The dapper male attorney has typically been the exception, not the rule. But with the resurgence of male fashion, and countless new companies and clothiers keeping trusted counselors well-threaded, men are becoming more sartorially astute one non-corner office at a time.
To get some insights on menswear in the legal world, we reached out to a few of our favorite style resources from both coasts (and in between): Jill Lynn (@SellsSuits) of Trunk Club DC; Chicago startup Purely Fashion CEO Jeremiah Green; and representing the West Coast, our fashion-forward finance guy Ryan (trust us: if you met him, you’d want to dress like him).
Putting this blog post together ignited debate across the office and across the country. Long story short: our contributors don’t all agree.
Read on then decide for yourself.
Suiting: A Quick How-To Color Guide
Before we get into our contributors’ specific recommendations, we asked them about the most popular suit colors and how to pair them with the right shoe, shirt, and tie colors. Here’s the consensus:
Blue: The classic power suit color. Lean toward navy.
- Shoes: black, dark brown/chocolate, or cognac (these Cole Haan oxfords demonstrate each brown shade we’re talking about)
- Shirt: white, light blue
- Tie: solid or club/repp; maroon and green are good color options
Grey: Contrary to what you may have read, there are actually 2 shades of grey—heather and charcoal. Heather is most appropriate in the summer. Charcoal is best in the winter or if you know you are transitioning into something in the evening after work (we don’t recommend heather for professional after-work events).
- Shoes: most American men wear black. Brits often wear cognac (see above)
- Shirt: white, light blue, light pink
- Tie: pretty much any color works
Brown: Brown isn’t as good as blue or grey, but you can (probably) make it work. Just remember that the lighter the shade of brown you choose, the more informal your vibe.
- Shoes: brown
- Shirt: light blue, light pink
- Tie: navy
Black: We don’t recommend wearing black suits. Black suits are most appropriate for 2 things: weddings and funerals. They can come across as too formal (or too solemn) for interviews. If you really must wear one:
- Shoes: black
- Shirt: white, light blue
- Tie: just like grey suits, it’s tough to go wrong with tie color here
With that, let’s turn to our contributors. We asked them the following 3 questions:
1. What are the 5 essentials for starting your professional wardrobe?
Ladies first—Trunk Club DC’s Jill Lynn:
I’ve worked with north of 200 lawyers from many different firms and I can tell you there are very few lawyers who don’t own these:
- Navy suit
- Navy blazer
- Simple white shirt
- Simple blue shirt
- Brown shoes
In many cases, these items were kept in their offices just in case there was a last minute client meeting or court appearance and they had to make a quick costume change.
Next up is Ryan, our San Francisco-based finance guy. He spends his time ducking in and out of banks and boardrooms down the West Coast, and knows a thing or two about dressing the part in a conservative industry.
- Navy Suit: Navy is the most versatile and most reliable color. A two-button jacket is the best default. For the savvier folks, there are countless hues, shades, textures, and details that can liven up a simple navy foundation.
- White Shirt: Don’t overthink it here—plain white shirt, spread collar, standard or French cuffs. No buttons on the collar, and no two-toned b*llsh*t. If you’re going for French cuffs, then make sure you have a subtle pair of cuff links that aren’t too kitschy.
- Soft Colored Tie: I’m not a big fan of the red power tie, but I do believe in adding a little bit of color here. It has to match the suit in hue and tone (e.g. shiny/shiny; strong/strong, matte/matte), but there are loads of colors that look good with navy, including shades of red. Don’t underestimate the importance of texture in a tie, as this will add contour and depth to the look.
- Black shoes (with a black belt, of course): Black lace ups. No buckles. Wingtips are okay. I can’t understand why people suggest pairing brown shoes with a navy suit. It has to be such a perfect match in terms of the shade of brown and the shade of navy that it’s just almost impossible to get right. And when you don’t get it right, it looks cheesy.
- Watch: Self-explanatory—how else are you going to be on time? Seriously…it sounds dumb, but when I have a full day of meetings, my watch is my savior. Don’t be gaudy in size or color; understated is the operative look.
Purely Fashion CEO Jeremiah Green offered these top 5 picks:
- A navy or charcoal suit. These colors go with everything and you can mix and match shirts, ties, shoes, and watches. Keep this suit simple—avoid anything that’s too loud or that has patterns. The jacket should have thin lapels and be single-breasted. Also avoid pocket squares.
- A white or light blue dress shirt. This is critical. Don’t get too creative or flashy with your shirt, just stick with the basics. Own a week’s worth of these.
- Wingtips (with a belt that matches). Black goes with everything, dark brown goes with almost everything. Wingtips will never go out of style. Do NOT buy wingtips with white stitching or metal bars across the forefoot. These are way too trendy.
- Ties. Pretty much any color will go with navy or charcoal. Also, know how to tie said tie. Avoid a full Windsor knot, it’s too trendy. The half Windsor is best.
- Watch. Stainless steel or brown leather bands are best. Spend a couple hundred dollars—it’s the one piece you’ll wear every day.
2. Where should guys shop?
Here’s Jill again:
I work for Trunk Club, which is a men’s outfitting service. We have 3 physical locations (Chicago, Dallas and DC) where guys can come in and shop for anything from business formal to business casual to weekend wear. For guys who are outside those areas, a personal stylist will work with them via phone and email to send outfits in “trunks” to their doorstep. They can try everything on at home and send back what didn’t work. It’s simple, easy, and efficient. No more hopping from store to store.
