Sartorial Advice Sought.

Folks,

I come to you seeking help. I am a second year law student. I’ve been lucky enough to land a summer associate position at one of the New York firms. I’m very excited, as you might imagine, but this has also presented me with a few problems.

I had a few years out in the workforce between undergrad and law, but none of the jobs I had ever required me to wear anything less casual than a polo shirt and khakis. Now I find myself needing several suits and more “business casual” attire, and I know nothing–and really, I do mean nothing–about men’s fashion of that sort. I’m also on a budget–while I’ll be making decent money this summer, right now I’m making none at all. I suspect my credit card(s) will be taking the brunt of this effort, but I’d like to be as gentle to them as I can.

I want to look damn good–a lot rides on this coming summer, and I want my appearance to be as professional as my work product.

So, I come to you all, seeking advice. I’ve got several questions in my head, though they may just be starters.

First: What do I need, at a minimum, to make this work, in terms of pieces of clothing? The firm has a “business casual” dress code unless meeting with clients or going to court. Right now I have two suits, one charcoal grey and the other a lighter gray pinstripe. (The charcoal, unfortunately, has a small repair on the back of one leg where it had a bit of moth damage; the fabric is basically pinched there, and it looks sort of like a permanent wrinkle. In the long run, I know I need a new charcoal grey suit. ) I also have two sportcoats/blazers, one in a tan tweed fabric, the other black. I have a number of (three or four?) white dress shirts and a couple french blue, one with pinstripes, the other plain. Finally, I have a number of dress pants: A couple of greys, a navy blue, a khaki, and a black pair that’s really too small in the waist for me any more. Oh, I’ve got shoes: a pair of really comfortable black slip-ons and a pair of really uncomfortable plain jane black dress oxfords. (I am hoping that they break in–I bought them for my second interview, so they’re brand new.)

How can I do it cheaply? I’ve been shopping at K&G Fahion Warehouse, but I find myself a little bit shy of much of their stuff–I don’t recognize the brand names, and I don’t know if that’s because I"m just an innocent when it comes to this, or if they’re basically house brands of acceptable quality, or if they’re basically house brands of unacceptable quality. As such, I’ve tried hard to stick to names I recognize, even if that means paying a bit more. Other options around here: We’ve got several TJ Maxxes (TJs Maxx?), a Men’s Wearhouse (where I bought that charcoal suit, two of my favorite ties, and my nicest dress shirt), and a Value City. I’ve always liked MW; they have excellent service and, IIRC, free alterations. But they are the most expensive option. I’m willing to entertain the thought of going through online sources as well, though of course I’ll have to be able to figure out what’s quality and what’s not.

There are other questions (how do I figure out what matches?) but those two are the biggies, the ones that I need to settle pretty much before I can even get started.

Thanks in advance to all of you.

Huh? Sounds like you have more than enough of the appropriate clothing to work in a law firm.

I recommend you pick up a copy of John Molloy’s New Dress for Success. It’s the classic on this topic. While some of it is a little dated, he’s got the fundamentals down, and it’s a surprisingly fun read. You can read it as a prescriptive how-to, or as a piece of sociology. It’s cheap on Amazon, or your library probably has it.

http://www.amazon.com/John-Molloys-New-Dress-Success/dp/0446385522/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-3120125-1047326?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1193017240&sr=8-1

I would not go to T.J. Maxx for business clothes. I don’t get a good feeling about K&G or Value City, either. We’ve bought some stuff for my husband at Men’s Wearhouse and were reasonably happy with it. Ideally you should be thinking department store, with no discount angle. When time allows, plan a visit to the nearest big city with real department stores (Macy’s, Dayton’s, Hudson-Belk are some examples. Sears and JC Penney not quite as good)*. Buying good stuff on sale is fine, but buying discount products is not a good idea. Don’t compromise on fit or condition, ever. So I would put your current charcoal gray suit out to pasture already. Also, if those new shoes don’t get to be comfortable ASAP, I’d prioritize a good, comfortable pair of shoes. Don’t be afraid to ask the guys in the stores some basic questions. They do this stuff for a living. If they don’t want to help or don’t have useful input that’s a sign you aren’t shopping in a good enough place.

