Ashley Dawn Rutherford Esq.

Savvy Shopper-At-Law: Black Tie on a Budget

As a lawyer or law student trying to impress, it is important to present the proper appearance at law firm events. Whether you are the summer associate or the date/spouse/fiancé of a summer associate, what you wear is important. This column is dedicated to finding budget-friendly, appropriate clothing for summer associate events and law firm formal parties.

Look at the Invitation: Where is the event? Does the invitation state the dress code? According to Emily Post’s Etiquette the definitions for dress code attire are as follows:

White Tie: White tie is the most formal dress code, for women, it is a formal, floor length evening gown

Black Tie: Black tie attire for women is defined as a formal evening dress or short, formal cocktail dress.

Black Tie Optional: This dress code is the same as black tie for women. However, men can wear a dark suit as opposed to a tuxedo.

Semiformal: Semiformal for women is defined as a work or cocktail dress

Dressy Casual: Dressy casual is defined as a street length skirt and top or afternoon dress.

If there is not a dress code on the invitation, ask an associate, partner, or administrative staff member at the law firm. If you are unable to find out that information from an employee of the firm, consider the venue and activity, and choose an outfit one step up from the expected dress code. For example, if you believe that the dress code is “casual”, consider wearing an outfit that meets the definition of “business casual”.  

Finding Event Clothing on a Budget:

Black Tie and White Tie: Most formal evening events will likely take place around Christmas. However, consider shopping for an evening gown during the summer months. With prom season ending, most formal gowns at major department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom will be between fifty and seventy-five percent off their retail prices. However, if you wait until fall or early winter to shop for dress, you will probably have to pay full price.   

 Savvy Tips for the Shopper-at-Law: If prices at department stores are still a bit steep, consider finding a well made bridesmaid dress and having it altered to fit you. Since summer is wedding season, check with your friends who have been in summer weddings. They will probably happily sell you or let you have their dress for cheap. There are several caveats for wearing a bridesmaid dress, however. First, make sure the dress is a neutral color. You don’t want it to be obvious that you are wearing a bridesmaid dress. For example, stick with colors like black, steel gray, and navy. Also, jazz it up a bit. Invest in a broach for the bust or waist of the dress. Or, consider purchasing statement jewelry to bring the dress to life.

 Black Tie Optional and Semiformal: Black tie optional is classic cocktail dress attire. Bottom line: buy a little black dress. It can be utilized for events that are both black tie optional and semiformal. Splurge on a nice one. Check stores like Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Cache, and Consider purchasing a cocktail dress with clean lines. You want this dress to be versatile.

 Savvy Tips for the Shopper-At-Law: This is the prime opportunity to use you internet shopping skills. Little black dresses rarely go on sale. Find a coupon online and order the dress. If you are in a rush to purchase but torn between two sizes, find an online store with free shipping that allows for returns at their store. You can then purchase two sizes and return the size that does not fit.           

 Dressy Casual and Business Casual: If an invitation indicates that the dress code is some form of “casual”, if you are new to the firm, consider dressing a bit nicer than the dress code listed on the invitation. For example, if the invitation says “casual” consider wearing linen pants or a sundress with flat sandals. If the attire is listed as “business casual”, consider a nicer dress with kitten heels. And, if the invitation says “dressy casual” again, pull out that little black dress and wear a casual shoe. (For example: if you wear the little black dress with strappy stilettos for a cocktail attire, consider wearing the little black dress with kitten heals for a dressy casual event.)

 Savvy Tips for the Shopper-At-Law: Purchase clothing that can be worn to your workplace. If you purchase a dress for a firm event, can it be worn with a blazer to the office? If not, consider an outfit that is more versatile.

 Remember: your goal is to blend in, not stand out. You want to look smart, sophisticated, classy, and stylish. You want people to remember you for what you say and for your accomplishments. You do not want to be remembered as the woman from the cocktail party who wore a tight, cleavage bearing dress or a dowdy and boring frock with hideous shoes.   

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