Legally Stylish…

This morning, I’m headed off on holiday and in the mean time, I have lined up a selection of fabulous ladies to pop in and keep things going around here while I’m away. There will still be 2 posts a day, but one of them won’t be by me. I’m pretty excited actually, each of the bloggers who are contributing are people who I admire for their style and content so I think you are all in for a treat. And I’m not telling you who’s coming either, you’ll have to wait and see!

Today, it’s the hilarious and seriously intelligent Kirsty from A Safe Mooring. She’s hit on a subject I’ve been meaning to cover for a while so I hope you enjoy this teaser and share what you wear to the office after her insights. Thanks Kirsty!

Like Rebecca, I work in a profession that is often presented on screen as impossibly glamorous. If television and films are to be believed, female lawyers waltz around the office all day in nothing but mini-skirted suits in a variety of pastel shades, sporting perfectly coiffed hair and skyscraper heels. (They also merrily flit from one specialist area to another, this week defending a murderer and the next pursuing a libel case, but apparently the rules of professional conduct, just like the rules of office-appropriate attire, don’t apply on the other side of the screen.)

It’s all Ally McBeal’s fault. Back when I was an impressionable teenager, Calista Flockhart epitomised my idea of a glamorous lawyer. Donning a tiny skirt, dancing in the communal bathroom, drinking in the in-house bar – just a typical day in the life of your average solicitor. Or not.

And who can forget the pinktastic phenomenon that was Legally Blonde? Sure, it’s hardly representative of real life (or intended to be), but there was something about those fluffy pens and candy-coloured Jackie O suits – not to mention the implication that you could be blonde, wear pink, and actually have a couple of brain cells to rub together – that secretly appealed to me. Judging by the embarrassingly large number of blondes brandishing fluffy pens on the day one of my law degree, I wasn’t the only one.

Sadly, the reality of life in a legal office is somewhat disappointing in the style stakes. When I began my job straight out of university, I had three suits: a black, a grey and a blue. Conservative, safe, zzzzz. Fast-forward a few years and instead of being a trainee, shuffling paper and scurrying in the background, I’m out in front mixing with clients and making decisions. I don’t need to hide my opinions at work, so why hide my sense of style?As women become an increasingly dominant force in the workplace, the classic male uniform of suit, shirt and tie becomes less and less relevant, so why is the legal profession so slow to catch on? Surely it’s possible to look professional without looking like you’re the Conservative candidate in a local council by-election??

Ladies, I believe it is. Allow me to present Exhibit A in the case for professional-but-stylish: Diane Lockhart, the ballsy senior partner in my current legal drama of choice, The Good Wife.

Diane’s wardrobe is subtle, but speaks volumes. Rich jewel tones in classic shapes are lifted to the next level with interesting jewellery and luxe fabrics. Dresses and smart separates replace suits. It doesn’t scream “Look at me!” (or, “Look at my legs!” à la Ms McBeal). Instead, it says in a calm, authoritative voice, “I am a woman. I am good at my job. I do not need to dress like a man, nor do I need to dress to attract a man, to excel in my chosen field. And by the way, your fly’s undone.” At least, that’s what I like to think it says.

Of course, it’s a fine line to tread, and women’s magazines aren’t particularly helping us find our way. If I read another article suggesting that a leather pencil skirt is “totally office appropriate”, I will throttle someone with my own bejewelled hands. But the shift from the days of McBeal and co – when television’s idea of a female lawyer was a ditzy girl larking about in a short skirt – to the slick, smart and stylish professionals presented in The Good Wife is a significant one. Off-screen, there are signs that it might be catching on. My (female) boss often ditches a suit in favour of a sleek dress or colour-blocked top and skirt, and even the senior partner has been spotted – *gasp* – without his tie. Lawyers aren’t known for their daring sense of style, but as more and more young women enter the profession, perhaps we can show the old boys a thing or two.

What about you? How do you balance looking professional with looking stylish?

35 thoughts on “Legally Stylish…

  1. I get so jealous of your ability to add some style to your (and other office types’) working day. (I’ve been loving your ‘style me may’ efforts I’ve been spotting on twitter!)

