Law School, Orientation Outfits, and Dressing For You

Law School, Orientation Outfits, and Dressing For You | CorporetteHow should you dress for law school orientation? When you’re planning which outfits to wear, how much should you worry about looking professional, or put-together, or about making a good first impression? Reader N wonders…

I am extremely excited to be starting law school in the fall but I am puzzled by the idea of picking orientation outfits. Any suggestions?

Congratulations, Reader N! I still have such fond memories of law school, and we’ve covered a lot of things about it here, such as what to wear for mock trial competitions, which bag is best for law school casebooks, hornbooks, and of course your laptop. We’ve even talked about how — if you’re shopping for clothes before law school — your money may be best spent on interview and work attire. 2Ls, 3Ls, and recent grads: Anyone care to write a guest post on what bag is best these days, as well as any other tips or tricks for marrying the digital world with the study of law? For example: Did anyone like reading cases on Kindle or taking notes on an iPad (or, gah, an iPhone)?

ANYHOO: I’m sure I worried about which outfit to wear to orientation, but I couldn’t tell you what the heck I wore if my life depended on it. I was only two years out of college when I went to Georgetown, and honestly I don’t even think anything had occurred to me as not being “work-appropriate” (beyond a super short corduroy miniskirt that one of my older editor friends had pulled me aside and told me was not appropriate). Some of the older students had already formed conservative work wardrobes (particularly those who were coming from years on the Hill); others maybe just had a preppier style.

Honestly, I was probably the chick wearing bright red flare corduroys and a light blue sweater… on the days when I wasn’t wearing all black. With occasional pigtails, of course. My attire aside, I still did OK in law school, and graduated in the top 10% of my class, became one of the executive editors of law review, taught legal research and writing, etc. My point is: I just really have this memory of law school as being one of those places where hard work and smarts — all by themselves — could get you forward.

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So I say: wear what you want to orientation. This may fly in the face of much that we talk about on this blog, but:

  • You’re representing yourself. You’re not yet representing a client, a company, a VIP you work under… just you. So, you do you.
  • You’re in an academic setting. You want to get good grades from professors, who are notoriously a bit eccentric. (One professor I had in law school took joy in occasionally wearing a Bermuda lawyer’s outfit — knee shorts, knee socks, and a blazer — for no real reason other than the fact that she wanted to.) Note also that professors don’t get to choose whether they “work” with you the way that senior VIPs do at work, so you don’t need to “fit in” or show that you’re “in the same tribe” as them. The dynamic is also different, and clear. You’re not equals — not even close. Compare that to the law firm, where the moment you start work you are a colleague, and not sitting at the kids’ table anymore. (In BigLaw, at least, it’ll be years before you’re equals, but the dynamic is less clear, and if a partner shows up at a client’s office with a first-year associate, the understanding is that you are a Valued Colleague and a trustworthy extension of the partner.)
  • Sure, first impressions matter — but the first impressions I remember from law school are the first comments people made in class, when I started picking who I wanted in my study group. Orientation attire was irrelevant, at least to me.

Like I said above: if you’re buying some new things for law school with a limited budget, I would definitely spend my money on interview-appropriate suiting separates which — yes! — you can wear to class as well. Also, there are some interesting studies on “enclothed cognition,” which show that clothing may affect your psychological processes (i.e., if you wear a doctor’s lab coat and you associate doctors with being attentive and focused, you may become more attentive and focused). But for law school orientation, I still say: you do you.

I don’t know, ladies — what are your thoughts? What would you wear for law school orientation? What impression would you want to give to fellow classmates and professors?

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Comments

  1. It was 10 years ago, but I’m fairly certain that I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals to my law school orientation. And then to class every day for 3 years. But my school was (is) very casual.

  2. Raise your hand if you can remember what you, or anyone else, wore to law school orientation.

    Because I sure can’t.

    The only thing I remember with clarity about law school orientation is that the person in line in front of me was REALLY excited because his wife had given birth to their first child 3 days prior. Seriously – that is all I remember.

    • I think not wearing anything memorable is actually probably the way to go. As long as you avoid being the “person who wore that crazy X” – you should be good.

      • So as to not out myself... :

        I was definitely the “person who wore that crazy X,” but that didn’t bother me a bit. I liked those pink tights more than I cared what people thought of me.

