art Attorney 

Tops:

Wear a solid-colored blouse, preferably in cotton, silk, chartreuse, or rayon. While blue and white are the safest options, other muted or neutrals are fine provided they match well with the color of the suit. A conservative print such as small polka dots or stripes will be acceptable for law firms in the tech or creative fields (i.e., intellectual property boutique firms).  A higher neckline is a must and hidden small safety pins are great for keeping a button-up blouse from gaping. Avoid sheer and semi-sheer materials. My favorite blouses for work are the more opaque versions of the Equipment blouses and the more affordable Express Portofino blouses since they roll up nicely for traveling without becoming wrinkled.

Grooming and Accessories: 

what to wear to a law firm interviewShoes: Wear close-toed pumps under 3.5 inches in nude, black, or brown. Make sure you can walk in your shoes comfortably. (Tip: A good way to break in new leather shoes is to wear a thick pair of socks with them and use your blowdryer to gently stretch the shoes.)

Keep away from trendy studs, straps, buckles, patterns, or funky heel shapes. Navy suits tend to pair well with dark brown or nude shoes and accessories, while black tend to pair well with black accessories. Grey suits can pair with nude, black, or brown accessories.

Hair: Wear hair down and well-groomed or up in a neat bun. Pin bangs back, as they tend to make one look much younger. Unfortunately, some sources say that the most formal interviewers still prefer the interviewee’s hair straightened. (See Also)

Nails: Keep nails clean and nail polishes in clear or neutral shades. My go-to shade for interviews is this one. This whole set is great for the more conservative work place or interviews.

Makeup: Wearing a baseline amount of makeup helps to keep the overall look sleek and professional, as “fresh-faced” can appear too young. A bit of foundation, mascara, and a flush of color (natural blush or lipstick) is a good start.


Accessories:
Keep jewelry to a minimum and pick classic choices such as stud earrings, small fine silver or gold jewelry, and pearl sets. Black tote bags and handbags are safe bets for stowing extra resumes, a spare pair of flats, a spare pair of panty hose for those wearing the skirt suit, and makeup bag.

 

 

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Lastly, wear an outfit that makes you feel confident! For example, while power heels are better options than flats, stick to oxfords or ballet flats if you cannot walk in heels. Marjorie, law partner, sums up the proper interview attire nicely:

When going to an interview for a law firm, an attorney has to look sharp and well put-together: crisp, clean, pristine, nothing out of place. The most important part of your attire for any interview is your confidence — if you wear that well, your clothes will do little to detract from that. Work attire can be incredible expensive. However, if you are going to ‘splurge’ on any part of your work wardrobe budget — the interview suit is the place to do it. Landing the job increases the budget! Paying attention to detail is key. Get a tailored suit in classic colors in navy blue, black, charcoal grey, period. Crisp white collared shirt (if this could be tailored- go for it!). Minimal jewelry: a string of pearls are classic or a pair of stud earrings. Full makeup for day wear: no bright colors, i.e., reds, dark colors, etc. You should wear high heeled shoes (no platforms or open toed). If you have long hair it should be pulled back or in an up do. Your briefcase should only have your resumes, writing samples, and wallet — it should not look overstuffed. Your outerwear should be a full-length trench: short jackets tend to make even nicest suits look frumpy with minimal exceptions. Nails should be nude or French manicure. – Marjorie Mesidor, Partner and Lead Counsel

Have a question you need our panel of professional females to answer? Comment below or tweet us at @TheStylishSoph.

Want to join the panel of influential women on the Stylish Council who helps answer career-related style & beauty questions? Email thestylishsophisticate(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet us at @TheStylishSoph.

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