    Sadly in my job I have a uniform, it’s semi-flexible in that I can wear what I like on the bottom half but I always wear my tunic (the only part of my own personality I’ve managed to squeeze in there is to wear brightly coloured scrub tops rather than boring white stiff tunics!) Also, given that I sit on a saddle stool, it rules out skirts, even knee length ones ride up and look incredibly unprofessional when straddling a saddle! I could mix it up with the shoes and trousers, but as I walk to work most days I usually just wear black trousers and dark trainers. Dull, dull, dull.

    P.S. The Good Wife rocks!

  2. I love this and 100% agree. I work in a law firm, we have an in house bar, we do NOT have unisex toilets, but suits do seem to be coming a thing of the past. I haven’t worn one since my first job, 8 (crumbs!!) years ago… Well, except for interviews, but even then, in more recent times I went for a dress and a fitted contrast jacket. Granted I’m in marketing and BD and so not a lawyer, but the females at the top look sharp and stylish in hot picks from Net a Porter (I’ve seen the bags on the back of their doors!) and I rarely spy a suit on them. I do spy lots of colour, prints snd great shoes. However, the younger lawyers need to sharpen up a bit in my opinion!

    One of the partners once asked me if I was wearing Marni as she “recognised” the print from the NaP website. Bless her cottons….

    • Whoops – too soon! If I owned anything from Marni, I wouldn’t be wearing it to the office, that’s for certain! However, what possessed her to think that I could afford Marni is beyond me. Obviously I’m missing out on some massive bonus pool somewhere……..

  3. Knew this was going to be you Kirsty as soon as I saw the Ally McBeal thumbnail on facebook! I LOVED Ally McBeal.
    Currently I work in a teeny weeny office with people I don’t like and I have my own office so I make ZERO effort as most of the time I just don’t see people and those I do see I’m not bothered about looking nice for. That’s really miserable isn’t it.
    Incidentally I own a leather skirt (my mum bought me it) and I have never found an appropriate occassion to wear it for anything, let alone work!

      • I refuse point blank to believe that being a lawyer involves anything other than meeting a succession of hot guys and then going dancing every night, no matter how many times you and others tell me otherwise!

  4. Yay for TGW love and yes to Diane’s wardrobe and her chunky, amazing jewellery!
    I work for an in-house team of conveyancers and I’d have to say, its no where near the Lockheart Gardner end of the scale. Just smart trousers and a top/dress will do. I tend to be a bit preppy with what I wear in work but would LOVE to dress like Diane. And have my hair stay in place like hers does!

    xoxo

  5. Less stylish lawyer over here but I do try! On my first day here someone told me that even though we were allowed to dress down on Fridays, “no one ever did and at best, that means not wearing a jacket”. It depends on your department though. I am of the Court attending variety so my Partner expects that we are suited and booted and heeled in the office. My office attire tends to be black, navy or grey dress and jacket (I prefer dresses because they don’t gape) or a skirt and TM Lewin white shirt combo. I have 25 TM Lewin white shirts – I’ll tweet a picture because its just embarassing. I do treat that as a semi uniform and don’t like to branch out unless its with a scarf. The benefit is that when I get up in the morning I know what I’m wearing. I would hate to feel like I was wearing my “out of work clothes” at work or visa versa. There is also the fact that our one bedroom flat cannot support more clothes.

    I’m lying…the main reason I wear black navy and grey is because I do a bulk buy in M & S four times a year (without trying anything on) because its easy, smart and I can afford to buy three skirts/dresses with every jacket. I feel like I’m letting down the female race here somewhere but I can’t face shopping on a weekend **goes off to die of shame**

    • You have twenty-five TM Lewin white shirts? Bloody hell, I am impressed! That is hardcore!

      You’re right, I think dressing for court is whole different deal, a purple pencil dress might raise a few judicial eyebrows.

      Oh, and – *whisper it* – I don’t really enjoy shopping in real life at all. Taking my clothes on and off five million times, being forced to stare at every angle of my body in hideous changing-room lighting, trawling around for hours only to see basically the same thing in every single shop – bleurgh. But that’s another post for another day…

      • I love your post, Kirsty and can really identify with the other comments on here!