    • Anonymous :

      The only thing I remember is the girl at lunch talking about how she’d facebook-stalked every guy in our section and she’d identified her target and “sucks for his girlfriend.” Clothes, not so much.

    • (Raises Hand) I remember exactly what I wore to the first day of law school orientation eight years ago. I wore dark wash skinny jeans, cognac flats, a cream silk shell, and a simple light-weave brown blazer from Banana with the sleeves rolled. Other law students had told me classes were mostly casual unless there were OCIs or some kind of competition. I wore that because it made me feel confident and put together but not overdressed, and I’d say that as long as you’re not in courtroom attire like a suit, or in sweatpants, you’re probably fine.

    • Wild Chicken :

      I can — kid in my class wore a tie. He was from a small school in a rural area and was SO excited about going to law school in a big city that he thought he had to wear a tie. He was teased mercilessly about it for the entire 3 years, and in fact, 15 years later, we still tease him about it (he’s a good friend, and our teasing is in good fun). All that to say, dress like you plan to dress the rest of law school – casually. The time to dress professionally is when you have an interview or maybe a speaker from outside with whom you will personally interact.

      • Yep, one of my friends wore a suit and tie to law school orientation. Until I learned his name and he became my friend, he was “the guy who wore a suit to orientation.” Most people were in jeans+decent shirt/sweaters.

      • working momz :

        Awe that is sweet that he did that.

  3. I’d say that you don’t need to dress up or wear a suit but you should dress slightly better than you would if you’re just going to hang out on your friend’s couch. Like if you were meeting your boyfriend’s parents or having lunch with an older relative/family friend at a nice restaurant I think I wore a knee length a-line skirt and striped short sleeved sweater with wedges one day and dark jeans, a nice tee and a checkered blazer on another. Don’t remember much beyond that but I do recall the people in suits stood out in a not so good way and some people in board shorts and flip flops also made not the best impression. This may have been specific to the time, but I went to law school a bit after Legally Blonde came out and it definitely felt like there was a small but visible contingent inspired by that movie. I think most of them left after first semester.

    • This might be a know your school thing. My classmates would have made fun of anyone wearing a blazer to school. Button front shirts and sweaters were pretty common (with jeans) but I can’t think of a single person who wore a jacket, unless they were coming from court (in 2L and 3L when people had clinics). Hoodies and old jeans were way more common than button front shirts, though.

      • This was a very casual blazer from one of those “everything looks cute with a blazer” periods – but good point.

        • ETA: OP could probably google some pictures from her school’s orientation period in past years.

  4. This is called “overthinking things.” I think I also wore jeans, a t-shirt and sandals.

    • I agree. I think anything but pajamas is fine. There will likely be a range of outfits, no one will remember, and any negative impressions you make with your classmates can be rectified and then laughed about over the next 3 years.

    • Diana Barry :

      +3000.

    • Yes. Yes. Yes.

    • +1000. I just dressed the same way I did before law school, unless there was some occasion not to (dinner with the Dean! Networking event! Etc.)

  5. Who worries about this? Orientation is basically pointless. no one will care. you could wear pajama pants and a tank top. You could wear a dress? Are you starting kindergarten? Who would ask this?

    I JUST CAN’T

  6. jumpingjack :

    As long as you don’t wear a suit, or ripped jean shorts and a dirty t shirt, or six inch platform heels and a skin tight mini-dress (or anything else that will make you stand out and your clothes memorable), it really doesn’t matter what you wear. The only person whose clothes I remember was a guy who looked homeless. I have no idea what anyone else was wearing at the beginning of law school.

    • Anonymous :

      +1. I definitely remember women in law school looking inappropriate because of cleavage, short skirts, or heels. Definitely dress casually (people in my class regularly wore yoga pants–no problem), but the people you are in class with will eventually be your colleagues so have some common sense limits.

  7. Gunner alert! Yikes. Wear your normal clothes. It is school.

    • When I went to oreintation for law school, I wore a nice pencil skirt, and the 2L guys were all over me, offering to tutor me about being a 1L. I was dumb b/c I thought they were trying to be helpful, but as I later found out, those guy’s had a contest in which they all just wanted to see who would be first to get me without my skirt on. FOOEY on men that just want us female law student’s to have sex with them. DOUBEL FOOEY!

