Building Your Wardrobe for a Summer Internship

building your wardrobe for a summer internship

2018 Update: We still stand by much of this advice on building your wardrobe for a summer internship (and links will be updated very soon), but note that we’ve also started a new series on how to build a work wardrobe at specific stores, and our four-week work outfit challenge may be helpful for you if you’re looking for work outfit ideas. If you’re going to be a summer associate at a law firm, we have a great guide for summer associates.

We’ve had a number of requests for how to build your wardrobe for a summer internship, so ladies, this one’s for you!

Suits. Yes, you will need more than one suit, but not as many as you think. For example, readers asked if they needed 10-15 suits (and we’re hoping the person asking if they needed 100 suits either made a typo or was exaggerating). We would say you need about 3-5 suits, to be worn whenever you know for sure you’ll be seeing a partner, executive, or other VIP that day. Keep an extra suit in your office if at all possible. Your basic suits should be:

1) Your standard interview suit in black, navy, or gray. Hopefully you took our advice and got it in a seasonless fabric, and you bought a suit that had multiple matching pieces (e.g., a jacket, pants, skirt, and a dress). Get them drycleaned as soon as they begin to smell, or approximately every 4-5 wearings.

2) As many other suits that your budget can afford that are like your interview suit, but in other colors — these suits will last you for several years, so it’s well worth it to invest $500-$1000 in suiting. If you can’t afford suits as nice as your interview suit, check out sales as well as:

  • outlet stores — Filene’s, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom’s Rack — all frequently have suits available for anywhere from $60-$200. These will typically be suit sets (not mix-and-match pieces the way Theory or J.Crew are) and will be in polyester blends. Try to get the most conservative suit they have that fits you well in sedate colors (black, navy, beige, gray). Watch out for details that date the suit, like puffed sleeves, Peter Pan collars, and ruffled skirts
  • large department stores — Macy’s has a huge suit selection, for example, with tons of Tahari suits available for under $150
  • outlet malls, like Woodbury (in upstate New York) or Leesburg (outside D.C.) — they frequently will have outlet stores of Banana Republic, Kasper, Tahari and Brooks Brothers, as well as larger department store outlets (like Barney’s and Off Fifth) that will have discounted suits.
  • mall stores, like Express, Limited, Victoria Secrets — they will have lower-quality suits that should at least last you a summer, although the fabrics might not wear well during the summer
  • We would advise avoiding eBay and consignment stores unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.

Other pieces. Now that you’ve got your suits, we would advise getting a few other pieces to wear as separates throughout the summer. This may sound weird (and please debate in comments!) but we would advise buying other separates — intended by the retailers as separates — for everything by below because fabrics and colors are often hard to match. For example, a pair of gray Gap pants and a black jersey sweater blazer look fine together — but a pair of gray suit pants worn with a black suit jacket just looks like you’re trying to mix things that don’t match. This may seem like a boring list, but it’s intended to be a skeletal one — your personality and tastes should fill in the rest of the picture; these are just the building blocks to get you started. Our list of these basic separates:

  • 2-3 pairs of nice trousers (not too tight, not too loose; they can be as simple as Gap or Old Navy as long as they fit well)
  • at least one pencil skirt in a basic color like black or gray
  • 5-10 nice tops to wear beneath suits or on top of trousers in flattering colors — again, they don’t have to be fancy, but they have to fit well and look nice (not washed out). If you want to be very efficient here, buy tops in the same color range as your suits — for example, if you’ve got a black suit and gray trousers, buy t-shirts in cool colors (blue, purple, green) to compliment those accessories. If you’ve got a brown suit and some nice beige slacks, get warmer colors like reds and oranges.
  • a black fitted blazer (look for one in a stretch cotton or jersey for versatility — keep it at the office to throw on in emergencies)
  • a neutral sheath dress in a flattering shape
  • at least one twinset in a good fabric (possibly in white so you can wear the sweater beneath brown/beige/gray/navy suits, and wear the cardigan over sheath dresses and trousers). If you look for a twinset that does not have a ribbed, banded bottom, you’ll have more options with it.
  • Another cardigan, possibly, in black or white

Accessories. The summer job is really more about avoiding inappropriate accessories than buying fabulous ones — as you go forward in your career you’ll want to invest the most heavily in shoes and bags. For the summer, we say that a pair of black leather pumps that you can walk in is really all you NEED. Otherwise, don’t wear:

  • open-toed shoes
  • sandals
  • any shoes that look too sexy (heeled gladiators, platforms, etc)
  • shoes you can’t walk in
  • overly blinged-out accessories (e.g., brooches with sequins)
  • bracelets
  • earrings that noticeably dangle (they should be as close to your earlobe as possible)
  • anything that makes sound when you walk down the hallway carrying or wearing it (slingbacks and mules, we’re looking at you)
  • athletic accessories — sneakers or flipflops are fine if you must for the commute, but the second you get inside you should change to work shoes — we’d also advise women to avoid backpacks and other gym bags. If you don’t have something, check out our recent suggestions for good bags.

These seem, to us, the bare basics for a working wardrobe. A final piece of advice — never walk in the hall with your arms uncovered — wear your suit jacket, sweater, or fitted blazer. Readers, what say you?


  1. Anonymous :

    Wait, what? What’s this about never having your arms uncovered? Do others agree with this?

  2. Great advice – I will add one more thing – this is not the time to be creative or remembered for your clothes.

  3. Yes, no open toes. It annoys the h*** out of me when my summer interns prance around in open toe shoes. It says to me, “I don’t care to be a lawyer, I just want to marry one.”

  4. I’d say also to make sure to scope out the clothing culture of the firm when you’re there for your interview. None of the women (literally) that I interacted with at my 2L firm wore a suit unless they were going to be in court, and I would have felt like I had wasted a lot of money if I had bought 5 suits just to feel overdressed when I wore them.

  5. Two things…

    1. I find it hard to believe that dangly earrings are so verboten. They give a spunk to the outfit and if they are not very shiny or large, I think they are perfectly appropriate.

    2. What if you are going to intern at a “business formal” place? What then? Does that mean a suit 5 days a week?

  6. Summer associates at law firms should wear a suit *every day.* Partners often grab summer associates at the last minute to go to a deposition, hearing, mediation, etc – and the summer won’t have time to change into a suit and will end up looking unprofessional and out of place at just the type of appointment at which they want to look like they blend in. I recommend having 7-8 suits in neutral colors and always wearing tops with sleeves on them to extend time between dry cleanings.

  7. This seems too suit-heavy to me – unless you will be working somewhere where a suit is required nearly every day, go for 2, tops. If you stick with basic colors (gray, black, navy) and vary what you wear underneath, no one will remember the repeat. Perhaps some firms are so conservative that it would be embarrassing to have to see a partner while wearing business casual, but not mine (East Coast biglaw). For those days when I know I’ll be particularly visible, I wear my most business-y business casual (nice slacks and a blouse, or a tailored dress, pearls…. as opposed to a still-professional but not quite as dressy cotton top and pants, for example).

    Save the money for extra “separates” pants/skirts and tops, which will get worn much more often (100% of the summer after day 1, in my case) (I guess you could say you could wear the suit pants as “normal” pants, but then they would get over-dry-cleaned compared to the other pieces of the suit, so I just save mine for the full suit ensemble).

    Correct advice on bare arms! But modest peep-toes (with a pedi! and with an otherwise-modern, sleek look) and slingbacks (if not noisy, as C mentioned) are usually ok, and as long as you avoid big “statement” jewelry, I don’t think any category is off-limits (bracelets, brooches, whatever… just please, no anklets!).

  8. What about nylons? When is it necessary to wear them?

  9. I’m in San Francisco. If a summer thinks they have to put a suit on every time they see a partner, they’re going to 1. go crazy and 2. be thought ridiculous. Maybe in New York you’re expected to wear a suit any time you’ll be in a partner’s office, but definitely definitely not out here. Otherwise, great list.

  10. Anonymous :

    Thanks! This is super helpful. I second the nylons question.
    I’m totally surprised that open toed shoes are out! Peep toes even? I guess it’s a great excuse to shoe shop for me then.

    Just to be sure- a nice t-shirt (I’m looking at you Ann Taylor Loft!) under a suit is A-OK?

    Let the search begin!

  11. Wow, these comments really highlight how much variety there is between workplaces. At my firm, a summer who wore a suit everyday would look totally ridiculous. Wear a suit your first few days until you can check out what the other women at your office wear.