        I’m also a lawyer trying to branch out of the dreaded suit. My workwear wardrobe (I pretty much have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… etc outfits) has recently been taken over by dresses in a variety of colours from Hobbs (or brightened up with a colour pop cardi). Not quite as stylish as a shopping splurge at NaP, but teamed with some smart shoes I feel as though I look the part, don’t have to worry about what I throw on in the morning and, most importantly, don’t spend my weekends ironing shirts (TM lewin shirts are sooooo awkward to iron)!

        Would love to find some ways of smartening up my dresses a step further so that I can wear them to Court or client meetings though, where a cardi’s not quite enough. I guess I should just splash out on some matching jackets – I’m not really brave enough to get something contrasting.

  6. I love TGW. How poignant was last week’s episode with the three women of (roughly) 3 different generations (OK, Diane is only maybe half a one above Alicia) discussing their work/life priorities. Hmm, deep.

    Anyways, we could turn up to work in our pyjamas and no one would bat an eyelid. Sometimes this makes me sad, that along with our horrendous offices just doesn’t make me want to feel professionally sassy (sorry, odd phrase but it’s that and panache that spring to mind when I see people trotting around in their LK Bennetts). I suppose the reason that this dress code is so is that they don’t pay us enough to be able to afford 2 wardrobes. I genuinely make more effort at the weekend!

  7. I get very annoyed at fashion magazines when they say things are “office appropriate” as they are usually not. I work somewhere kind of creative but still need to be smart, and still need to look like I have authority so most of what the magazines and websites suggest is either too formal and dull or toos hort/revealing/just plain innapropriate (she says wearing patend stilletoes, a yellow tartan skirt and studded t-shirt as work clothes)

  8. Oh yes Becca, the ‘out of work clothes in work’ thing is something I was obsessed with for several years!! I do the same job as Rebecca but usually dressed a lot less glamourously (sp?!) – my usual work outfit is a smartish jumper, trousers or skirt and ballet flats or knee high boots. I did used to wear lots of shirts/blouses to work but in recent years have realised that a) I don’t find them comfortable b) it’s hard to find ones that fit well and c) and most importantly I hate ironing the damn things!!! So I have phased out shirts almost entirely and replaced with nice tops/jumpers, but the problem is that now I like some of them so much I actually (whisper it!) WANT to wear them outside work!!!!! Which just feels wrong!!

    • I wear the same clothes in and out of work, well, around 60% of my non work wardrobe mixes in with a few key smarter pieces (like the whistles cropped trousers for example) that I rarely wear out of work. I like that, I can justify spending more if I’ll get dual use out of it and I enjoy getting dressed for work more.

      Within reason (and clearly I don’t have to attend court!) I think your attitude and confidence is more important. I actually dress down a little more now I’m more confident in my abilities where as when I was more dressed up, I don’t think it fooled anyone! ;)

      • My mum always had a bee in her bonnet about wearing non-school clothes to school and how it would make them feel less special, which I think for a long time created a mental block around wearing non-work clothes to work. But I’ve started doing it more recently, and I’m with you Rebecca – I enjoy getting dressed for work a lot more now, and so far it hasn’t spoiled anything for me. Plus, I’m dressing for work five days out of seven, so I might as well enjoy what I wear!

  9. I’ll never be able to look at that woman again without thinking of the Big Bang Theory. Either way she’s pretty awesome.

    I work in an office full of software developers, my efforts went from little to none quite a while ago. I really should make more of an effort because when I see someone who does I feel slightly inadequate… but then I remember I’m wearing my favourite jeans and a hoodie and I COULD NOT be more comfortable and that makes it all OK!

    • i see your ‘jeans and hoodie’ combo and raise you scrubs. my PJs are not as comfy. there are never any small sizes left either so i wear extra large and use medical tape to make the V smaller. heavenly. i also wear a hat, so am under no obligation to brush my hair. i never miss normal clothes at work.