  8. Anonymous :

    I started law school eight (!) years ago now, but jeans were definitely the norm, even at orientation. People definitely “dress to impress” a bit more at orientation, but at my law school that meant designer jeans and other labels, not suits or dresses or anything. As I said, it’s been a long time so I assume trends are different now but at my Northeastern private law school everyone wore Tory Burch flats when there was no snow on the ground, Uggs when there was snow, designer jeans (Citizens for Humanity and Sevens were especially popular), expensive sweaters (Ralph Lauren, etc.), Northface fleeces in fall and spring and peacoats in winter, and carried Longchamp Le Pilage bags. Literally, on any given day at least 70% of the women were wearing that outfit.

  9. I think I wore black capri pants and a “nice” tshirt with “nice” sandals (one step up from flip flops) in 2005. Do not stress.

  10. Oddly, I do remember what top I wore for the first day of law school orientation in 2004. Perhaps it’s because they took our ID pictures that day so I had to see it every day for 3 years (so keep in mind that possibility). It was a lime green striped long-sleeved shirt. The only other thing I remember about people’s attire are a couple of girls who wore skimpy outfits. I am not sure you want to be “that” girl, although one of them became my friend, and it was her personality not to give a crap what other people thought.

    Aside from not looking like a slob, I think you can pretty much wear what you want, keeping in mind your appearance is of course part of people’s first impression of you. If I were doing it today I think I’d probably end up in something like white jeans or neater-looking regular jeans and a favorite top with a cardigan or casual denim or military jacket. I would NOT recommend trying too hard (i.e. wearing a suit) – at my law school this would have made you stick out in a not favorable way.

  11. Wear what’s normal for you.

    I went to an average state law school. Orientation was in August, and it was hot as blazes, so I think the guys were wearing maybe a dress shirt and slacks on the first day, but the next day had said forget this and showed up in shorts and a polo. I wish I could remember what the girls were wearing, but I have no idea. I remember I wore a tropical wool sheath dress and was ridiculously overdressed. The alum who was assigned to our small group was wearing a hot pink sheath dress with hot pink shoes – I seriously wondered whether I had been paired with a real life Elle Woods. But really, it was like 100*. Wear something practical. Don’t be that kid in the suit.

    I got my tax LLM at Georgetown a couple years ago and I wore a pencil skirt and a blouse with heels to orientation. I felt comfortable because that was a normal outfit for me, but I was definitely among the dressiest there. Guys were wearing a mix of jeans and khakis with button-downs. Some guys were even wearing ballcaps. Absolutely no one was wearing a suit. Girls were wearing slacks and a cotton top or a casual dress.

    We had orientation mixers with the regular Georgetown JDs and those guys were dressed super casually – jeans, daisy dukes (I could NOT get over how short those girls wore their shorts! Literally no inseam – hello, you’re meeting professors who will write you professional LORs – I don’t recommend this approach), t-shirts. Again, no suits.

    I think the important take-away is this: “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

  12. Anonymous :

    I wore a casual dress because Michigan was too hot for jeans in August.

  13. CorporateInCarhartt :

    I remember what I wore just because I look back on it and laugh. In the mid-2000s, I moved from the east coast – where preppy was having a huge revival – to attend law school at a school in the Midwest. I walked into orientation and was definitely the only person there in a polo shirt (collar popped … cringe), khakis, topsiders, and a serious side-part. The look was memorialized in the class photo book. Just in general terms of how everyone else was dressed, I’d say it was “smart casual,” and I’d imagine it would be the same for the incoming class today.

  14. They told us to wear business attire to orientation, so that’s what I wore. I remember because I had a conversation at lunch about it seemed weird and too formal for orientation, and someone else at the table looked me dead in the eye and said “You’re in the wrong profession if you’re uncomfortable wearing suits.” It was very weird.

    Even by the end of the orientation people had backed off “business attire” into something in the realm of business casual (only business enough to not get scolded). Some people carried it all the way through to classes though, and I thought that was odd. Anyway, I only wore that because I was specifically told to. Otherwise it would have been jeans for me!

    • Any chance this was in Virginia, where we had to wear suits to take the bar exam?