  12. My med-large firm is business casual (every day, all year ::sigh::). And it’s in Florida. When I was interviewed (on a Friday in the early fall), the most formal I saw on anyone was a pair of grey slacks and a pink twin set. Does this change anything?

    Also, re: peep toe shoes– even under a suit? And if they’re Cole Haan Nike Air Pumps in a neutral color and I’m a little obsessed with them?

    Would love any insight :).

  13. At my law firm, suits everyday would’ve been over kill, and I’m sure there are many other firms that don’t require suits everyday, or have a “business casual” dress codes.

    My personal preference was to wear sheath dresses and pencil skirts with nice tops, sweaters or tank/cardigan combo. Remember, its often freezing in the office (air conditioning) when its hot outside.

    As far as shopping goes, I think the (lower) quality of Old Navy and Gap is very apparent in their fabrics and cuts, so I would advise summer associates to invest in better pieces from Banana Republic, J Crew, Theory, Nanette Lepore and Diane Von Furstenberg (as your budget allows).

  14. Anonymous :

    Wow, things are different all over. My big-law firm has varying dress requirements in various offices, but here in NY you’d be dismissed without question if you didn’t appear in a suit 4 days a week. Even “casual” fridays call for “dressy casual”–i.e. Ann Taylor separates, some Banana pieces, etc. I would definitely “second” whoever it was above who suggested buying ONLY enough for a week, and then purchasing AFTER you’ve got a sense of the firm’s culture.

  15. I think the best advice I’ve gotten on how to dress as a summer associate was from an R&W prof. She said when you first start out go conservative – full suit, simple close-toed heels, and minimal jewelry. It’s better to be over dressed than UNDER dressed. As you spend some time in the office and get the feel for how other people dress, feel free to adapt appropriately. Last summer I worked for a prosecutor’s office and, probably to the surprise of some readers, found myself wearing a suit almost every day. This is because the attorneys I worked under were in court almost every day and I would frequently accompany them.
    Ultimately, I think it just comes down to the atmosphere of the office you’re working in and what you will be expected to do while there.

  16. I disagree w/ the open-toed (by which I mean peep-toe) shoes prohibition – at my east coast biglaw firm, I wore open toed-shoes almost every day and a lot of the other female associates did as well. I’d look around for a few days and make a judgment call. The one thing that I would like to reiterate is that if you wear open-toed shoes, you CANNOT wear nylons. I don’t understand why people think this is OK. In my mind, pantyhose manufacturers put the seam at the toe to remind you that it is not cool to wear a pantyhose/peep-toe combo. Also, your toes should always be pedicured – if you don’t want to spring for a pedicure, you can’t wear open-toed shoes.

    I also disagree with the suit requirement – I don’t think I wore a suit ever as a summer. Wear one the first day and look around. Keep one in your office, but unless everyone’s in a suit, you don’t need to be. And if you’re in a suit and the partner is in khakis, you’ll just feel silly.

  17. No bracelets, really? I wear bracelets all the time! As I try to teach my 2 year old (who would wear every necklace in her jewelry box if I’d let her), one good accessory is quite enough. As long as accessories are kept in moderation, I can’t imagine much that is off limits.
    (That said, I would never dream of wearing open-toed shoes in my business casual firm.)

  18. I’ve worked in NY, London, SF. Here’s my take:

    If you are in banking or a more stuffy corporate law firm in New York or London:

    1) Nylons should be worn most of the time (if it’s crazy hot, you are excused)
    2) You should put on a suit jacket in you’re roaming the halls
    3) Peep toes are OK in London (it’s more fashion forward), but you should steer clear in NYC.
    4) Avoid man-made fabrics, particularly in NYC–it’s way too hot in summer to wear anything that doesn’t breathe
    5) Believe Corporette when she says you should be able to walk in your shoes. It’s true. What if you’re barhopping with co-workers and you’re teetery in too-tall heels? Don’t do it unless you can carry them off!

    In CA, never wear nylons except to an interview. Suits are rare, unless you work in litigation in downtown LA or are going to Court or a client meeting. Keep a jacket nearby, but you will be laughed out of the building if you are too formal. Also note that Californians wear less makeup! Californians wear brighter colors, always, than New Yorkers. It’s true.

