This post is part of the MyShingle Solos summer series which will run between June 17 and July 3, 2014.
As a new or solo attorney, most of your financial resources are spent on necessities like office essentials, transportation, and marketing. After covering the basics to run your law practice, there’s not much cash left for anything else. It’s easy to overlook your most important business asset: YOU! Clients notice your marketing style, courtroom behavior, and appearance. If you’re charging hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to provide legal services, you need to look like you’re worth every penny. Opposing counsel and judges notice your looks too. The way an attorney presents himself/herself impacts on how others perceive his/her skills and capabilities. You only get one shot to make a first impression, so take the time to build a classic yet stylish work wardrobe that projects a professional image.
Yes, you have to look the part. No, you don’t have to spend large sums of money to do so.
The examples below will help you build a professional wardrobe with a limited number of pieces that you can easily mix and match to create a variety of outfits. A minimalist wardrobe will shorten the time it takes you to get ready in the morning and will save you quite a bit of money. That’s right, I’m going to help you save time AND money.
Where to shop
What if you don’t have $500 to budget for clothing? What if you have expensive tastes and don’t believe that $500 will go very far?
With minimal effort, you can save a lot of money. In fact, saving money can be as simple as asking for a discount. Military, veterans, student, and senior discounts are everywhere! If you don’t see a sign posted, just ask. You can also get a discount by showing your AAA, AARP, and other membership cards at the register.
Try signing up for store loyalty programs. Most stores will email (or snail mail) coupons and discount codes to you. Some stores even send text messages with discount codes, allowing you to shop and save without printing a physical coupon. Another easy way to save is to shop at a discount retail store like Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory, or Nordstrom Rack. Outlet malls are full of deals that are worth the road trip. Today’s outlet stores are more than just dumping grounds for “irregular” merchandise. You can get quality items from outlet stores like Calvin Klein, Coach, Guess, Michael Kors, Banana Republic, and Gap — AND show your AAA card for an additional discount.
With a little extra effort, you can save by shopping online on sites like Zappos, Piperlime, Zulily, and Amazon. Make sure to check the return policy and shipping options before you fall in love with the low prices. Online shoppers can save even more money with a quick Google search before placing an order. Simply search “coupon code” and the store’s name to find a list of promotional codes that can add a discount to your online shopping cart. Sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin list discount codes and other ways to save at your favorite stores.
Another place for quality, budget-friendly professional clothes is your local thrift store or consignment shop. Visit an upper class neighborhood in your city and you’re likely to discover at least one chic consignment shop filled with affordably-priced gently used items.
I have very little experience with men’s fashion, so this article is primarily focused on women. However, the basic tips about bargain shopping and building a professional wardrobe with classic fabrics in neutral colors can be successfully used by men too. Please skip the parts about skirts, heels, and necklaces. Buy some ties, pocket squares, and extra shirts instead.
The basic attorney wardrobe:
- A sturdy bag
- Comfortable shoes (1-2 pairs)
- A classic suit (jacket, pants, skirt, dress)
- Dress Shirts (4-5 shirts)
Hopefully, you already have a professional bag and can focus on buying clothes and shoes. If you need one, resist the urge to break the bank on a fancy designer bag. Choose an affordable, functional bag and upgrade to a more “high class” option later down the road. Look for something in a solid color (black or brown is best) that has comfortable straps and lots of room inside.
To get the most bang for your buck pick a brand that offers suit separates. I recommend Express, Tahari by ASL, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, and Ann Taylor. Buy a jacket, skirt, and pants in the same solid color (black, gray, or navy) and fabric. Consider buying two pairs of the same pants, so you can have one pair hemmed for when you want to wear heels and the other pair hemmed for flats. If your budget allows, buy an additional pinstripe or patterned jacket or solid color dress to expand your possible outfit combinations. An off-the-rack suit won’t fit perfectly so be sure to budget some funds for tailoring.
The white dress shirt is an absolute “must.” The combination of a black suit with a crisp, white shirt is a sophisticated look that will never go out of style. Purchase three or four button-down shirts of a good fit and quality. You’ll also need a basic camisole or shell, a few knit shirts, and a good matching sweater or sweater set. Again, set aside funds for tailoring.
Every woman needs a pair of comfortable 1- to 2-inch plain black heels. “Comfortable” does not mean ugly and bulky. There are a wide variety of brands that make comfortable dress shoes in modern, feminine styles including, Anne Klein, Naturalizer, and Kenneth Cole. It’s also smart to have a pair of flats for walking long distances. Leather “breathes” a lot better than synthetic materials and usually last longer. For added comfort, think about getting foot and toe cushions to protect your feet. I put Dr. Scholl’s insoles in every pair of heels I own. Also, I hate pantyhose. I prefer knee high dress socks and no-show microfiber footies.
Your other purchases should be neutral, traditional styles, but feel free to add personality to your outfits with accessories. Make your suit extra fancy-looking with a brooch. Use necklaces and scarves to add color and interest to an otherwise boring outfit.
Shopping for clothing does not have to be expensive, there are plenty of ways to establish a reasonably affordable wardrobe of professional-quality work wear. Assuming you’re starting with nothing, it is very realistic to spend $35 on a bag (solid black), $45 on a pair of heels (solid black) and $35 on a pair of flats (solid black), $90 on a suit jacket (solid black), $110 on two pairs of pants (one black, one pinstripe), $55 on a skirt (black or pinstripe), $60 on a dress that matches the jacket, $55 on four shirts (two button-down, one camisole, one shell), and have about $15 of your $500 budget left for accessories. That’s fewer than 15 items in your closet! You could spend only $300-$400 with the right combination of sales/coupons and thrift shop finds. As your career grows, add more variety or better quality items to your wardrobe.
If you already own some of these items, you could spend a lot less, buying one or two new things every month to create a practical, minimalist wardrobe.
One more thing…
Read the laundry instructions! Avoid buying a closet full of “dry clean only” work items. After saving so much money, it would be a shame to spend all those savings at the dry cleaners.