I’m leaving my professional job of three years (conservative business attire everyday) and will be starting a full-time masters program in DC in August. I have no idea what I am supposed to wear to class. I know it is not as dressy as I wear now, but it is certainly not the yoga pants that I wore during undergrad.
Suggestions? Thanks! Emily
With law school starting next week, this is a topic that’s been on my mind. Obviously, I don’t intend to wear my congressional attire to class. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t want to look my best. However, some of my friends and readers have suggested that dressing nicely for class could be a drawback to my success.
It seems that given the cutthroat nature of most law schools, making an effort to look nice might make me a target for the Machiavellian machinations of 25-year-olds. They argue that in an environment where sweatpants and dirty hair are deemed acceptable because “it’s just class,” someone who dresses well could be deemed to be putting on airs. But in reality, I plan to treat law school like a job, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to dress accordingly, albeit casually.
Upper Left: Stella & Dot Rebel Necklace ($79) // Linea Weekend Striped Dress ($79) // Sam Edelman Leighton Flat ($30) // Old Navy Tassel Tote ($32)
Right: Merona T-Shirt Maxi Dress ($30) // High Desert Pendant ($8) // Splendid Mason Flat ($46) // VC Liquid Luxury Ring ($28) // Rachel Zoe Arizona Hobo Bag ($245)
Bottom Left: Land’s End Blue Oxford ($32) // Paige Skyline Skinny ($179) // Report Des Sandal ($30) // Michael Kors Turquoise Stack ($145)
For the first outfit on the upper left, I wanted something that was business casual. A striped dress is a summer staple for me, so I decided to pair it with colored flats for a bit of pop. I also found this Jones New York stripe dress with short sleeves. Plus-size? Try this Donna Ricco dress. Petite? I love this Banana Republic bold stripe dress, also in misses.
Because classrooms are usually cold (and the people in Washington State love their air conditioning more than anyone other than Texans), I thought I would bring a maxi-dress into the rotation. Splendid dresses are my favorite, but this Target dress (in four colors) is a great option. Plus-size ladies should try this short sleeve maxi, also from Target.
I paired the maxi-dress with a long pendant necklace in a faux-malachite stone and a black hobo bag. For the sandal, I went with snakeskin. I like the sandal above (esp. the price), but this snakeskin sandal from Rachel Zoe is my favorite.
For the last outfit, I wanted something relaxed, but still business casual. I paired my favorite white jeans with an oxford shirt and a closed-toe sandal. You could also pair it with a peasant top or a long tunic, if you want something less stuffy than an oxford. And for a little contrast, I added these turquoise stack bangles. Looking for something cheaper? Try this under-$25 set from Mykonos.
Jeans. Preferably with shirts. How can you possibly not know what to wear to grad school?
These are wonderful! I’m a PhD student and I like to put together, whether it’s to work in the office, teach or meet with undergrad students, or to meet with my advisor/committee members. Coming to campus in yoga pants and graphic tee really isn’t (wasn’t ever) my style. Plus, you never know who you’ll run into in the halls…especially when you’re on a first-name basis with almost every faculty member and staff in the department/college.
No one in law school or graduate school is ever going to look at someone in a pair of jeans and think, “ooohh, look at Ms. Fancy here, not wearing sweatpants!” But law school is not a job–you should have plenty of internships and clinics that are ‘jobesque’ at a minimum, but law school itself is not a job. If you want to treat it like one, know your ‘office’ and dress accordingly.
Anything that would be fine at a casual Friday at the office would be fine in the classroom too. There will be plenty of networking events and speakers for dressing more formally.
Just curious, are people really suggesting that dressing nice is a draw back? There was one girl in my law school class that didn’t shower and wore the same pair of dingy sweatpants to class everyday and people didn’t envy her.
Also, screw what classmates think about dressing well. There are always tons of lawyers crawling around the law school (adjuncts and visitors). Dress to impress them.
Agreed. Put together (but casual) was the norm at my law school. And there was always someone in a suit or business wear for an interview, internship or court appearance. Think casual Friday and you’ll be fine.
I also find it interesting that people are suggesting that dressing nice is a draw back. I just completed my first year of law school and had many tell me at the end of the year party that they admired how I was always put together. Some even went as far to say that I was the best dressed person in the law school.