    My general dressing advice when you are building a wardrobe is to stick to VERY basics. You need to have a foundation before you add a flowered, orange blouse. Avoid stores which can make you look older with dowdy suits (Brooks Bros., Talbots), but it’s OK to buy separates there. Hit up JCREW, Tahari, DvF, Banana (if it’s not to fashion-forward). Think neutrals and “can I wear this more at least twice in two weeks?” when you go shopping.

  19. Bracelets:

    Classy tennis bracelets are OK. Cuff, bangles, charm bracelets are not. Also, if you have an officemate, PLEASE don’t wear bracelets–all day when you bang them against the keyboard, your officemate is cringing. Believe me.

  20. At my old NYC biglaw firm it was business casual every day – which led to quite a few fashion disasters. I basically lived in nice separates (including lots of jackets) and twinsets. I found the jacket plus shell or twinset thing especially practical as my commute was boiling hot on the subway but inside it was freezing cold.

    I have a question – is it ok to wear a ‘nice’ t-shirt under a suit jacket? I have a large bust and can never find ‘shells’ which have v-necks or scoopnecks and high necklines look terrible on us better endowed women. I have a couple of nice suits and jackets which would look great with a coloured t-shirt underneath but I’m afraid of looking too casual. Unfortunately I live in a hot climate and commute via public transport and foot so I’d have to wear just the t-shirt when outside work but would add the jacket when inside.

  21. Here at my firm in the south, there is a big disparity between men and women. A lot of the men wear “business casual” – ie button shirt and slacks and keep a jacket in the office. the women, however, usually wear suits every single day. For our summers, the guys wear suits the first few days and then drop to just a tie every day. once again, the women are different. they wear a full suit every single day. it is just how it is here. most the women don’t wear nylons with skirt suits, however.

  22. I summered at a large law firm in Minnesota – suits were a must four days a week, and I think that’s fairly typical of Midwest firms. I agree with Corporette, 3-5 suits should do it, especially if you have both skirts and pants for some of them. I bought most of mine at the Limited; they don’t hold up forever, but they were fine. I also agree that you should start with a couple suits, scope out the womens’ fashion at the office, and then make purchases.
    Two more additions to the list of necessities. First, proper underwear. You should have modest bras and camisoles in colors that complement the tops you’re going to wear. Second, a real wallet. It’s embarrassing to watch a fellow summer dig through her sparkly pink coin purse to get her ID at a bar.

  23. I’m at a small firm in Madison, WI, but worked at a larger firm here before I moved. Most firms here are business casual, but I would advise a summer associate to wear suits the first few days and see how the other women in the firm dress. And then either dress the same as, or slightly better than, those women. Because you, as a summer associate, are not a full-time employee there yet and people DO judge you by the way you dress. So unless a partner asks you why you keep overdressing, then I guess I’d err on the side of more formal than less. You want them to remember you for your work, not for something else.

  24. @Kat – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a nice, non-ribbed-collar tee under a suit jacket – BUT I would wear pearls or other traditional-style jewelry like sterling silver beads, and know you would lose the option of removing your jacket (I prefer to wear collared shirts with suits for that reason).

  25. Anonymous :

    ok, so I thought I had summer figured out. Firm is East Coast, business casual all the time. So I am thinking suit for the first day, and after that it lives in a garment bag in the office, and the rest of the time, combos of nice pants/pencil skirts, twinsets, sweaters, and button down shirts, with a couple conservative dresses for variety, shopping the JCrew/Ann Taylor/Nordstrom line of stores.

    But now y’all have got me worried- can I wear a Brooks Bros button down without a jacket? If I am wearing a nice, non T-shirt short-sleeved top am I barred from walking the halls with my elbows exposed? Do I really need to resist buying the wonderful Cole Haan Air pumps just because they show a little neatly manicured modestly painted toe?

  26. I thought of something else – many law students tend to do all their shopping for a firm in the weeks between finals and starting the job – that’s an impulse to resist – buy enough for the first two weeks, and then see what the firm is like. Both my summers in law school, I budgeted the first two weekends after starting work to shop, and it worked like a charm.

  27. Fabulous discussion here! Kat – a T-shirt under a suit is fine, but it’s the quality of the fabric that counts most. Look for silk, silk/cotton blend or even silk/cotton/cashmere blend in a fine gauge (which means a thin knit). Brooks Brothers has some great twin sets and you could use the shell under a suit easily.