    • FirstYear :

      My 1L school was in Virginia and we also had to wear suits to orientation. It was hot as balls and we had to stand outside to take a class picture. After the picture we all ran home and changed. I think I wore a cotton skirt and a T shirt, and I was still melting.

  15. Magdeline :

    I would say wear something along the lines of a nice sweater (or other nice top) and jeans. Just normal and casual clothes… nothing too extreme. I completely agree with the advice about not wearing a suit/not trying too hard. Just be yourself and wear normal cute casual clothes. (Unless, of course, the law school specifically tells you to wear business attire.)

  16. I work in law school admissions. I promise everyone else will be in casual clothes! Unless your law school specifically says to dress in business attire (maybe for seating chart headshots?) – just wear jeans / casual stuff.

  17. Former Partner, Now In-House :

    It does not matter. What matters is getting the most out of law school that you can, in terms of what is important to you. For most law students (gross overgeneralization — please don’t light up the replies), that means getting the best grades you can and the best experiences you can in order to keep as many career options open for yourself as possible.

    Over the next three years, lots of people (most of them your classmates) will say and do things to mess with your head and throw you off-track (thank you, forced-curve grading). Spending all this time worrying about what to wear diverts attention from your mission to perform your best. Ignore issues like these.

    Now, go to your orientation and your classes and dig into your work. Enjoy the experience. We are all behind you, cheering you on!

  18. I was a bit alternative. I wore boots a plaid skirt and a long leather coat. I also wore baggy pants and crop tops. I’m now a partner at a big law firm. I say go with what you want. It’s the last time you get to choose what you wear for a long time.

  19. Anonymous :

    you’re totally overthinking things.

  20. I started law school in 2007. I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to conjure up any memory of orientation at all, and I’ve got nothing. So I agree with the consensus that it will not matter.

    Now some unsolicited advice: Try to avoid making any snap judgments about your classmates- you will get to know them very well over the next few years. If you’re single and anything like my classmates, there’s a good chance you’ll marry one of these people (I didn’t; but a ridiculous 6 out of 20 people in my small section did). And relax. In my opinion, law school is best approached with a “work hard, play hard” mentality.

  21. If you feel the need to look nice, wear an outfit that allows you to walk into an upscale restaurant and not be asked to leave (slacks or a nice skirt, nice top).

  22. As a law professor, first impressions will be made based on your behavior, not your clothes. As long as you aren’t showing anything you shouldn’t be, it doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing a polo shirt or pajamas — unless your school specifies otherwise. Good luck & enjoy the experience!

  23. ’13 law grad. I think I did business casual, but jeans and a nice top would have been fine. Bring a sweater. Law schools like spending money on AC this time of year.

  24. Housecounsel :

    I remember trying to look cute, not professional. Pretty sure I made my hair as large as possible (very early 90s). I don’t think what anyone wore that day had any impact whatsoever on their social, professional or academic success!

  25. BankrAtty :

    I wore a navy blue cotton shift dress and red flats. I felt polished and comfortable.

  26. Anonymous Associate :

    Wear whatever you normally would. I am a dresses and heels kind of woman, so that is what I wore. Other people prefer jeans and a tee shirt. Whatever floats your boat.

  27. One of my section-mates wore onesies with uggs to class every day before our first briefs were due.

  28. The only thing I remember about orientation is the guy with the red Mohawk, the kid playing his gameboy and being told 66% of us were already or would become addicts or alcoholics by the end of our legal careers. Fun times.

  29. I’m pretty sure I wore an Indiana Jones t-shirt, jeans, and flip flops to orientation. And proceeded to wear jeans, flip flops, and t-shirts for the rest of law school.

    Honestly, it’s still a student setting. Like college. It doesn’t matter what you wear, just be comfortable. You have other things to worry about.

  30. I still remember what I wore to orientation (in 1988!) and I’m now an adjunct law prof. There’s no need to dress up for orientation. Non-sloppy casual is fine. From the other side of the lectern–in all likelihood no one cares what you’re wearing. (OK, I invisibly roll my eyes at year-round flip-flops and tank tops with exposed bra straps.)

