Style + Ask the Edit

Ask Belle: Versatile, Casual Business Attire for Law School

Hi Abra,

I cannot tell you how much I love your blog. In particular, the Facebook group offers such a depth of empathy and kindness.

I am starting law school in the fall after working in a professional setting for several years. As I transition my wardrobe, do you have any suggestions for casual pieces to pick up for starting school? (e.g. cute tops, sweaters, flats, etc.)

Thank you! – Emily 

I love the Facebook group too.  Sometimes, I’ll approve a submission and wonder how the answers are going to go, but they’re always kind and thoughtful.  It’s kind of wonderful that way.

As for law school, well, buckle up, kiddo.

The Sweater. The MM. LaFleur Morandi sweater is a bit of a splurge (also in XXL), but I tool every final exam of my law school career in this cardigan.  You see, school buildings are notoriously freezing, and I hate to be cold.  In the Morandi, I am never, ever cold.

It’s also a versatile piece that you can wear casually or professionally.  It also holds up beautifully.  Though, if I were to do it again, I might get the slightly longer, slightly softer Daphne sweater.

The Jeans. You’ll need a couple of pairs of jeans.  I recommend one skinny and one trouser, both in a dark wash.  You never know who you might run into in the school building, so you want to look nice even when you’re in jeans.  I’ve always preferred AGs.  I got a lot of wear out of my super black stretch Farrahs (which you can wear for hours with no pain).

The Blouses. As I mentioned above, you want clothes you can wear casually or professionally (because you don’t want to get a good externship or clerkship and then have nothing to wear).  This CeCe tie neck blouse has black piping and cute cap sleeve, so you can layer it under cardigans or blazers.  This printed v-neck Calvin Klein would jazz up a simple cardigan or suit. But if I had to pick one blouse, I love (LOVE) the coral color block Vince Camuto above (and it’s only $55).

I also can’t recommend the J.Crew bodysuits enough, if you like button-up shirts.

Plus-size? I think this NYDJ pleated blouse is a very versatile choice.  This Modcloth Off to a Good Start short sleeve blouse would be good for layering under crewneck sweaters, with a big collar necklace.

The Shoes. I cannot tell you what a beating your feet will take in law school.  You eat garbage, you don’t drink enough water, you drink too much vodka, and your either sitting or standing too much.  Plus, every law school on the planet has one-million stairs and only one elevator.

I got through on a steady diet of ballet flats, moccasins, and knee high boots (also good for winter warmth).    The M.Gemi Felize was my “I give no f**ks” shoe.  The, I need to climb 9 flights of stairs before lunch, shoe.

I also splurged on a pair of Chloe scallop trim flats.  If you walk a lot, don’t buy these.  They’re not made for that.  I would recommend something with a pointy toe so it can transition to skirts and trousers.  This Sam Edelman leopard shoes (above) would be very high on my wishlist.  Also, if I were in law school now, I’d grab a few pairs of Rothy’s (comfortable, chic enough).

Law school is a grind.  Dress for you. Dress like a professional (even in business casual) except during finals.  And dress for long term comfort, because the days may never end.  Because getting dressed might be the last decision you feel good about each day.

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  1. Trace says:

    I LOVE those NYDJ blouses! Nordstrom Rack has them for $30 under “Henley 3/4 Length Sleeve Print Blouse”

    June 25, 2018/Reply
  2. Cat says:

    FWIW, I’d recommend not dressing in “office” clothing (even business casual) day-to-day. Unless times have changed drastically in the years I’ve been out (from an urban Ivy), the vast majority wear nice-casual (jeans, casual dresses, cute street sneakers), and only a few on either end of the spectrum wear “rolled out of bed in this” type looks or dry-clean-only pants. The rise of athleisure in the meantime surely hasn’t encouraged MORE students to wear business casual to class. True office attire risks giving the “not only a gunner, but an out of touch gunner” impression. Of course, if it’s a day where you’ll be presenting, etc. the rules are different.

    So my general advice to the OP — look at your top wardrobe and see how many of them will mix and match with jeans (whether blue, gray, black, or other). You probably won’t want to bother with deciding on accessories each day, so choose new pieces that will be throw-on-and-go easy. I totally agree with advice to have a neutral warm cozy sweater!

    June 25, 2018/Reply
  3. M says:

    I echo the M Gemi Felize and Rothy’s suggestions! Very comfortable and able to withstand a lot of mileage.

    June 25, 2018/Reply
  4. KLeigh says:

    Man … remembering rolling into orientation 1L year in 2006 with a deep side part and the collar on my polo shirt, popped, with topsiders. Good times.

    June 25, 2018/Reply
  5. Sara says:

    Current law student here: I second Cat’s caution against wearing “business” clothes to class. It’s not necessary and you might stick out. I don’t think professors are impressed by crop tops or sweatpants, but professional blouses like the ones Belle showed might be overkill. Instead, I aim for smart casual, which usually means jeans and sweaters (or, when it’s warm out, a blouse or dress that isn’t too form-fitting or revealing).