    Those of you lucky enough to have landed summer jobs should be aware that offers will only go out to those who do great work and look the part. The summer of 2009 is no time to experiment with fashion trends, so keep it conservative (and for the love of God, no flip-flops this year, please!).

  28. Another reminder is that summers are held to a higher standard than everyone else. I work at a firm where business casual, open toed shoes, fun jewelry, etc. is appropriate for employees if they’re not going to court, seeing a client, etc. and people are definitely more casual in the summer. However, I know the attorneys here like to see the summers in suits and closed toed shoes around the office. It makes us think you’re serious about your work. Save your open toed shoes and fun jewelry for happy hours, concerts, etc. that you’re invited to with the firm.

    Also whoever pointed out that as an intern you’re likely to get pulled into important meetings and/or court at the last minute was totally right. Especially if more than one of you is invited to attend, you don’t want to be the one not wearing the suit.

  29. How about something like Born to Bill???

  30. @Anonymous (2:15) – you’ll be fine. Your wardrobe ideas sound like they came from my closet, and were exactly how I dressed as a summer also (now a junior biglaw associate). Just remember to keep an appropriate top around as well, because not all styles fit well under suit jackets (knit tops with slight puff to the sleeve, I’m looking at you), and, come to think of it, the right heel height shoes and pantyhose if it’s a skirt suit.

    I would save the peeptoes until after you’ve scouted things out, though.

  31. Anonymous :

    this may be an immensely silly question, but is there a difference between a black blazer and a black suit jacket? I would think there isn’t one, but if you’re suggesting a black suit and a black blazer, as well…

  32. Anonymous :

    Bare arms are fine. Just have a jacket for meetings with clients, execs, etc.

  33. Anonymous :

    At my mid-sized East Coast (non NY) firm, most women wear open-toed shoes or dressy sandals in the summer, provided they had a decent manicure. Elbows were definitely exposed by all and nylons were not worn (it is the summer, after all).

    And the few times later in the summer I was a little more fashion-forward (white pantsuit, dress with an interesting cut) I consistently got compliments – many of the female partners here aren’t afraid to be bolder in their fashion choices and I think they were relieved to see their summer associates weren’t boring cookie-cutter. I would NOT buy Old Navy or Gap, a fellow summer who wore Gap pants and shirts was gently told she should upgrade to more professional-looking clothes.

  34. At a medium-large firm in Florida, the summers wore suits every day (even Fridays, because we would sometimes get to attend mediations or court hearings). Our firm has a published dress code (which varies by office). Miami is more conservative, Palm Beach less conservative. Certain practice groups were also more and less conservative. The corporate group dressed up, while the real estate group dressed down (their reasoning was that they were at job sites and didn’t want to seem pompous to their clients). So, really, just pay attention to the culture of your firm AND the practice group you expect to end up in. I personally didn’t mind wearing a suit all the time, because I’m freezing in the AC, so layers were fine with me. Also, it was a big deal that they amended the dress code right before we got there to be allowed peep toes but still no sandals and women were no longer required to wear nylons.

  35. A follow up: if you can contact someone at the firm (perhaps a 3L from your school who worked there last year), it’s probably the best bet for those who want to do some shopping beforehand. I just got an email back and it was mercifully helpful.

    Also, just for fun: I have to figure out which BATHING SUITS to wear to firm boating/fishing/beach events. I’m told by the 3L friend that “we all just wore bikinis, it’s fine.” Ack!

  36. Anonymous :

    I agree with those who say it’s all about the culture/norms of your particular firm; as well as with those who say to err on the conservative side at first and perhaps go a little more casual once you’ve sized up the environment. Also, your firm almost certainly has an official dress code: know it and stick to it. In my case (summer and now jr. assoc. at a large L.A.- based firm), we were all e-mailed the dress code by our recruiting coordinator before we started the summer; were told to keep a suit & conservative shoes in our office at all times for those last-minute events that required them; and were even told we did not need to wear a suit the first day (though about half of us did anyway). No correspondence, by the way, between those who did/did not wear a suit the first day and those who did/did not receive offers. You should look like the people you work with and not be consistently under- or over-dressed in comparison to them (agree with those who say don’t buy all your clothes before starting). And by the way–if your attitude and work product are good and you’re personable and punctual, you shouldn’t need to worry about wearing open-toed shoes (to the office; not to court). I found some of the comments about open-toed shoes here to be pretty absurd; unless you are a foot fetishist, open-toes are not the equivalent of miniskirts or cleavage-revealing tops.