Obviously, I’m a little biased and think all men should shop with us, but I know that we’re not for everyone. There are plenty of options for law students and new associates, including those who might be on a budget. Suits I have seen that look great come from places like Banana Republic, J Crew, and Suit Supply. I promise you though, there is nothing like a custom suit, so I always tell guys to save their pennies and spring for 1 custom suit rather then buying 2 off the rack.
Ryan tends to agree with Jill’s picks:
I’m a huge Suit Supply fan. For the average guy on a budget, they have some cuts that are a really great deal. See if you can find one there that works.
Otherwise, I’d try to find a Hugo Boss or a Hart Schaffner Marx at Nordstrom Rack. Sometimes they have decent Ralph Lauren stuff, too. Avoid Men’s Warehouse and Jos A Bank at all costs. J. Crew and Banana Republic are sneaky expensive, but I think they’re solid suits.
Haberdash is great. Uniqlo and American Apparel are good go-to spots for basics. Check out JackThreads for flash sales. If I were investing in shirts, Gitman Bros. is the way to go. Rag and Bone and Carven are pretty high end, but they’re great.
You can always approach a custom suit guy who can make you a suit for the same price as a nice off-the-rack suit, but the custom suit will fit you perfectly and will be nicely constructed. Tom James & Co. is a very good custom suit maker.
Jill: “Don’t be that guy”
I’ve heard stories of senior partners making associates go home to change because what they were wearing was unacceptable. People make judgments almost immediately, and 9 times out of 10 it’s based on clothing. When you shake a man’s hand and he’s put together and looks the part, you will think to yourself, “Wow, he knows what he is doing and is successful.” When you meet a man who looks sloppy and poorly dressed, you think, “He didn’t even take the time to tuck in his shirt. What else is he going to cut corners on?”
The same applies in the dating world for all you single guys. Women are drawn to the well-dressed man because it shows that he makes a little more effort. I see it all the time! A guy will come in once, and then shortly afterwards he’ll email me telling me the positive feedback he received from the women in his life. It’s not long before he comes back for more (and his friends start to follow).
Ryan has lots of thoughts on lots of things, including how to nail the details:
2-button v. 3-button jackets
In general, I think 2-button works best for most guys. The 3-button with a hidden 3rd buttonhole and no actual 3rd button is a savvy move. This usually works best with wider, peak lapels. 3-button deals always work better on bigger guys; slimmer guys like me can rarely do a 3-button.
I love peak lapels. They exude confidence and style savvy. But they have to be done right—right width, right length from the top button, right girth. It’s difficult to articulate without looking at examples, but bottom line is peak lapels are A-Okay. If you don’t understand them, though, then you should avoid.
For standard lapels, use your body type as a guide. Slim body type means slimmer lapel. That said, a wider body type can actually benefit from a narrow lapel in terms of slimming the look. Too narrow, though, and it won’t look right.
One thing people forget to do is be aware of tie width relative to lapel width. For example, you can’t wear a skinny tie with peak lapels. A simple rule of thumb is match tie width to lapel width. It doesn’t always have to be exact, but it’s an easy guide.
As I implied earlier, texture is the sneaky important aspect in a tie. It challenges the eyes and gives contour to the look. Ties are a great way to convey your personality and character without being too aggressive. Don’t forget to experiment with knots, too. The knot has to match the collar of the shirt, and it has to let the tie hit at the right point on your waist—usually that’s at the top of your belt.
And figure out how to tie multiple knots. I’ve got 4 different knot types that I use, depending on other details.
For the standard dude, you gotta stay within your color comfort zone. Navy, charcoal, black. If you understand color, then things can get fun. If you don’t understand color, then just stick with neutral, versatile colors.
3. What’s the bottom line?
Final thoughts from Jill:
Every time a man leaves his house for work, he should think to himself, “If I were to run in to the managing partner right now, would he be impressed with the way I looked or tell me to turn around and go change?” You only have one shot at making a first impression, so make it a good one.
Also, personal hygiene is just as important as clothing. Men should get regular haircuts, trim their facial hair or keep a nice clean shave, and dare I say get the occasional manicure?
And from Ryan:
Naturally, the cut of the suit and the cut of the shirt make ALL the difference, so before you reflect on navy suits v. charcoal suits or white shirts v. blue shirts, make sure you understand your body type and measurements. You’ve got to experiment with different labels and sizes to find the best fit for you. The length of the jacket has to be right (arm length can be fixed by your tailor). The body of the shirt has to be right. The neck on the shirt has to be snug but breathable. The pants have to sit at the right point on your waist (most people wear them too low). The legs have to be trim but not tight. There are loads of important proportional details. And all of this is a function of your body type, so figure it out, that’s step 1. Once you find the optimal cut, you can start experimenting with other fun stuff.
And finally, Jeremiah:
If you really want to make a sartorial statement, do it with accessories—learn how to tie a bowtie, buy a nice watch, wear colorful socks.
Once you’re in the room, listen more than you talk. You can’t listen your way into trouble.
So there you have it, guys. We don’t want to see any pleated chinos, zoot suits, or bolos the next time we’re on campus.
Got a legal lady friend who could use some guidance? Check out our womenswear post.