I’ve been through a few fashion trends and I appreciate others’ perspectives on style. In our profession, it’s important to look … professional. Looking good can help bolster your self-confidence and can certainly affect how others see you. But the next time you’re in a room full of lawyers comparing ties and admiring one another’s socks, ask yourself if that’s really what you came to do. (You know. You’ve been there. It happens.)
Here’s a bit of advice from an old guy who’s never been at the top of the style page, for those men and women out there who want to look good, but feel kind of silly taking fashion too seriously.
- Buy good, well-made clothes. They do not have to be the most expensive, but spend the amount necessary. Investing in quality will be worth it in the way you look and feel — and they’ll last a whole lot longer than bargain items will. Any store with an in-house tailor to make modifications is a good bet.
- Take care of your clothes. Polish your shoes, clean and press your suits and ties. Replace the holey socks and scruffy belt.
- Don’t chase after the newest fashions. You are a lawyer, not a model parading down the runway at Fashion Week. If you like it, if it’s comfortable and flattering, who cares about the lapels or cuffs or vents? When you become a movie star, you can wear this year’s edgy style. Several of the suits I’ve worn have been in and out of style more times than I remember. At any given time, my medium-width ties have been either too thin or too wide. Which makes them just right.
- Wear what’s appropriate for the occasion. It’s not always appropriate to wear a suit and tie or a dress and blazer, but it’s sure inappropriate to be without it in court. You know your audience, so tailor your clothing to the occasion. Don’t be a prig, but don’t be a slob either.
I know a lot of lawyers who consider their style to be another component of competition — it’s just their nature to compete, to always aim to win, to always be the best in everything. Today we recognize this over-competitive compulsion not so much as a strength, but as a character quirk, if not a flaw.
And I know expectations and standards change over time — just visit a first-year law school lecture, or count the jackets and ties at the next fine dining establishment you visit. Still, while you can take your cues from those around you, stay true to yourself.
They say the clothes make the man. As far as I’m concerned, a good man can dress just about any way he wants and still be a good man.
We have more important work to do than trying to out-dress each other.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.