Also, match your clothes up to see if you can get through a typical week, including a reasonable number of court/client meetings. Figure out how you’ll need to time your visits to the dry cleaner’s. Can you drop off on Friday AM and pick up Monday PM without having a crisis on Monday or Friday? If you run into any critical-path nothing to wear situations as you plan this out, that tells you what to buy.

  • Once you get a job, you may want to go higher end than these, Jos. A. Bank or other menswear specialty places. But it sounds like you don’t want to break the bank, either.

Good luck!

If you’re going to be in NYC and want suits and other clothing on the cheap, try here:

http://www.c21stores.com/

Note: You might not see what you want or need here on first bat but places like this get in large shipments all the time so if you’re persistent, you should be able to get some nice clothes at decent prices.

I have to ask - Which firm?

I’ve noticed that different firms have slightly different definitions of “business-casual”.

For example, the firm I work for (a large NYC firm in the Wall Street area) apparently defines business casual as “suit and tie”. It’s rare for me to see an attorney here who isn’t in a conservative suit (or at least looking like they could be back in a suit in seconds - usually I see them wearing slacks and the sort of button-down you see worn with a suit and a tie. The jacket is missing but presumably nearby, just in case.)

If you’ve received your offer already, the outfit you wore for your interview(s) will be totally appropriate for at least the first day. Then you can take a hard look at what the other folks are wearing. Or, if you want to get a head start, you might give the Hiring Office of the firm you received the offer from a call - they know that this is probably your first legal job and they probably won’t mind giving you some advice. Advice that’s more specific and based on better information that you’ll get on the Interwebs. I’d imagine you have a contact there already, since you said you were in possession of an offer :slight_smile:

ETA: If you can remember what people were wearing during your interviews, that’s probably the best guide you’ll find. You’ll need to plan out your wardrobe to have enough pieces to last a week (more if you have to work around drycleaning scheduling).

I’m not good at fashion advice. I wish I could say it’s only happened once that I get to work and realize my shirt’s on inside out.

But there was one interesting bit. I was getting measured for a suit by a local merchant, and he asked which company I asked for, so I told him and asked him why he wanted to know.

He said, Well, this company likes your seam to break right about here (he meant the front leg seam should buckle in a certain place because the cuff is being lifted by the top of your shoe), while that company prefers that it doesn’t.

Was he pulling my leg? Actually, he was, literally, but that’s not what I mean - was he joking? Or is there actually somebody that cares this much? He seemed serious. God only knows how many tens of thousands of dollars I’m losing by not reading men’s fashion magazines…

Aangelica, I’m a bit hesitant to say that here, out of a generalized feeling that it might be somehow inappropriate. (I’m a bit of a worrier–first fashion, now this…) However, I will drop a line to a few contacts I have at the firm–not hiring folk necessarily, but some alumni from my school that’re working there whom I feel I can trust.

Harriet, thanks for the advice. We’ve got the major dept. stores around here–one of them, in fact, even has its corporate headquarters here! :wink: My budget being what it is, however, means that Men’s Wearhouse might well be about the best I can manage for the moment, especially for suits. Depends on what sort of sales Macy’s, et al. happen to have on, and what ultimately winds up being on sale when I get there. (Last sale on suits Macy’s had, they had almost nothing in my size, and the few that they did were, well, ugly.)

valley, thank you also. I will add that to my NY notebook of useful information for this summer.

Napier, that’s what I’m worried about…

Aangelica’s question is the key one. Business casual at Cravath is different from business casual at Willkie.

One cheap and easy thing to do is subscribe to a men’s magazine like GQ. Cost ya $10 and you’ll get a sense of current fashion, how to match things, what makes a good pair of shoes, etc. after a couple of issues.

The Men’s Warehouse has really nice stuff and their people are extremely good at helping you find the slot you’re looking for. I’ve had great success buying both suits and business casual there.