  37. Anonymous :

    A dress question. Big law, NYC. If I have a dress with short sleeves made out of suiting material (some sort of light weight wool) do I need to always wear the matching suiting jacket? Bring the jacket to work? Do I have to wear it in the halls? What about a cardigan? Thanks!

  38. Anonymous :

    Folks, this if for a job, not showing off how “cool” your accessories are. If it is more important that you get to wear your dangly, distracting earrings, noisy bracelets and peep toe shoes than to look professional, you need to rethink your priorities. It is one freaking summer. You have the rest of your life to show your alleged fashion sense.

    Consdering firms have to send around memos about acceptable dress and even take some associates shopping, it is clear that some of you are not getting it.

    It’s a profession, dress like it.

  39. (I”m anonymous at 5:31 too).
    To anonymous at 7:41:
    For me at least one part of this is cash. I don’t want to buy 5 new suits if I don’t need to. I want to wear as many of the shirts and shoes I have rather than buy a whole new wardrobe. Furthermore (at least for me again) there’s the trouble of finding clothes quickly. For the talls, petites, plus sizes etc. the weekend after the first week might not work for shopping. I order almost everything online AND get it tailored to look professional. Even if you don’t have size issues it can be really difficult to find these “basics” that fit, fit in, and fit in a law student’s budget.

    Finally, I think there can be a danger in being too conservative, dowdy, or dressy. If you dress too much better than the lawyers couldn’t you seem too stuffy? If you dress too dowdy or conservative don’t you risk not showing your personality and seeming boring our out of touch?

  40. A great compromise on summer hosiery — wear a mesh hose (yes, like a mini fishnet) in a neutral color, to match your skin. This assumes you are wearing a skirt of a respectable length, of course! Worked great in hot NYC for me. A knee high fishnet hose works great with slacks, too, with just the ankle/peeptoe showing the pattern, and here you can wear black without looking skanky. Best of both worlds and looks really stylish.

  41. Hey, all. I worked at a large NJ firm and was told that the firm was business casual. It was, but everyone showed up on the first day in a suit! We all quickly downgraded according to what we saw about.

    The only time it was expected for us to weat a suit was when we met a judge or important clients – which is a good rule of thumb.

  42. the guy that wrote this obviously can’t dress. you don’t want a black blazer as your all purpose blazer, you want a NAVY one. it matches everything and looks respectable with any outfit: brown shoes or black, grey pants or khaki or even jeans, and almost any color shirt underneath. black on the other hand only goes with black and looks morbid anyway. this is obviously advice for guys only.

  43. Other things to remember, since summers will be working with high-strung people –
    Avoid strong perfume.
    Iron your clothes, even if you think they don’t need it.
    My personal pet peeve – don’t chew gum. If you do, keep your mouth closed and don’t snap it.
    Limit the personal phone calls (!!!)

    Maybe Corporette could do a post on appropriate behavior. For some summers, this is their first-ever job and it really shows.

  44. Anonymous on April 7, 2009 at 10:13 pm – fishnets?? Maybe this is one of those east/west coast things, but the professionals who wear fishnets usually are working on Santa Monica Blvd

  45. this is obviously advice for guys only.

    gs, this blog is fashion advice for women. Check the title at the top.

  46. I am in Boston and at all the firms (big, small) it is perfectly fine to wear open toed shoes in the summer. I think it is also fine to walk the halls in your top as long as it has some sleeves (eg not sleeveless).

  47. I think the general rule here is good: wear a suit the first day, and then assess. I’m a seventh year associate at a Texas firm, and the formality varies by practice group, by floor, and even by partner. There are partners here who probably have a minor coronary when they see my bare legs. They would ban peep-toes if they could! Unless you wear a navy skirt suit w/ hose and white shirt everyday, you’ll offend them!

    So, since you can’t please everyone, try to please most. I think the key is to not stand out in a bad way — absolutely no cleavage (I can’t believe I have to say that, but we had to talk to someone last summer), no flip-flops, etc. If, god forbid, someone talks to you about your clothes, ditch the offenders! Cleavage-girl last summer got talked to about her shirts and her really-short suit skirts. She responded that it was too late, as she’d already bought her summer wardrobe and had it tailored!