I honestly believe I can’t do my best when I don’t feel my best, so I decided to dress how I wanted and not wear leggings and tshirts to class every day like many of my classmates. Ultimately, it’s your choice and you need to do what works best for you!
My girlfriends and I typically looked “good” during law school (graduated a year ago). Nice jeans are always a great option – so easy to feel put together with a sweater or blouse. Like that you used flats in all three outfits – toting around heavy bags and books in heels is not ideal.
As superficial as it sounds, you’ll be able to pick out like-minded friends based on what they wear to class and the time they put into their appearance.
Having just finished graduate school, I would say that dressing nice and viewing school like a job is great (though I wore work out clothes everyday). What I think people take offense to is the pretentious vibe that some give off. Dressing nice is good, but looking down on all your peers simply because of how they dress for class is annoying. Everyone is in the same program and therefore must have similar qualifications and just because your feet hurt a lot more than mine (thanks Nike!) doesn’t mean you’re smarter or better student than myself. But then again, maybe my perspective is tainted from a VERY uptight girl in my program…
We had a few students in my law school class that dressed up for class every day (like office dressed up, not cute-top-with-jeans dressed up). We all hated those two or three people.
I think all three of those outfits are great options! I just graduated from law school in DC, and maybe the culture here is different, but a LOT of people in my class wore nice outfits. There actually weren’t a lot of sweatpants, and many people went to school part time and had jobs…so there WERE lots of suits. I think the “cutthroat” nature of law school is often blown out of proportion. The people at my school were genuinely nice, for the most part. No one tried to steal my books (as I was warned would happen) and people were happy when others were successful. I think it depends on the culture of the school, and I can’t imagine people going crazy because you dressed nicely. Law school is a professional school after all…there is some sense that you are always being watched so you better be on good behavior, if that makes sense. Professors write recommendations, career counselors help with job searches, other students may refer you to internships, and random attorneys will pop by. In that situation, I would rather not be in sweatpants!
I graduated law school in Chicago in 2010. We heard the all of the “dress like a lawyer,” “there will be lawyers everywhere,” arguments during orientation and from various sources during law school. To me, this was a huge eye roll. In my experience (which is of course, just my experience), wearing business or business casual attire made absolutely no difference in the end. I always showered and I always tried to look my best, but I also always dressed casually. Jeans, cotton dresses, nicer leggings and tunics, etc. Basically exactly what you posted up there. Sometimes during finals week or on the weekends at the library I would wear sweats/yoga pants. I was lucky enough to get a job following graduation, and I’d like to think that this had absolutely nothing to do with what I wore to my 9 a.m. fed tax class.
On the flip side, I never looked at anyone who dressed up for class and thought they were putting on airs (only that they must be uncomfortable sitting around in a suit all day). I think the absolute bottom line is to dress how you feel most comfortable, while still being socially presentable.
One more point – I’ve taught classes as an adjunct at my old law school. I’m never, ever, ever impressed or unimpressed with a student based on what he or she is wearing in my class. I can say the same for the other adjuncts and professors I know.
These outfits are great! I think they blur the line between casual and put together perfectly.
Style by Joules
I really think you should be aiming for pulled together weekend attire for a graduate level classroom. There will always be days where you plan on being in the library for 12 hours studying or writing a paper. No one will hold your attire against you at that point. But for day to day classes, it is important to be comfortable for long hours in your outfit, be able to walk across campus throughout the day, likely with a load of heavy books, while also being ready for anything. There is nothing more frustrating that realizing that your outfit won’t get you through the long days comfortably. But it is important to remember that your instructors’ opinions of you matter. They are an important source of opportunities. Some of them work in their field and can be a window of employment. There are also often sponsored networking events around campus or your department that you probably forgot about until 5 mins before they started. I think the outfits above go a long way for being comfortable yet ready to make a good impression at a moment’s notice. For the really important stuff, step it up a notch to business attire. Those days will happen all the time. But for the average day, polished weekend attire will do everything you need.