Regarding money…You might find that buying two or three good pieces each payday might work out better than going to a lesser quality/more quantity approach. Classic pieces are what you want. You’ll be able to wear them for a couple years while you build your career and fashion budget.

Also, try asking other shoppers if you’re not sure about something. People can be very helpful with opinions on fit or cut or what have you.

Men’s Wearhouse is okay for most work environments, but will mark you as a non-starter at a law firm. You’re really going to need to get friendly with the folks at Brooks Brothers or Thos. A. Banks. When all other things are equal, judges and juries tend to like the guy in the better suit. At your career level, clothes are an investment.

I strongly recommend you pick up occasional issues of Esquire and GQ, so you don’t show up for Casual Friday in jeans or a golf shirt, or some other career-stunting gaffe.

Yes, yes, yes. I’m an LA biglaw associate, and I can tell you that Aangelica and Richard Parker are on the money. Can you find a 3L who summered at your firm? Get specific info about what you need. Then, make sure you have enough clothing to get through your first week. During that week, observe, observe, observe. Make notes on what the male associates wear; remember that during your first week, you’ll only meet the associates that the firm thinks are winners (those are the associates tagged to take you to lunch and teach orientation). On your first weekend, go shopping to supplement your wardrobe for week 2 to fit what those associates are wearing. Wear your week 1 and week 2 wardrobes through at least week 3, then consider whether you need to supplement.

Also, may I just say, again, how glad I am I don’t work in NY. In LA, we truly are casual, as in “shoes optional” on non-client floors. A NY associate was visiting my office last week; we were chatting and she said how hard it was to work in LA. “In NY, the office is hopping until at least 11pm; here in LA, everyone’s cleared out by 7.”

Yes, my child. AND we make NY salaries. AND we don’t have to pay NY real estate prices.

[/soapbox]

I bought a suit for my boyfriend at a second hand clothing fair for $5. It’s Armani. We had the tailoring altered by a friend who is a seamstress. It looks a million bucks.
Might be worth a rummage?

Thanks to all y’all. There is indeed such a 3L here, plus a couple of folks from my school who’re current junior associates that I feel I can pretty well trust. All around, this sounds like a fairly decent game plan.

As to LA: You couldn’t pay me to work there, barefoot or not. Bay area, maybe, but not LA. I 'spect NY will be more my style anyway, but if not, the rest of the world isn’t going anywhere. :slight_smile:

eBay. Thrift stores. I am serious, I have found big brand names, serious quality stuff at both. For sport coats Orvis is very nice, if you like the tweed look.

I find that a first rate blue blazer goes with grey slacks and chinos. You have to buy serious quality with a blue blazer, with a brand name. Nordstrom. I have found $1000 Nordy’s suits for under $100 on eBay. Or hell, you can buy $7000 suits for $1000. I just saw a *Burberry *suit currently going for under $50.

Sierra Trading Post (their Traditions catalog, or on-line) has many top end brand-new suits for less than 1/2 price. Make sure you know your size, but any decent tailor can fit a good suit that isn’t far off, and you will likely need to do that.

Well, then, good luck, you poor misguided sot. :slight_smile:

There you go then! Sounds like a plan to me. If there’s a 3L that summered at the firm in question you can trust, ask them for guidance for sure.

If you’d like, feel free to email me (in my profile) and I can tell you precisely what the associates at my firm are wearing (and at several other major firms, as well).

Find a 3L of similar size and shape, and then surreptitiously steal his clothes.

In all seriousness, find a good tailor, for when it comes to business and formal attire, fit is the most important thing.

Most people are unaware that the personal shoppers at big department stores work for poor people as well as rich people. I’ve never done this, but I have friends who have - you call them up and you say, hi, I’m looking for a law wardrobe, I’m working at this firm, I have this much money, I am this size, can you help me? They can tell you if you can afford to buy anything or not, and they’ll pull the appropriate clothing for you and all those places have free alterations. A service that’s regrettably under-known.

Yeah, but he’s talking about bizcasual; not suits. He’s GOT suits. He needs bizcasual for 90% of his office time. Men’s Wearhouse is perfect for his needs.