    But you can still have fun. I love pretty printed Ann Taylor skirts with matching twinsets (or a cute matching jacket), I wear colored blazers with black pants (even to court), and you can pry my peep-toed Cole Haan Nike Air pumps out of my cold dead hands!!

    Also, you don’t have to spend a ton. No one expects a 25 year old student to be decked out in Armani or otherwise dripping with labels (most partners don’t do that, so you’d look a little odd). I had one “really nice” J Crew suit when I clerked and a few Ann Taylor suits.

    Bottom line, I doubt clothes would be the sole reason to no offer someone. We want people who can produce great work. Cleavage-girl had some other idiot judgment moves and her work was sloppy.

  48. On sheath dresses: Is it OK to wear a conservative cut in a basic, but bold color? (Like blue or red?) This is for a CA business-casual firm.

    On bathing suits: Yeah… what the heck should we do about that? Am sure there will be boating or beach expeditions….

  49. Does all this still apply for judicial interns/clerks? I interned for the PD in the same courthouse that I’ll be working in when I was in college, and I don’t remember anything about anyone in the court besides the lawyers & judge. I should add that its a smaller town and for a probate, domestic relations & dependency/neglect docket.

  50. Anonymous :

    gay guy, junior associate, who works at a top firm in nyc. one of my very good girlfriends likes to wear sleeveless shirts and open toed shoes (and questionably short skirts). it’s not fair, but many of the mid-level and senior associates (particularly females) talk about her. she does good work in an area that’s always busy and short of hands, but people have trouble seeing past a pretty girl in too-little clothing. as a summer in this environment, i’d err on the side of conservative. while i think suits would be overdoing it, i would never wear a t-shirt under a jacket as a woman (collared shirts ALWAYS), and would steer clear of the peep toe (though i do love a good shoe). i agree this may be appropriate for happy hour or after you’ve started at the firm, but this is an extended interview, and in this market, you’re not guaranteed an offer. no reason to give them a reason to ding you.

  51. judicial clerk :

    Does all this still apply for judicial interns/clerks?

    Emphatically depends on the judge. On my floor, one judge requires his clerks to wear suits every day, several are business casual to varying degrees of casual, and some don’t mind their clerks wearing jeans every day that they won’t actually be in the courtroom. I’d wear a suit on your first day and, afterwards, if your chambers are more casual, I’d make sure you have a jacket at the office to wear when you’re going to be in court.

  52. @ judicial clerk – Thanks!!

  53. I agree with judicial clerk. On the first day, it’s best to assume that your judge is like the partner somebody described above who expects a skirt suit with hose, high necked or collared shirt, and conservative shoes. Even if you learn from previous clerks that the normal dress is more casual, err on the side of conservative and professional at first. It blew my mind the first time I learned that skirt suits are considered more “appropriate” for women by some, but odds are your judge will at least be aware of that convention and will make a first impression of you accordingly, even if he or she does not personally enforce or expect it for every day. My chambers are business professional every day, which means a suit, but I’ve learned that the general idea is just to avoid having your wardrobe choices commented on by the judge. Here that means no hose, pant suits, and some leeway with more fashionable tops and jewelry is fine, but super high heels or anything that just seems “weird” to a 65 year old male judge will be commented on. But every judge is different.

  54. Oh dear God, I hope there are no swimwear outings! I mean I like fashion but this isn’t Miss America. What a minefield for the attractive and less attractive alike.

    For any beach outing I’d do my best to have that be the one event I miss. If it’s unavoidable I’ll be staying dry in my modest tankini and shorts or a skirt.

    Do people really expect adult women and men to come to bathing suit events with those outside of their family and friends?

  55. Anonymous :

    Well, with the way the economy is going many firms have canceled their beach trips – so you may be saved.

    otherwise, if you are 24 and hot – then flaunt the hot bikini. Otherwise I would go for flattering and cute but avoid anything that says “Myrtle Beach Spring Break”

  56. The problem with open toed shoes is that they make you look a little less professional. A partner or an established associate at a firm can take this risk, but a summer associate–who is less experienced and probably younger and therefore does not radiate the same professionalism–cannot.

  57. I am a summer associate now in a big southern firm. I have a beautiful pair of Cole Haan peep toe black leather pumps that are really very classy. They have been my go-to pair of shoes to wear at the office because they have Nike Air built into the soles which make them extra comfortable. All I’ve ever gotten is compliments on them. Do you people think this is inappropriate to wear? They really look timeless and classic.

