Summer Associate Fashion

I am now a veteran of seven long weeks of being a summer associate.  I feel that Corporette was absolutely no effing help in my quest for appropriate wear for my summer job at a regional firm in the southeast, and in fact merely undermined my confidence at a time when confidence most needed to be . . . the opposite of undermined.  Overmined, I suppose.  So instead of that advice (which is probably more applicable at the bigger NY firms), all future summer associates’ google searches shall land them here!  And here’s what I have to say on the matter:*

Firstly, it’s not a huge deal.  Work hard and don’t be a jerk.  Be smart, be fast, be willing to help, make the partners and associates for whom you do projects look good, and you’ll be 90% there.  In terms of fashion, just remind yourself that this isn’t a law firm from bad American movies or sitcoms.  Your coworkers won’t all be uniformly slender, fashionable, shallow, unbelievably gorgeous people who are just waiting to look down their noses at your wardrobe/accent/haircut/etiquette.  Some of them will notice or care more than others, but for the most part they’re just trying to bill their hours so they can go home, and sparing a thought for your cheaply made shoes is just a tenth of an hour they could have billed towards their quota.  Have a suit or two, for absolute sure, because you must wear a suit to court, and if you’re going to court two days in a row, it’s nice to have a little variety (and a backup in case you spill your coffee or drop a ketchupy fry in your lap at lunch).  And wear a suit your first day, maybe your second day, maybe the whole first week – just until you get a feel for the office atmosphere.  At my office, there are a couple of female associates who wear suits pretty  much every day, some who wear a suit every other day or so, and some who only wear a suit when going to court.  Everyone wears strappy sandals sometimes, everyone wears pretty big and wild earrings from time to time, almost no one wears any makeup.  Peep toe shoes and bare shoulders are not an issue – we’ve all sported them at some point, and as long as the overall look is professional, it’s no big deal.  The guys alternate their dark suits, their seersuckers, and their polos and khakis.  It’s a pretty mixed bag on any given day, which makes it hard to screw up.

However, I do think some commentor on Corporette had a point – don’t look around the office atmosphere and totally relax into what all of the associates are doing.  Everything you do should be at least a half step behind them, in terms of relaxation.  What I mean is, if the associates on either side of you come in ten minutes late every day, don’t feel like you can.  If associates swear like sailors, try to keep your language clean anyway.  And in the fashion arena, if a senior associate wears a really frumpy and relaxed t-shirt dress one day, don’t take that as license to do so yourself.  One example – our second week, as part of a fundraiser to support two of our associates, we had “Jean’s Day” that Friday (yes, complete with superfluous apostrophe, don’t think that didn’t make my eyelid twitch a little).  You pay five bucks, you get to wear jeans.  So I paid my five bucks, and I wore the jeans.  I’d already gained enough weight at this point that they weren’t even that comfortable – I must prefer one of my flowy skirts – but I wanted it known around that office that I paid in and that I participate in stuff and all of that.  About forty of us paid in.  Three of us wore jeans.  For a couple of hours, I was the only person in the whole office in my damn jeans.  So, it’s not like I won’t get a job because I wore jeans on jeans day, but I definitely felt weird – like I kept having to explain myself all day.  And that’s what I mean by dialing it back – because it’s always a better feeling to be the only girl in the room wearing a suit, than to be the only girl in the room wearing jeans.

A final note – it’s a great idea to keep a couple of items in your office (in addition to a toothbrush, a small hand mirror, and a comb):

  1. a suit, for those surprise court visits that you don’t want to miss
  2. a jacket, to “business” up a more casual outfit if you get a surprise visitor (say, the practice group leader from the head office, who is down doing a deposition and wants to meet you while he’s in town)
  3. one of those dresses/outfits that can dress up or dress down, in case there is an after work casual function and you want to be comfy OR an after work business function and you have to look nice but don’t want to be in work clothes (mine is a flowy, simple black dress, that is casual with sandals and a cardigan, but much nicer with a tailored funky jacket and heels) (I keep the cardi and the jacket in the office, and try to remember to bring a change of shoes if I know I’m going out that night)
  4. some sort of comfortable shoe for those evenings when you need to run around town after work and your heels are killing your feet (mine are just a pair of flip flops)
  5. this may just apply to my firm, but we tend to do a lot of sports in the summer – softball, golf – so I also keep a baseball cap and old tennis shoes in my car, just in case we want to run to the driving range to hit a couple after work

So there you have it.  My primer on fashion.  I hope it helps anyone next summer who’s curious.

*This does not pertain to New York City.  Or probably other huge cities.  But we have offices in other bigger cities than Mo-town, Alabama, and I found these observations held true in those places, as well.

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3 Responses to Summer Associate Fashion

  1. CM says:

    That’s pretty sneaky, having a “jean’s day” where you weren’t actually supposed to wear jeans! (Or was one of the associates named Jean?)

    Here in Boston, we are so buttoned-up that I can’t imagine leaving my office with shoulders or toes showing.

  2. RG says:

    I definitely planned my wardrobe so I’d have enough close toed shoes and arm-covering jackets just in case. But the Gulf Coast has a relaxed vibe. (Provided, of course, you aren’t meeting a client or going to court.) Whenever I bare my shoulders, though, I always keep a cardigan handy. As a side note, it’s darn hard to find shells with sleeves, to wear under my suit jackets. I prefer sleeves – I have to dry clean the suit less often when I have sleeves. But almost every (cheap) shell I could find is sleeveless. 🙁 But women in the office take their jackets off and walk around in sleeveless shells all the time, so at least I don’t have to worry about leaving my jacket on all day.

  3. Melissa says:

    I work at a public interest place in NH and people are always in jeans if they’re not in court, taking depositions or going to some other sort of meeting. It’s at the point where people keep a spare jeans outfit in their office along with an emergency suit, just in case.

    Generally though, I really liked your post. I think that it’s really important to get the sense of the place before you start doing anything and this message really came out in your post. 🙂

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