RE: putting on airs – they have GOT to be kidding. I’ve literally never heard that. Granted, taking my closet from an office to graduate school was definitely noticed by my peers. I was recognized by people in the department for my outfit choices (and I have you to thank you for that Belle, at least in part) 🙂 but it was always overwhelmingly positive and a good conversation starter if nothing else. Dress for the job you want, and hope you kick some law school butt!
I was surprised too. Apparently, my new school has a history of cutthroat behavior which seems excessive and unnecessary considering the law school’s fairly low rank. It reminds me of something my boss used to say about how when the stakes are lowest, the behavior to achieve them is usually more extreme.
Doesn’t it make sense for the lowest ranked schools to be the most cutthroat? At high ranked schools, 75-90% of your class is going to be able to get a legal job, so people are less concerned that they’ll be unable to. At a lower ranked school, maybe 30-50% of your class will ever work as lawyers, so you can imagine people are more desperate.
Couple things: you shouldn’t assume law school is cut-throat. I had some of the best years and made some of my best friends there;
I know this is a fashion blog (and I lurve fashion) but I worry a little about planning school outfits. When I was a kid my dad used to point out that school was a place you go to learn, not a fashion show. I, like you, enjoy nice clothes, but judging the girl in sweats is as unacceptable as her considering you putting on airs. I would disagree with the previous poster who suggests that the halls are teeming with real lawyers who might hire you. For OCI do yourself up right. Otherwise, do as you please, come in your ball gown or PJs, but don’t judge the others who do differently. You’re there to learn and you’re paying (in either time or money – or both) massive amounts. What your classmates are wearing shouldn’t even come to notice.
sorry I would agree with the person who noted that the halls are not teeming with hiring lawyers. ATD.
Things at this school are a little different. It’s where all the CLEs are held, and where law firms do recruiting year round. I’ve been to the school on six occasions since August of last year, and every time there were lawyers around. I think most schools aren’t as busy, but at mine, I have yet to see a day when future colleagues and bosses weren’t in the halls.
Interesting. Totally the opposite of mine where there were only students and profs. We even did our annual OCI at the B school (and before classes started) so there really never were any lawyers. I mean obviously your class mates are future colleagues but their opinions of you, while i’m sure can’t be hurt by you looking nice, will largely come from your performance as a student.
I have to agree with you on the cut-throat comment, student behavior varies widely from school to school and I had (mostly) wonderful classmates who I now litigate against on a fairly regular basis.
But, to your point about not worrying what to wear to school, I would say that it was important for me to determine what level of dressiness/casualness was the norm at my program because I wanted to feel comfortable – much the same way I want to be dressed to a similar level as my coworkers now.
I spent much of my first year of law school in what I would call nice weekend outfits, but once I started working part-time in my second year it was much more business casual and suit separates (mostly because it was easier than going home to change). This by no means implies that I never wore athletic shorts and a sweat-shirt.
I’m not thinking of it as a “fashion show.” Much the same way I thought of my previous professional jobs, I want to dress to evoke what I feel on the inside. Even though I’ve gotten good scholarships, this is costing me money, and I’m going to do whatever I can to project a level of respect and professionalism in my work product, my behavior and my appearance. Will there be days when a late night means dry shampoo, a pair of jeans and a white tee? Most definitely. But when I walk into a law school and see two girls with dirty hair, no makeup, wearing sweats and flip flops walk through a crowd of besuited lawyers waiting to go back into a CLE, I think, “I hope this is just a once in awhile, emergency thing for them.” Everyone has an off day, and while I wouldn’t wear sweats because I don’t think it’s appropriate, I don’t mind other people wearing them if they’re showered and the clothes are clean. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
I agree that it’s not an every day thing. And I’m usually fairly well dressed but there were days after all nighters etc. where it was either sleep an hour and roll to class in PJs or get ready – sleep usually won. I do agree though that it’s out of the norm that your school has lawyers roaming around. I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with making an effort but I do think that once class starts you’ll naturally find yourself so busy that less time will be spent thinking about what you wear. Until you’re an associate, and then you’ll get to spend lots of time online shopping for things while you wait on comments :).
great picks! i was a grad student for several years in the biosciences and although the dress code is not as formal as in law, i tended to wear lots of pencil skirts and cardigans. as a student you’ll be spending a lot of time studying (i’m guessing) so you probably want some solid basics that you can wear with most everything else in your closet (so you don’t have to spend too much time picking out outfits in the AM, unless you like that kind of thing). then again, being a student in sciences is not exactly the most fashionable thing ever and i definitely have seen way more stylish people in other departments when i was on the “non-science” part of my campus…LOL.
