Decoding law school attire and dressing like a lawyer

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Law school is all about teaching students how to think like lawyers. In some ways, it’s also about teaching students how to look like lawyers for a variety of situations.  

Being a law student inadvertently means you will be attending various events, from firm happy hours and conferences to interviews and formal balls. Depending on your budget and the events, this might feel a little daunting without some guidelines. To make your shopping more streamlined (and to ease your anxiety while protecting your bank account), we’ve compiled a list of the dress codes you’ll likely encounter and some suggested outfits to go with them.


Casual should be professional, but it can still be comfortable. Think clean and presentable, and avoid ripped jeans, graphic T-shirts and loungewear.

Dark denim and chinos in neutral colors work across the board here, typically in a more tailored or fitted look. Casual tops can range from a button-up shirt, sweater, or nice T-shirt with a cardigan to a stylish top or blouse. For women, if you fancy an informal skirt or dress, those work well too. Your shoes can be a little more casual but make sure they’re clean. Feel free to leave the blazer or dress pants at home.

Business casual

Whether you’re attending a networking event, happy hour or day-time conference, business casual will typically fit the bill and offer a wide range of options.

For men, you can dress up your dark jeans and chinos with a blazer or jacket, dress shirt and some nicer shoes (think business shoes and loafers). Or, consider switching out your pants for dress pants with a button-up.

Likewise, for women, you can level up your casual pants or skirt with a dressier top or blazer and heels (but make sure these are comfortable if you’ll be on your feet a lot). Alternatively, dress pants/trousers, a business skirt, or a dress paired with a suitable top (blouse, button-up, or sweater/cardigan combo) should work nicely. For footwear, think flats, heels, loafers, or even nice sandals. Just avoid flip-flops or any sandal that feels overly casual.

Business formal

When you think of business formal, a full suit should come to mind. Business formal attire is typically appropriate for more serious networking events, on and off-campus interviews, and some student events and galas.

A full suit for men can include dress pants, a jacket, a dress shirt, dress shoes, and a matching belt and tie. Your suit should be fitted but not too tight or too baggy. The same holds true for women. Dress pants and a dress shirt are acceptable, possibly paired with a jacket. Another option might be a dress skirt or even certain business formal dresses and closed-toe shoes (heels or flats).

To help alleviate some of the costs associated with more formal attire, remember that many of these pieces can be mixed into your business casual looks and even into your casual outfits to stretch their use. There are also options for reasonably priced business pieces so be sure to check out your local and online secondhand stores, attire rental options and more.

Cocktail attire

Some events may call for cocktail attire, while others may not offer much information regarding dress. If you want to dive into cocktail attire, this will typically be where you can have a little more flair than your business formal wear.

For men, this will still mean a full suit (black, charcoal or navy), but feel free to add a little pizzazz with some cuff links, a flashier watch or other accessories. For women, a neutral and conservative but sharp-looking dress or slacks with a nice blouse will work. Add in some stylish jewelry/belt and a dressy cardigan or blazer if needed. Whatever you choose in your cocktail attire, remember that you want to dress to impress.

Black tie

Black tie events are rare, but if your school hosts a Barrister’s Ball you may encounter one or two of these.

Typically, men will be required to wear a full tuxedo that includes a bow tie. However, a black suit may also work, depending on the event. If you do need to rent a tux, keep in mind that many tuxedo rentals require a week’s notice. If you’re going all out and want to purchase a tux, be sure to build in time for any alterations.

For women, think floor-length gown or black trousers (a palazzo cut that is flared from the waist is recommended) with complementary jewelry, shoes and a clutch.

Dress for success

There’s nothing worse than feeling under or overdressed for an occasion. There are dress codes in place for this reason, but this doesn’t mean you can’t look amazing while still being comfortable and confident. No matter the event, above all, remember to be yourself.

Good luck at your next law school event!

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