Business Casual, Outside Events and other "Dressing" Dilemmas

Business Casual, Outside Events and other "Dressing" Dilemmas

Earlier this summer we teamed up with Shauna of Bryce Legal, and author of How to Get a Legal Job to share best practices on attire in the office as a summer associate.  Today she helps us tackle the tough decisions to be made around what to wear to out of office events and summer associate programs.  Here are answers to some questions likely to pop up as you head out for drinks, dinners, golf outings, and gear up for your exit interview.

I am attending an event this week and was told by a partner to wear business casual attire - what does that mean?

Maybe like this summer associate your question is about a specific event, or maybe your question translates through to wondering what casual Friday means.  Either way, business casual means different things in different offices and in different regions of the country. Employers in big city markets tend to be more formal than employers in smaller markets, and law firms (along with investment banks and other "white shoe" businesses) tend to be more conservative than other employers. So business casual at BigLaw in Manhattan is likely to be much more formal than business causal at a nonprofit in Wyoming; although a business casual in a judge's chambers in Tallahassee is likely to be much more formal than at a high tech company in Seattle. Until you know for certain, err on the side of being formal and conservative. There are a few no-nos that should help keep you safe: no jeans or denim, cleavage, visible undergarments, bare underarms or legs, open-toed or open-backed shoes, short skirts, tennis shoes, shorts, capris, t-shirts, or baseball caps. But there's no substitute for finding out what business causal means to your employer. The way to do that is to ask (some offices have printed guidelines) and to observe what your bosses wear!

 I have been invited to an outing with the firm (golf event, drinks with associates, BBQ at partner's house) - how can I gauge how formal to be?

Thankfully, most of the time, law firms will give you some guidance about the dress code for official outings. In many cases, firm outings that take place during or immediately following office hours will have the same dress code as the office. In other words, if your office has business casual on Mondays and your firm has an outing on Monday evening, then likely the dress code of the outing is also business casual. Again, the best way to make sure you're appropriately dress is to ask about the dress code. If you can't ask, then err on the side of formality-you can always take your jacket and tie off if you don't need them. And if you've followed my other tip, then you have a suit in your office just in case you need it.

If your firm outing involves a pool, here is a quick read on how/whether to wear a bathing suit to a firm function.

 So I have made it through the summer, have a good hope I will land a job offer to come back to the firm, so how do I dress to impress in my exit interview?

It's easy to take things for granted at the end of the summer. Everything's going well, you've gotten many compliments on your work, and you're now certain you will get a job offer in your end of summer interview. Well, don't count your chickens before they're hatched! Don't make the mistake of over confidence, which can lead you to easily avoided errors. Treat your last day of work like your first day; end your successful summer on a professional note.

Chelsea Callanan is the founder of Happy Go Legal, a multi-media resource for new and aspiring legal professionals.  Mrs. Callanan is a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, and currently practices at Murray, Plumb & Murray in Portland, Maine, focusing on corporate and intellectual property needs of business of all sizes.