Mary Beth @ pink-briefcase says:
Think of law school dressing as casual friday dressing. Sure, if you have an interview or a presentation a suit will be expected, but (especially during first year) everyone assumes that full-time students in full suits are headed to interviews. Be aware of that assumption and otherwise you are in great shape to do whatever you want! And seriously — no sweatpants. I can’t believe people still say that.
A successful law student shows up to class on-time, clean, and prepared. In that order.
I’m going to weigh in with a different opinion here. I think you’re much better off being prepared. Walking in a couple minutes late isn’t ideal, but whatever. A little un-groomed if you’re in sweats or whatever – fine. Getting called on and whiffing it – the worst.
Currently in b-school, not law school, so feel free to take my recs with a grain of salt. Every day, people range from workout clothing (although this is not the majority) to business formal suits if it’s recruiting season. I don’t look down on people wearing sweatpants in the least — especially if they only wear them every now and then and not every day — nor do I think someone who is dressed business casual is a drawback. Your attitude is what matters. Don’t act stuck up or holier than thou (or on the flip side, apathetic) and you’ll be fine.
I’d recommend a nice top and jeans + flats/boots/sandals depending on the weather. Something you might wear to brunch with your friends or a casual dinner with your in-laws.
I’m not sure what type of grad program the LW is entering, but I’m sort of surprised at her indication that she has “no idea” what to wear. It’s really not that hard to figure out what to put on for a casual setting. Doesn’t she dress herself on weekends?
I just hired an accountant for our company who just finished his degree (combined BS and Masters program) after running a construction company. I talked to one of his professors during the hiring process who told me that he wore suits regularly to class. The prof had asked him why, and he responded that he was preparing for his profession, and dressing like that helped him be in the right mindset. Along with that, the prof said that he treated everyone in the class with equal respect, no matter what they were wearing. He was about 20 years older than most of his classmates. He has been with us for only a few weeks and doesn’t wear suits to our very casual office, but I am impressed by his professionalism and his ability to relate to his co-workers in our manufacturing company.
I graduated from law school earlier this month, and I wore a variation of an oxford and paige jeans on a regular basis. I think looking nice never hurt me with fellow students, although I did see guys in suits everyday were judged.
I felt everyone dressed for who they were as people, but one thing that a lot of people judged were the girls wearing heels with jeans or short skirt. Law books are terribly heavy and wearing a 5-inch heel with a miniskirt gave a few girls terrible reputations, especially with bending to get book from their lockers. (I really wish I was kidding.) Although most were wonderful people, they had to overcome the reputation their outfit choices brought about. I can also tell you that I never once wore sweatpants of any kind to a class. Some professors view this as very disrespectful and I wanted strong recommendations and respect from them.
I think a Smart Casual/Business Friday look is the best idea. In just a few years you’ll be working again, and keeping your wardrobe halfway work-ready will make it easier to transition back to full-time employment, at least on Friday.
I would have to agree with gigglinggourmand that worrying about what to wear every day for graduate school is somewhat ridiculous. I think that raising the bar on the yoga pants you wore every day in undergrad is one thing and I would expect it out of anyone over 22, but graduate school in most cases is NOT a job. Trying to set yourself apart from your classmates via your fashion choices doesn’t make you a better student and to be perfectly honest some people are just going to think you are pretentious, and there were two such young men at my undergrad that wore suits every day for four years and were probably among the least respected students in the entire student body, despite their efforts to the contrary. It’s one thing if you learn/study best when you are put together with hair/makeup/dressy clothes, but not everyone learns best in that environment and I don’t think people should be chided if they learn best in a tee and jeans.
I never said I was trying to “set myself apart”. Should I start wearing sweat pants to blend in? I don’t mind a tee and jeans. It’s pajamas and dirty hair with Crocs that I can’t abide regardless of where you’re going, but especially if you’re going to be coming into daily contact with the professors and mentors who are supposed to be helping your career development.
