Dress Like A Lawyer: 5 Tips for Building Your Pupillage Wardrobe

Soon-to-be-pupil Carmen Tham shares some tips on how to build a pupillage wardrobe so you can dress to impress, and for success!

Once a law student obtains his/her legal qualifications, the usual next step would be to apply for a pupillage under a “master” at a law firm.

To be honest, it is a pretty daunting experience for us to step out into the working world, having been used to living our lives as students for the longest time. Recent law graduates are also aware that it is not the best time for law graduates in our generation to get an opportunity to shine in the legal field. There are so many law graduates being produced each year, and many countries are experiencing a shortage of legal jobs. The competition in this field is getting tougher and tougher all the time. Therefore, I must say, I consider myself very fortunate to have obtained a place for pupillage at my first-choice law firm.

After my worries of not being able to find a job had been put to rest, I started to worry about something else (what can I say, I’m quite a worrier). Like many (or could it be just me?), I was worried and clueless about what sort of attire I would need to get for work!

Don't worry, it's not all black and white.

I guess law students have a perception that all lawyers dress boringly in their usual black suits and white shirts for the guys, and black trousers/skirts and white collared blouses for the gals. This is half true, in that it applies to litigators due to the court attire requirements (including rules like black-and-whites, “not body hugging” etc), but fortunately for those working in a non-litigation firm, there are choices! What my soon-to-be boss/master said to me one day sparked off some ideas in my mind. He said that corporate lawyers should dress to impress (yes, I’ve applied to a corporate law firm).

I believe that lawyers should dress not only to impress, but also for success. A lawyer’s appearance is vital to gain the confidence and trust of clients. By being well-dressed, you give a good first impression to the clients. It gives the impression that you are trustworthy, confident, and that you have respect for the client, and the occasion. It’s sad, but true – people are attracted to, and do form judgements based on, appearances, which then forms an impression.

Below are my shopping tips in preparation for pupillage in a non-litigation firm. Much apologies to those who are about to practice litigation, as what I am about to say below would most likely not apply. I think litigators and those about to embark on that route are very much blessed in a sense that they can save loads of money in work clothes shopping – they can possibly get away with buying one set of clothes, wear them for a whole week, and still no one would notice. So, for those who, like me, are embarking on a pupillage in a corporate legal practice, we have to put in a bit more time, effort, and money to look for work clothes.

Tip #1: Navy is the new black

Black? What black? Go for navy instead! It is still easy to match, looks professional, and is still able mask any unsightly bulges or fat (which is an important concern).

Navy is a much more flexible colour compared to black. Flexible enough for you to hit the office in the day, and strut your way to evening functions, parties, or dinners.

See? Even the Royals are navy-ing it up.

Tip #2: Essentials

Although I have mentioned that black and white are “boring” colours, it is still a must to have some black items in your work wardrobe. You will at least need a pair of black trousers/slacks and/or a black pencil skirt. These are for the days that you get up in the morning for work and feel a little lazy. On days like those, you can easily and simply wear any coloured top to go with it, without having to worry that colours will clash.

Gals, button-down shirts are a must-have in your work wardrobe. Depending on the length of the shirt, you can decide whether to tuck it in, or leave it untucked. The rule of thumb is that you should always experiment with how it looks when tucked and untucked. It should not be too long (mid-hip level would be best), and should always be shorter than your suit jacket or blazer.

4 ways to wear a shirt (L-R: tucked, loosely tucked, untucked, layered over a camisole).

Feel free to have as many colours as you can possibly pull off to add variety to your wardrobe. If you do wear a white shirt, you MUST either wear a bra which is a similar colour to your skin tone, or have a white camisole over it. The office is not your Victoria’s Secret runway. And trust me, unless you want to send out the wrong signals to your male colleagues, take my advice.

I am very sorry to say that there are not as many choices for the guys in terms of tops (or rather, I’m not sufficiently aware of these choices to be sharing tips on them anyway). However, you can make up for that with more neckties. There is a full range of neckties to choose from – different widths, and different patterns. Always start from the most classic styles first, then work varieties from there. If you are worried about not knowing which width to get, it is always safest to go with those that are between 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Store your ties properly by unknotting them when you get home, and hang or roll them up. This will ensure that your ties will last absolutely ages without creasing.

Tip #3: Mix it up

Besides having a variety of colours, try having different prints or patterns too. Try pinstripes, polka dots, florals, zig-zags, animal prints etc. However, do ensure that the patterns are not too fancy, or ones that will make your colleagues dizzy.

Tip #4: Shoes that look good, and feel good

Gals, please do not try to wear heels that you cannot even walk in to work. Not only does it hurt, it doesn’t look good when you start walking like a dinosaur.