  31. Most of the comments are saying wear whatever you want, it doesn’t matter but orientation is a week long and my school has instructions to dress up on two of the five days. “Professional attire” for the first day, “business casual attire” for the second day, and “casual attire” for the rest of the week. Advice on how to dress for convocation and alumni sessions would be helpful, I assume you didn’t all wear jeans and flip flops to these types of events or in your class picture!

  32. Stephanie :

    I have no idea what I wore, but I know I made some of my best friends right around then. So not looking like a total gunner in a suit or something was key to that. I also remember that by third year I was wearing a tshirt and basketball shorts because I would head over to the university gym after class. Nobody cared, I graduated with good grades and a biglaw job that led to the in house job I have a bazillion years later.

  33. very recent grad :

    This response may be a little late, but I want to weigh in as another counter to the folks mocking Reader N, since I do remember puzzling about this before my 1L orientation just a little under three years ago. Among the many overwhelming unknowns of starting law school, this is one thing you know you can plan for, so you might as well.

    My school told us to wear business or business casual attire for orientation, which seemed weirdly formal, and I never did figure out precisely why. In fact, they hadn’t given the same instruction to the 3Ls who were conducting our orientation, so we were all teased for being gunners right off the bat. I wore a pair of black pinstripe slacks, a white blouse, and a purple cashmere cardigan. Most importantly, I wore a plain black low-heel “comfort” brand pump. You will probably be walking all over your campus/building, so make sure your feet are comfortable. It was not my most stylish moment, but I was comfortable enough and felt like the bright color still expressed a bit of my personality.

    Granted, I always sort of overdressed, coming into law school as a second career and thinking of all classmates as future colleagues in our local market. Then near the end of my first semester, an adjunct professor surprised our small class with a visit to the State Supreme Court Justice she worked for, whose chambers were just around the corner. I was one of the few people who had not come to class in jeans and a hoodie, and let me just say that was one day I was really glad for my blazer/slim dark jeans/oxfords personal “uniform” rather than yoga pants. (The blazer was teal and the oxfords were a spectator monk-strap – no one has ever accused me of being subtle, but I nevertheless always tried to stay within at least loose professionalism parameters while at school or school events.)

    So you do you, N. If it makes you feel better to plan your orientation outfit, go for it! You’re probably safe with casual business casual, or something on your slightly dressier side of casual, unless your school tells you otherwise. Think about how you’ll feel walking around, if you have to sit outside or on a table during a tour, and what will bring you confidence when meeting a bunch of new people for the first time. Just be comfortable, and yourself. And try to have some fun. Congrats!

  34. Amelia Pond :

    I’m late to this comment thread but Ill make a comment anyway in case someone reads this later. On my first day of orientation we had a lunch with alumni. I ended up at the table with a federal judge who always hires a clerk from my school–even though I didn’t end up applying for his clerkship I sure was glad I was wearing the business casual attire that was suggested. Bottom line–if the day involves meeting with alumni you should dress business casual or whatever the school tells you, otherwise nice jeans are fine.

  35. Recent graduate. I went to school in Boston, so it was all boots, winter-weight leggings, and cozy sweaters all the time. (The J. Crew Pixie Pant lasts forever and is thicker than a standard legging, so you don’t look or feel inappropriate/cold. I have one in every color…) Carried my laptop and books in a leather Madewell tote year-round, and it held up beautifully despite the wear. I would treat leather goods with saddle soap to protect them from the elements if you’re facing a messy winter; mine has now survived multiple enormous snowstorms.

  36. I work at a law school. I can tell you that professors do not think very highly of girls in pants that aren’t pants, shorts that show butt cheeks, and shirts that show off the tummy. They WILL talk about you and not in a good way.

  37. First day I wore a v-neck, Gap fit and flare sun dress and probably flats with a cardigan. I don’t remember what I wore the other days.
    During law school itself, I only wore yoga pants once or twice and they were when I probably should not have been there I was so sick. Otherwise I wore jeans, a blouse, and a cardigan or jeans and a tee or a casual dress/skirt with a casual top. If it was hot I might wear shorts but it was more often a dress or skirt.
    I would dress up many days 2L and 3L because I went directly from class in the morning to work in the afternoon. I always got asked why. Most people wore jeans and a tee.

  38. My school sent out recommended attire for orientation (business casual all days except the day they swore us in and took pics. That day was suit day or what you would wear to court). I think that is “safe.”

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