  10. The Good Wife? It seems I ought to watch more telly, this has completely passed me by!

    My office attire (lawyer background and now owner of my own businesses, one still within the legal sector) is like Diane’s, though with smaller hair. Being smart no longer means having to be dull, nor does it mean having to look like everyone else. There is so much choice out there for women and I love the chance to mix and match – in fact, the last pitch I presented saw me wearing a mix of clothes from the sublime (Net-a-Porter) to the ridiculous(ly priced George at Asda).

    Great writing, Kirsty!

  11. You know. I actually put a lot of thought into this. I used to wear all black to weddings, until it was pointed out to me that people might mistake me for one of the caterers and that I needed a bit more personality and branding to go with my out fits. So I’ve been trying to go for outfits that look artsy/bohemian/professional and I usually find them on the Anthropologie sales rack. Thank goodness we’re moving to Edinburgh so I can have easier access.

    • Oh, so NOW the real reason for the move come out! Does Aidan know about this?

      I think wedding photographer attire must be one of the trickiest to get right – has to be comfortable but professional, stylish but not enough that you get mistaken for one of the guests… not easy.

  12. Oooh, I’d love a What to Wear at Work feature – because I fear my style might well be bag lady. I don’t work in a terribly smart environment but it is conservative (someone wearing jeans in – TO CHANGE OUT OF WHEN THEY GET THERE – results in horrified and snarky comments). Although we’re allowed to dress down on a Friday.

    I wear skirts with knitwear and boots in the winter, smart sandals/ballet pumps in the summer. I feel scruffy and when I do need to be smarter, I usually panic and feel I’ve got it wrong.

  13. Fellow lawyer here, and first time comment writer, eek.

    I would dearly LOVE to be a Diane Lockhart but I have to admit I generally ending up wearing the same 5 outfits to work each week. I have my one very nice (thankfully sale find) Hobbs suit that I snatched up with both skirt and dress to allow for more wears(!) and a couple of good dresses I wear with a jacket or cardigan, depending on whether I’m in court that day. I find a big issue to be tailoring that fits; suits and shirts for ladies with a bust and a small(ish!) waist are pretty hard to find. Hobbs wouldn’t be my usual go to place but I found a jacket there that suits my figure and couldn’t pass it up.

    It is funny how some women I come across in our profession don’t dare stray though. During a very hot day in court last summer a colleague said she felt exposed because she was going without stockings in court for the first time in 20 years. I have to admit I’ve been bare legged to court on more than one occasion and never given it a second thought, I’m behind a bench after all (although the long sleeved jacket will always be a must). Other female colleagues would never dare wear trousers to court. I have heard tales of judges, not that long ago, telling off female lawyers for daring to wear trousers in their courtroom. I personally feel more comfortable in skirts, but if that weren’t the case I would not think twice about wearing trousers. We’ve come so far and yet this is still a conscious issue for some.

    All that said my office is pretty laid back so I really ought to be mixing it up a bit. Thanks to Kirsty for this post, I may branch out to at least a brightly coloured t-shirt top to go under my oh so black suit next week!

  14. I work for a magazine and if you saw what the fashion girls wear to work then you’d know why they think leather pencil skirts are “totally office appropriate”!

  15. Ooh am loving all the comments! Fab post!

    I often wish that we had to be “smart” for work, but because i work in the media anything goes really and it means that there is no differentiation between my work and play wardrobe ! I do try to make an effort though (but not too much as people assume you have a job interview if you are too smart!!) My work outfits are basically skinny jeans, ballet pumps, top and blazer, (heels and boots in the winter) or easy pull on dresses (denim, jersey) I always justify to H2B that because i have no “work wardrobe” i get to buy more clothes!! Hee hee!

    Would also like to say how fab was Ally Mcbeal and also lovingThe Good Wife (although still on series 1) xx

  16. At my law firm, we are expected to wear conservative professional clothing. I was once told off because my trouser suit was too trendy (ie the trousers were too skinny). I tend to wear dresses with cardigans or jackets.

