I am a thirty-something woman and I work at a big law firm, where the dress code is “business casual”.  On a daily basis, I’ve got the uniform down pretty well:

  • Cardigan — the “Jackie” is my current favorite
  • A pleated skirt or trousers — these, from Gap, wash well and come in lots of staple neutrals
  • Scarf — I have a navy and white scarf from Old Navy that has been fantastic; the Gap Watercolor scarf below is lovely for spring
  • Slightly funky ballet flats — or not funky, as the case may be.  I’ve been known to swear by the Gap City Flats
  • And some fairly major bling — like maybe this
JCrew “Jackie” Cardigan
Gap “Watercolor” Scarf
JCrew “Sparkle Flower” Necklace

But my boss threw me a curveball yesterday.  He asked me to do a client pitch.  No problem — I have the skills the client needs.

Until I had a real, “Oh no!  What do I wear?” kind of problem.

In a client pitch it is important to look professional, but most importantly, just like the client.  Or, if not just like the client, just what the client would hope his or her advisor looks like.  So, for example, if you’re meeting with a New York banker, dress like the banker — suit up!  If you’re meeting with a DC government contractor, the standard uniform works — most of them are business casual too.  But if you’re meeting with a California entrepreneur…well then, I’m not quite sure.  And that’s what I was up against.

I consulted with my boss — he said:  “On the smart end of normal.”  (Note that my boss is British, so in this case “smart” means more dressy, or neat, and not “intelligent”.  See definitions 3 and 4.)

Okay.  So what does THAT mean?  What is the middle ground between a cardigan and trousers and a black suit?  For men, I think the rules are still somewhat more clear:  If the daily uniform is a button-down and dress slacks, then the “smart” end could be the addition of a tie and a sport coat.  For a woman…I’m still not sure.

In the end, I opted for a muted red dress, my black Jackie cardigan, my Grandmother’s pearls, and my black patent leather ballet flats.  I had great internal debate as to whether I should wear hose and heels.  My Virginia self said, “Of course you should!”  My California old self said “Judge Kozinski wears Birkenstocks in open court.  Hose: OUT!”

The black “Jackie”
Lands’ End Canvas “Tie Waist Henley Dress”

Someone needs to write a rulebook on this.  There is serious money to be made here!

Also, on a side note, you may remember that a few weeks ago Idgie wrote a post about an outfit she wanted.  The woman wearing the outfit was playing a lawyer on TV.  Now, I don’t disagree with Idgie — the outfit was great — but I object to the idea that that’s what female lawyers wear to work!  I work at a firm with over 600 lawyers and I have never seen anyone wear anything that fashionable.  And there is a reason for that — it goes back to my point above:  You don’t want to look better than your client.  You don’t want to offend your client.  You don’t want to look like you have more money than your client.  You don’t want to look like you spend more time thinking about your clothes than you do about your client’s legal (or whatever) issues.  You just want to look put together, slightly boring, and professional.  Until a trend has been accepted for at least five years, don’t bother trying to wear it to work.  And makeup — well, most female lawyers wear a bit of concealer to hide those long nights, but other than that, it’s plain city!  I think these legal shows need lawyers as consultants.

So, please comment and give me ideas for future client pitches.  If the career goes to plan I’ll be doing more of them, and I need 4 or 5 go-to outfits sitting in my closet.

And be on the lookout for my next post analyzing what I SHOULD have worn to Mags’ bachelorette party last weekend….


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