A summer associate wardrobe on a law student budget


By Stephanie Baldwin, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

Like most of you, I worked for free this summer, and like the rest of you have been living off of my student loans for the most. Money is tight, and I think that is just a simple fact for most of us. For me, I was very lucky, and I worked for a government agency this summer that had a very casual dress code. In fact, jeans were highly encouraged. The causal environment was perfect, not just because it made it easy to dress for work, but because it was very friendly to my budget since I could just wear what I already owned.

However, this summer, I will be a summer associate at a big law firm in Phoenix, and the wardrobe demands of that job will be very different. I need to build a summer associate wardrobe without causing too much damage to my budget. Before law school, I owned zero suits. Right before school started, I was lucky enough to buy a few professional outfits from The Limited when they were liquidating their inventory, for only $14.99 a piece. But that was it. So, for tips on how to build my summer associate without breaking the bank, I turned to my friends, fellow interns, and mentors.

Here is what I learned…

First, Know What You’ll Need.

Once you know the culture of your firm, courthouse, or workplace you can start understanding the dress code you’ll be expected to adhere to. You can do this by arranging for a visit to the firm, meeting with your firm’s mentor, or reaching out to the previous summer associates. The associate class from last year, took all of us out for a happy hour to give us great tips about succeeding at the firm, and what to wear.

Next, Plan to Mix and Match

Now that you know what to shop for, make it a goal to build a wardrobe that you can mix and match easily. One of my friends recommended building a wardrobe of pieces that all complimented each other and could easily be mixed and matched. She recommended picking a color theme, and this would allow you to easily repeat clothes by simply varying the shell, jacket, or skirt. For many of you, this is likely common sense, but for those of us that are more fashionably challenged, this was an important tip.

Where to Shop

First Stop, Goodwill.

My amazing friend and fellow 2L intern at my government agency swears by Goodwill and proudly professes that she has built her entire professional wardrobe through frequent visits. She has impeccable style, and you would never know that her items were picked up from Goodwill. Her best tip is to shop right after the holidays, as that is when she has been able to pick up the highest quality suits. A few other people also recommended Goodwill, so I began to hit up my local store once a month, and have been able to pick up some great jackets and shells. However, my best score occurred this weekend! I found three brand new Anne Taylor suits that were gorgeous, but unfortunately, not in my size. However, since they were only $10, a piece I knew they would be useful to someone that size in my law school class. I posted a photo and quickly had a request to purchase them. You’d never believe it, all three fit her perfectly like they had been tailored for her!

Shop Consignment Stores

Next, try consignment stores.

This is where I personally have had the best luck when it has come to purchasing actual suits. The prices here can range dramatically, but you’re more likely to find designer suits at a store like this. However, the prices can sometimes still rival that of Goodwill. In Phoenix, we have My Sister’s Closet, and I have found great suits for as little as $20.

You can also find amazing deals on Poshmark (if you need a referral code, mine is @stepharizona). One of the jackets I bought from The Limited has turned into my “go to court outfit,” and I desperately wanted to find it again. Luckily, I was able to on Poshmark!

Don’t Forget Chains and Online stores too

Nordstrom Rack is an obvious go-to for many, but do not forget Target, Amazon and even Costco.com, who all have professional wardrobes available. You can pick up pieces for less than $20 in most cases. Just make sure you can “mix and match” with the pieces you have already found. Now is also a great time to check out the clearance racks at department stores too. The clothes you can wear to the office in the summer will now be on clearance!

Finally, consider renting.

This final tip comes from one of my friends, who is a lawyer in Los Angeles. Sure, she is no longer on a law school budget, but she has substantial loans to repay, so she tries to keep her budget similar to what had in law school. Her favorite tip was to rent your wardrobe! She said for about $100 a month she can subscribe to a clothing rental service that provides her with 3 outfits at a time. She loves this because she gets new clothes that fit her style profile, and she never has to worry about dry cleaning! She simply wears an outfit to work, changes into gym clothes before going home, and ships the outfit back that night. Usually 2 days later, she receives a new outfit. She simply keeps this cycle going, because the service has unlimited returns and you get a new outfit shipped out as soon as the old one is received. Because of the system that she has, she really only needs a few staple items of her own, like the suits she wears to court. She has found this has worked really well for her and would be cheaper than her dry cleaning bill.

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