    What became a problem for me was suitable maternity wear, especially for attending court in the middle of my pregnancy when it wasnt hugely obvious I was pregnant but I couldn’t fit into any of my suits.

    Now I’m on maternity leave and even getting dressed seems a huge achievement :)

  17. Such a good post, really well written Kirsty! I am a teacher and in my previous school, there was certainly an element of corporate dressing creeping in, especially for parents evenings where suits were the done thing. This was in a high performing (high pressure) secondary state school with a lot to prove and I liked it at the time. I think a lot of teachers seem to be going down the super smart route, but that may just be my limited experience of a handful of schools from when I lived in South London area. The schools I worked in the midlands were admittedly, in general, populated by those who mostly took (what I like to call) the ‘per una’ route!

    Now, my new school is private, in a different country, still high performing but nicely laid back. The dress code is way more relaxed and I am really looking forward to shaping a new work wardrobe which is professional yet more distinctively my own style. Therefore, looking forward to some work wear posts Rebecca!

  18. My work wardrobe is exactly the same as yours Rachie!! Currently wearing skinnies, snakeprint ballet pumps and a slouchy jumper…

    Where I struggle is with the smarter aspect – I only need to smarten up (a little) one, maybe two days a month for meetings and I’m resistant to buy good things as they will get so little wear. I would love to see a feature where the smarter things can also be worn for other non-work occasions!

    xoxo

  19. What a great post Kirsty. I guess I came across similar misconceptions as a Designer, at times I spent a lot of the working week wearing steel toe capped boots, a high vis jacket about ten sizes too big and a hard hat!

  20. Woah, what a lot of lawyers read FF! I work as an agricultural consultant, and deciding what to wear is an absolute nightmare! I spend about 50% of my time in the office, and about 50% of my time out on farm visits, and I can literally be doing anything from crawling around on my hands and knees looking at crops, to chasing cows and getting covered in sh*t, to hiking up big hills, to having a cup of tea and chat in the farmhouse kitchen. We are expected to look smart all of the time, even when carrying out farm visits and surveys, so I find it really hard to find clothes that look smart and that i don’t mind wrecking. My work wardrobe therefore consists of 5 pairs of really cheap New Look black trousers (I literally need to wash them after one wear, usually covered in mud by the end of the day! and I don’t mind if I rip them climbing over barbed wire fences), and a variety of smart tops and cardigans. it’s all about the layering for me, especially when you’re slogging up a hill. I often just throw my waterproofs over my smart trousers to keep them clean, but I even got a row from our regional manager for my waterproofs being too muddy, having spent the whole day taking soil samples in the pouring rain! Honestly!

    It’s also a very male dominated field (pardon the pun), so it’s hard to dress with authority but also practically. But I’ve found that if I stick true to my style (I love bright colours and wear a lot of colourful jewellery) that they may comment when they see me arrive, but after a few minutes of speaking to me, they don’t mind what I’m wearing as long as I know what I’m talking about. One client recently said “you don’t normally see consultants wearing pearls. That won’t last long, you’ll soon realise it’s not a fashion parade”. I was a bit annoyed but pointed out that I am a farmers daughter and a farmers wife and I have been wearing jewellery from the age of 3 on the farm (though granted in those days it was plastic necklaces, a red handbag and my dolly thrown into the trailer of my pedal tractor!), so I don’t think it’s going to stop now! He just laughed and asked where my parents farmed, so he realised that I knew a bit about farming after all.

    I sometimes think I would like to work in a job where I get to dress smart every day in nice suits and spend a bit more money on my clothes, but I do like pairing smart trousers with a pair of wellies! Great post Kirsty.

  21. Hi! I’m in high school and have my work experience week starting on Monday! I’m going to a Solicitors and have been told to wear (unfortunately) very ‘bland, dull, plain’ colours and styles, i have black brogues which i’ll wear and the choice of a just above knee length ‘floaty’ skirt or black trousers. However i’m having big troubles working out what to wear on my top half! Have you got any advice please? I know i shouldn’t have left it this late…but typical teenager! Also, what would be your opinion if i were to mention wearing nail varnish? Any help would be much appreciated!

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