If you can’t handle skyscraper high heels, there’s nothing wrong with going for kitten heels, wedges, or even flats. I believe that every woman should own at least one pair of shoes that make her and her feet feel fabulous. Unless you can afford designer shoes such as Louboutin and Choo (which are known to be incredibly comfortable), I suggest shoes from Clarks or Geox. Although they are not entirely fashionable, they are more affordable, and are worth every cent.

Something I bought from Clarks.

If you are still pretty determined about getting that pair of awesome-looking high heels which you know are going to pinch your feet – be sure to always have a pair of flats near you for you to change into halfway through the day. Store these in your car, or under your office desk.

Flats are your new best friend.

For the guys, it is simple: stick with all-leather, be it black leather or brown leather. And who says men don’t get variety with shoes? Try having different types of leather such as patent leather, glossy leather, and matte leather. Also, there’s the plain style, cap-toe, and wingtip for lace up shoes. Some even have extra stitching to give you a little more detail.

L-R: Plain, cap-toe, wing-tip.

Be bold, and go for some stitching.

Tip #5: Accessories – minimal but impressionable

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise! Need I say anymore?

It does not hurt to incorporate accessories into your work wear. There are simple things you can wear to make a big difference, such as watches (which also helps you to keep the time). Go for the classic steel-strapped watches that you can easily match with absolutely everything you can think of.

Gals, try to wear a necklace when wearing an open neckline, or you can even wear different earrings everyday of the week. Do ensure that the accessories are not excessively chunky or inappropriate (e.g. skulls). And guys, you can accessorise too – with belts and cufflinks.


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Posts by Carmen Tham

"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

Posted on 19 September 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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35 Responses to Dress Like A Lawyer: 5 Tips for Building Your Pupillage Wardrobe

  1. Wearing make up is of course not compulsory. As for me wearing make up will be up to the person of whether to look pleasing, fresh and presentable for a respective place and audience. Saw related discussions at fabulousafter40.com

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  4. mehndi

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  15. Thanks for sharing these tips on how to dress like a lawyer. Cheers!!

  16. Law is not for society, it is also need to stay with the best and better life. Hopefully the the article conscious us that we can take a another way for knowing the law.

  17. You should check out the attire before you go. There is a a lot of open events and they're difficult to keep track of, so, just like the boy scouts, remember to be prepared. Also, most events happen once work, so you will ought to plan in advance and produce a change of garments along with you to work each day.

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  19. OKT

    Sharks and their fashion sense, sigh ….

  20. Andrew Yong

    Gentlemen do not wear black suits during daytime. Suits should either be (navy) blue or (charcoal) grey, and if the courts insist on black, then you'll need a black jacket with grey striped trousers. Never wear brown shoes to work.

  21. ctaudreylim

    Minimal makeup – ie eyeliner would be ideal. However if you are absolutely stunning, you don't need any.

    Look presentable for clients so it makes your boss look good.

  22. Andrew Teh

    Make up is optional (if you look good, you look good) but preferred for client meetings.
    A jacket/suit is mandatory for meetings.
    I have a personal preference for ladies in skirts but pants are permitted.
    Flats can be worn, but in the office only.
    Dandruff, BO and bad breath are absolutely prohibited.
    Oh, do tie up the hair for court appearances and meetings.

    • carmen1106

      There are flats which are appropriate in professional settings too. I wore black flats to my Inn dinings. I don't think it should be restricted to office only. Give us girls a break. Wearing heels can be tiring and painful.

      • Andrew Teh

        But heels flatter (pun unintended) and accentuate the shape of the female leg, especially the calf. Some ladies tend to shuffle in flats. Sorry, just my observation.

        • carmen1106

          Lol so in the end, the reason we girls have to bear the pain to wear heels is just to please your eyes?

          • Andrew Teh

            LOL. Isn't that what your pupil master said…? Dress to impress…?

          • carmen1106

            Depends how you interpret it really. The way I look at it, impress as in the image and impression you carry in front of others. Nothing in the sexual way. Like I have mentioned in my article, it is to give the impression that one is confident. If a girl, when wearing flats is able to look confident and is able to carry herself well in front of others which then impresses that person, I don't see a reason why it is a must to wear heels

          • Ladies can still look sharp in close-toed flats/slightly wedged shoes. I have an orthopaedic condition which means I can't wear heels without causing health issues so I wear flats most of the time and wear heels with chunky heels only for special occasions. In compliance with court attire rules.

            Andrew Teh, pls have mercy on women's feet in your firm!

  23. Audrey

    force their pupils*

  24. Audrey

    Is it a must for girls to apply make up? Will the law firm force the their pupils or lawyers to do so?

    • carmen1106

      It's not to say it's a MUST and I'm not entirely sure if it'll be forced upon. However, I think that a girl should at least have a little bit of make up on as a respect to your clients. It's not nice to look pale and dead (especially in the morning). If you hate the feeling of having foundation on your face, try using BB Cream instead as it is lighter than normal foundations. Or if not, at least apply some lip gloss/colour on your lips.