Nor should they be chided if they learn best in a maxi and cute sandals.
It’s not ridiculous it shows that a graduate or law student is thoughtful. Also, wearing yoga pants as pants has gone too far. Many ladies don’t realize we don’t want to see your every curve and bump, fit or not fit. I’d rather see everyone in sweat pants and cheeto stains than your whole figure because yoga pants have been deemed class wear.
I just graduated from business school, but the law school was right beside of us, so we would run into one another from time to time. For the most part, people wore business casual or something more formal depending on the season. I also looked at going back to my Alma mater for business school and as of last year they implemented a 9-5 business casual dress code. I know a few of the law students there and they always dressed fairly nice to class, but even when I was an undergrad most people dressed decently at Wake. I personally agree with Oscar Wilde on this matter.
I think your approach is more successful. From my experience in law school, generally those with higher grades were individuals who had worked prior to enrolling and treated law school like a job, all the way down to attire. And to be frank, as long as you keep your personal business your business, those machiavellian 25 yr olds will be too busy gossiping about who hooked up with who to notice what you’re wearing. Except when they want to know where you shop.
As odd as it may sound, I think law school has the most in common with middle school than it does with any other period of time in your life. It is a relatively small group of people (my class was 110ish) coming from many different colleges and jobs, who don’t know each other. You’re not allowed to have a job outside of school, and you don’t really have time to do anything besides school, so you spend nearly all of your time with the same people and everyone has the same things to talk about. Everyone takes the same classes at the same time. Everyone has tests on the same day. You have a locker in the basement. You probably bring your lunch in a lunch box. There are organized parties and your teachers come to all of them (except they come and drink instead of as chaperones). You will probably be assigned to a small “homeroom” type group with a mentor/professor/adjunct/leader. You will be there so many hours that you will lose track of who wore what when. Everyone is beginning something unlike anything they’ve done before (law school is inexplicably very different from college), and they’re all in the same “boat,” which really makes for a strong foundation for friendships. I went to law school right out of college and became very good friends with numerous students who were 8-12 years older than me. Age kind of disappears because no one has done this before. Looking back, I don’t see any correlation between grades or career success and age or work history in my class. Everyone was all over the map. All of that being said, I barely remember what I wore to law school let alone what anyone else did. People will talk about the stripper-turned-lawyer-wanna-be in the booty shorts who flunks out after first semester (actually happened), the person who looks like they have a drug problem (actually happened), but there is an incredibly wide range of acceptable attire. Barring the truly bizarre, you can wear whatever you want and not be noticed.
I just graduated law school and always made an effort to dress well to class. Our professors wore suits to teach the class so I felt it respectful not to show up in sweats. You’ll also probably find that there are many occasions in which you will have to wear business or business casual attire so you will definitely get a chance to wear your congressional wardrobe. Maybe it was because I went to school in the south, but no one made a big deal of my clothing choices (other than being voted for the best dressed superlative haha!)
Belle, I would love to hear an update on how your style evolves moving not only from the professional sphere to law school, but also from DC to the Pacific Northwest. It was a huge shift when I moved to Seattle over a decade ago. After living in the midwest, the northeast, DC, and Texas, it took me a long time to get used to Seattle style. What I wore in other regions invariably felt overdressed here. I’d arrive to work in what I thought was a business casual, work-appropriate look, and people would constantly ask why I was so dressed up (while I was judgmentally thinking to myself, “And why are *you* wearing Danskos and fleece to the symphony?”). I love the outfits you’ve posted above, but I wonder if you might start to feel too “done” compared to your peers, as I often have.
I grew up out this way, so I’ve been getting the “Why so dressed up?” query my whole life. At some point, you have to decide to dress how you’re comfortable and live with other people’s opinions. I don’t ask why they’re wearing pajamas to church at age 40, so I think it’s a fair trade off.
save. spend. splurge. says:
I agree. I always get asked why I am so dressed up, but if wearing some plain trousers and a blouse is dressy, then I don’t want to be casual.