  58. anonymous :

    April: I have the same shoes and agree they are fabulous. I wouldn’t wear peep toe shoes as a summer in the south, but I do as a junior associate on the west coast because our office is more casual. I’d save them for the cocktail hours, dinners at attorneys’ houses, etc. That said, it all depends on the firm. I cared less about what the other women thought and more about what the 60 year old male partner would think at my wardrobe choices as a summer associate (and the best you can do there is hope they don’t notice anything that would offend them). Good luck, and long live nike air cole haans!

  59. I’m starting as a summer associate at an east coast firm next week and I’m concerned about what to wear the first day. The dress code is business casual (all year), but I know summers tend to dress more conservatively, at least the first day. Does anyone have any advice on whether I should stick to a plain black or navy suit for the first day, or can I go outside that strict conservative box (I have a beautiful beige and black (checkered-like), professional suit dress with a jacket that I would like to wear)

  60. I am starting as a summer associate at an east coast law firm next week and I am concerned about what to wear the first day. The dress code is business casual (year round). I know that summers often dress more conservatively, at least the first day, but I was wondering if I really need to stick to the black or navy suit, or can I step outside of that conservative box a little? I have a beautiful beige and black (checkered-like) suit dress, with a jacket, that I would like to wear, but I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Anyone have any advice? Thanks!

  61. Anonymous :

    This post makes me not even want to be in the legal profession. Wtf is wrong with everyone. I can’t wear f-ing dangling earrings. F that.

  62. Anonymous :

    I completely disagree. Yes, wear a standard suit for your interview, for your first few days in the office, and for important meetings. But during regular office hours — I think that women should use their judgment and wear whatever they want, as long as they feel comfortable and professional in it. This doesn’t include wearing outlandish attire, but I think that the suggestions above are too much. If women never wear basic items, such as something sleeveless on a scorching day when the AC is inadequate, or dangling earrings — the profession will NEVER CHANGE.

    I highly recommend that women –and all aspiring attorneys for that matter– prove their value through their PERFORMANCE rather than their appearance. What you wear to work, particularly when you are working 60-90 hour weeks, consumes your life. You should dress in a manner that is appropriate, and not offensive, but preserves your personality.

  63. I was a summer at a FL firm last year whose dress code is “business casual” all year. That being said, it was pretty formal business casual – if you wore a suit every day, perhaps with less formal shirts, you fit in fine.

    In any case, I’d add to the list at least one fabulous black or grey tailored dress – think Audrey Hepburn: boat neck or something not too low, fitted at the waits, and pencil-skirt shaped bottom half. So useful! Plus, nice if you’re going out to cocktails after work because you can take off the jacket or sweater you wore over it.

    Also, I wore a lot of black separates or other neutrals, with a pop of fun or color on one or two pieces – a necklace and shoe, a cardigan, a fabulous sweater, etc.

    Hope this helps!

  64. I’ve lived in the D.C. area for a while now but will be working at a law firm in D.C. for the first time this summer. I’ve heard that the dress is a bit more conservative here than in other legal markets. Also, my firm’s dress policy is generally business professional.
    Since I will be wearing a blazer every day, I would like to mix it up a bit. Would it be too much to wear a pop of color (say, blue, red, or darker pink blazer) with a conservative bottom like a black sheath dress or gray skirt? Or should I just save these for social occasions?


  65. JB –

    I’m a 3L at a DC law school. I’ve not worked for a firm here, but would say stay away from pink as a general rule (DC lawyers feel free to disagree, obviously).

    Good luck!

  66. Senior lawyerette :

    re Accessories: “anything that makes sound when you walk down the hallway carrying or wearing it (slingbacks and mules, we’re looking at you)”

    I was told that I was criticized at a partners’ meeting because “they” weren’t clanging as I walked down the hall.

    It was over 30 years ago, but, c’mon guys!

  67. Anonymous :

    I am doing a summer internship and all of this advice was very helpful! My only concern is over wearing pantyhose. Are pantyhose really necessary? I guess I am just dreading wearing the pantyhose since I am a young law student and it will be hot during the summer months! Also what colors/kinds of pantyhose should I wear?

    Also is it permissible to wear ballet flats instead of pumps everyday? I don’t think my feet will be able to take the torture of high heels all day.