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Clothes Make the Woman, Part II: Celebrity Style on a Budget

This is the second in a three-part series on fashion for women lawyers.

Women generally look to celebrities, style icons, and fashion magazines for images and looks they want to emulate. While I love Naomi Campbell, I cannot exactly walk into a deposition in a Versace sparkly dress, can I?

Well I could, but I’m sure it would be an unproductive session.  So what is the young lawyer to do?  Where are our fashion reference and idols?

Most would probably say TV lawyers, and in particular–> Ally McBeal. Ally got tons of attention for the short skirts she wore and her firm’s unisex bathroom, but trying to pull off that wardrobe outside of a television studio will just give a young lawyer an undesired reputation.

If I had to choose a TV lawyer whose style  and wardrobe I want to emulate, (budget not being a concern) I would choose Miranda Hobbes from Sex and the City. Miranda was smart, stylish, and feminine without revealing too much skin (see attached photo). She was also strong and aggressive without being overbearing or looking too androgynous.  Unfortunately, most of her pieces were and still are out of my price range. I, along with many other female lawyers, constantly grapple with wanting be stylish yet not overly sexual or matronly in professional settings, AND maintaining this balance on a budget.

Remember the obsession I mentioned in my last blog post? I will admit that I went to a bit of an extreme when it came to my wardrobe.  It started with the one suit my mother recommended to me.  I had never really shopped at J. Crew, but I liked the fact that they offered Tall sizes. I’m 5’8″ but I wear heels all the time so I am basically 5’11”-6′ most of the time. They have jacket, shirts, and pants that have a few inches added to the sleeve and inseam lengths that reduce the chances of having a “high-water” incident around the ankles. So you ask, “What did you do?”  Well, a few months before my clerkship started I got a job at J. Crew to work the holiday season so that I could get a discount on their suiting. I went crazy, between the sales and the excellent discount they offered, I bought a bunch of suits, dresses, and coats.  I got black, brown, charcoal, and rye (think wheat color). I bought the jacket, pants, the matching skirt, and if available the dress to go with it all. I got 10 white button-down shirts and a few striped ones too.  As for coats, I got a couple of long coats – black and brown – and a couple of pea coats. I was a walking J. Crew mannequin but I felt great.

I overdid it. I realize that. At this point I do not need to buy another suit for a few years.  Not everyone can get a retail job to defray the costs of their wardrobe, but the point I want the women to take away from my brief retail insanity is that I found a brand/suit that worked for me and I bought it in multiples and gave myself options. I am not saying that no other suit will work for me, but I was able to find a great affordable suit and splurge on multiples, because I had a great discount and took advantage of sales. Young women do not have to break the bank to have a chic and killer wardrobe.

Find a kind of uniform for you to wear so that dressing for work is less stressful.  By uniform I don’t mean wearing the same exact thing, although there is nothing wrong with that if it works for you, but I mean find a brand or suit type or style that works for you and use it as your foundation to build upon. The J. Crew suit  is my uniform but I add things to it to change it up and not look like I came straight out of their catalog.  Times and style trends will change, but having key accessory pieces to  mix and match with your wardrobe can yield infinite combinations, make your clothes timeless, and transition from day to night.   It can also make you look like you have Oprah’s closet even if you only have a couple of suits.

In Part III, Allie provides a few tips to live by.