^^ That made me lol. 🙂
I found that attitude only lasted through the 1L year. When I was a 2lL and 3L myself and others were interning with firms or agencies in between or after classes. Most of the time I was going to morning classes in a suit or business casual then heading to my internship.
love it says:
Grad school was a fun opportunity for me to really lean into the preppy/academic/professor style. Tortoise shell glasses, brown leather boots, plaids, messy buns, cozy scarves, peacoats. 🙂
love it says:
(…it wasn’t law school, though.)
As if I haven’t talked enough here, one more thing to keep in mind is that certain law schools have seriously oppressive air conditioning.
Agree. Always freezing, especially in the library.
In my experience, you’ll see people in class wearing anything from workout clothes to a suit. In law school, time is at a premium and you may not have time to change between class and your internship, exercise class, etc. Just stick with your own style, but make comfort a priority because you’ll be sitting in the library forever. Besides, if someone is that preoccupied with you looking nice in class, they probably aren’t paying attention to, you know, CLASS, so who cares what they think?
save. spend. splurge. says:
I think that’s awful that you can’t really dress the way you want because of the environment.
That said, even in college and business school, I refused to wear sweatpants. I wore actual jeans and a top every day and no one said boo. In fact, it became my “thing” where my friends would tease me that I didn’t have a casual bone in my body and I HAD to dress up because it just made me uncomfortable otherwise.
I was a “non-traditional” student in undergrad, so even then I was too old to be showing up to class in my pajamas. When I do go back to grad school it will probably be part time and I’ll just wear the same things I wear to work. Anyone who wants to judge me on that can get off my lawn.
I am just finishing my full time masters program (economics). There are 4 women in my cohort and we all have different concentrations so I am often the only woman in my classes. Since you specifically mentioned its grad school you’re attending, not law school, I think my experience can be helpful! We never had any potential employers just “hanging out” but I did dress in a way where I looked casual but put together. Leggings and tunics, lots of dresses (all the time!), fun ASOS skirts and simple tops… Pretty casual. Hair not always “done” but I did make an effort to wear make up (neutral look) but that’s just because I like it. But don’t get me wrong, when finals comes around no one cares. At all. If I’m going to be up for 24 hours straight – some spent studying, some spent in the lab, the have a 5 hour exam after that — you bet I’m gonna be in leggings, a work out type tank and a hoodie. Chances are, that’s 100x more pulled together than the guy who just wore PJs.
Mrs Type A says:
Agree with this. My law school was in the south and people tend to dress a little “nicer” a lot of the time anyway, so I mostly wore jeans and a top with some sandals or flats. Something I’d wear on a casual friday.
However, pretty much anything goes. Some days you will wear yoga pants. Some days you will need to dress for the gym if you’re going to fit a workout in. Some days you will need to be in the library all day afterwards and just want to wear a damn hoodie. No one will look down on you for wearing a hoodie. While it may not be undergrad, it is still school– and (probably) the last time you will ever be a full-time student who CAN wear whatever they want. So take advantage of it!
Respectfully, I disagree that anyone would make you a target for dressing nice. (Maybe if you wore suits to class every day!) On the contrary I went to law school right out of college and certainly dressed nicer for law school than I did in undergrad. (Jeans, nice top).
While it is “just class” you never know when you will start up a conversation with a professor outside class or with a practicing attorney passing through the school. If I were to start speaking to a professional while I was wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt I would most definitely feel uncomfortable.
However, around exam time, anything goes. You’ll see everyone start to go downhill a few weeks before exams. A month before the bar I stopped wearing makeup, “real” bras, and my straightener (a nice break). This was a dramatic change for this girl.
I recommend not overthinking this. Wear what you feel comfortable with. The types of outfits that you’ve posted would be perfectly fine for law school, as would jeans/pants/skirt and a t-shirt/top/sweater/blazer. You are going back to school after years as a professional and that will make you stand out some. Your fashion sense is going to be a lot more mature and polished than many of your younger classmates. I was an older student bringing ~6 years experience with me to law school, which my classmates learned and respected as we got to know each other; I expect it will be the same for you. There will be times that call for suits, and maybe a few days that yoga pants or tights might be what you really need. Just roll with it. But, yes, law school is like going back to high school. You’ll have some immunity from it as an older student but you’ll still see it around you even if it doesn’t impact you directly too much.