    I also wouldn’t recommend buying a lot of new clothing before law school, professional or otherwise, because (a) you don’t know in advance how formal your office will be — I ended up summering in a much more casual office than I expected, and (b) there is a nonzero possibility your body will change in law school. Between the stress, the lack of time to work out, and the constant urge to order takeout after a hard day, I gained 10-15 pounds in law school, and by the sound of it my experience is not unique.

    June 25, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      A blouse and jeans should be fine. I meant that she should have “business” clothes for when she has to get an externship and doesn’t want to rebuy a whole wardrobe.

      June 25, 2018/Reply
  6. LP says:

    I started out in business casual my 1L year. Part of of it was that I was coming from the working world, and didn’t have a super large casual wardrobe, and part of it was that it helped me feel good about myself to get a little dressed up every day and put some care into my appearance. By 3L year I was shlubbing it in yoga pants like the rest of my classmates lol.

    I think it varies from person to person, but the rec for dark jeans plus nice top, or dark jeans plus casual sweater is a good one I think. Whatever you do, DON’T be the one that wears a suit to class every day. So much second-hand embarrassment.

    June 25, 2018/Reply
  7. AM says:

    “Because getting dressed might be the last decision you feel good about each day.”


    June 26, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      “Oh, I got cold called three times, and criticized by the prof three times. And then, I forgot something was due next Friday not two Fridays from now. Basically am so confused by Erie, I’ve started misspelling it Eerie.”

      Average law school day.

      June 26, 2018/Reply
  8. Kaitlyn says:

    OK, I’ll be that person – I went to a good law school, top 30 in the Midwest, and I dressed in nicer/”put together” sweats every day.

    Working out was absolutely key for my mental health during that time, and I made it a priority to get to the gym every day. The sweats part facilitated this routine.

    At the end of the day, “you do you.”

    June 26, 2018/Reply
  9. STephanie says:

    LOL. You should totally wear what you want, but by the end of law school I was in basketball shorts, tshirts, and running shoes because I was headed to the campus gym after school. By some miracle, I still got good enough grades to get a biglaw job that made me miserable and taught me tons, all whilst wearing suits and stuff. Because no one cares. You have literally your entire life to wear business casual or if you’re lucky like me, business formal-ish, to work every freaking day. Blending in is probably the best plan, and avoiding anything trashy so you’re remembered that way by the people you WILL run into 10+ years from now who you NEVER thought would be a client or a boss.

    June 26, 2018/Reply
  10. JTf says:

    I couldn’t agree more with “you do you,” whatever that is. If it’s dressing up by mixing by wearing what’s already in your wardrobe and you’re already comfortable with, so what? Comments that express concerns about not wanting to stand out one way or the other seem a bit juvenile to me. Wear whatever makes you feel confident and reflects your style so that you’re ready to focus on learning without the distraction of self-doubt. For me that was often skirts or a range of dresses, I really didn’t care what my classmates thought about it and I can guarantee you having been a professor that your professors are not focused one way or the other on your outfits.

    June 26, 2018/Reply
  11. Orla says:

    I am laughing at the comments here – THESE ARE ALL SO TRUE. Honestly, I feel like performance is so much more important than clothes in the school department. I personally think Belle’s suggestions are perhaps something to aspire to, rather than live by, and to be varied based on your class environment. For example, when I finished in 2015 almost every girl was wearing black Nikes, ripped black jeans, and bodysuits to class. I came from a professional work environment with a pretty strict dress code but I usually wore pumps, black tights, and casual dresses with a Longchamp bag or Chelsea boots, jeans (non-ripped) and casual tops I already had with my Jansport backpack (as you can imagine the outfit depended on the days when I was lugging books around).
    I would dress the way Belle suggests for Free Legal Aid Clinics (not too dressy as to intimidate clients) or if we had a guest speaker – which we were always made aware of ahead of time.
    My other top tip for staying somewhat stylish/professional: I used my iPad with a keyboard case to take notes on throughout my degree. This allowed me to throw it in a handbag instead of buying a new laptop bag and also cut down on the weight I was carrying – law school is a tough slog! I used the Word App which uploads directly to Dropbox, so for assignments I could work on my Mac at home. I also carried a notepad and pens (never just rely on your device!)
    Good luck, you’ll rock it!

    June 26, 2018/Reply
  12. WCEC says:

    Agree that there’s a wide spectrum and that, by the end, most people get pretty casual. And yes, you do you.
    But my 2 cents is don’t bother spending much money now. Even if you got scholarships, school is expensive. I’m now a 5th year associate and don’t have a ton of business casual clothing because I hate it. On the weekends I’m straight up casual. At work I wear suits or a blazer/blouse/skirt. Virtually all the business casual clothing I bought before and during law school was a giant waste of money because I wore them only a few times-i thought that’s what law students should have on hand as to-be-lawyers, networking, etc. Dont get me wrong, you probably need some, but I’d wait and see.

    June 28, 2018/Reply