How can I stay in a workplace full of costumes?
I am a law student and have just accepted a job offer in public interest law. My everyday style could be described as “12 year old boy” (graphic tees, frayed jeans, all oversized). My idea of dressing is pastel colors or printed buttons. I never wear skirts or dresses and always wear sneakers. How can I “watch the role” of a aspiring lawyer without hiding my real me, my androgyny and my weirdness – or spending too much money? – Molly, Washington, DC
As Elle Woods might say, “What does a lawyer look like?
Not that I am defending his style, which is clearly not yours. Rather, that nowadays there is much more leeway than there was to merge personal and work clothing. Formal office dress codes have for the most part followed the bedtime route, as the power of the individual and the right to equality have come to the fore. (The pandemic and over a year of the WFH have also helped.)
After all, the story of office dress codes – or school dress codes or any dress code, really – is the story of the social contract, the tension between the individual and the group. How much do you owe your employer to “fit in” and “represent” them, and how much does the company owe you the freedom to be yourself?
More and more, the balance of power has moved away from the man in the gray flannel suit. At the same time, law is one of the most traditional sectors. (Even more than the bank, they still place a high value on the tie.) And as a new hire, you want to focus on your job, not your unexpected outfits; on your intellectual agility, not the agility of your sneakers. You want to be taken seriously, then a joke tee is probably not a good idea.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t push the boundaries. To know where to start, I have only one word for you: location. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s a more sustainable and economical experimentation approach than an actual purchase. Plus, if you find something perfect, there are plenty of companies that offer rental with purchase plans. You might be surprised at what looks natural.
The most famous name in the business is, of course, Rent the Runway – in October it went public at a valuation of $ 1.7 billion – but it’s far from the only resource. Check out Vince.unfold, Nuuly, and the Banana Republic style passport.
So look for a great oversized pantsuit. Or, if you don’t want to commit to a suit, find a blazer in an interesting fabric and pair it with dark denim. (Stay away from faded or ripped jeans.)
Instead of a graphic t-shirt, maybe try a striped t-shirt or one with a different pattern. If you wish, replace the sneakers with lace-up shoes (ideally with square heels for a certain height). And avoid the briefcase – go for a cool leather bag. Accessories are a great place to let your personality shine through. Just think of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
And remember: When Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan became the first female Solicitor General in 2009, tradition still required the person filling that role to appear in court with… a gown. She discussed the outdated convention with her fellow lawyers and instead opted to wear a dark pantsuit and a light blue blouse, setting a new precedent. You can do the same.
Your style questions, answers
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a fashion reader’s question, which you can send her anytime via E-mail Where Twitter. The questions are edited and condensed.