Ashley Dawn Rutherford Esq.

Savvy Shopper-At-Law: Building Your Clerkship Wardrobe 101

So, you are a 1L and you obtained your first clerkship. It is prestigious, but it pays very little. Currently, all of your clothing consists of quirky college t-shirts and worn jeans. So how do you begin creating a work wardrobe on a budget?

Savvy Shopper-At-Law is here to help! With a few core pieces, you can create two weeks worth of working wardrobe choices. Additionally, by choosing these purchases wisely, you can save hundreds of dollars and precious time in the mornings. The following pieces can be combined to create at least two weeks worth of work clothing:

One skirt suit

One pant suit

Two blouses

Two shells

One cardigan set

One shift dress

Now, here are the five rules on pairing these pieces to create savvy, successful outfits: 

(1) Make your suits and tops forgettable and make your accessories memorable. Choose suits in a basic neutral color. Black and navy are always the best choices, because they can be dressed up or down. They can also be paired with any other color to create a new outfit. Additionally, because they are basic (not hot pink pin stripes), until you can afford to buy additional pieces nobody will notice if you wear these pieces more than once a week. Also, black and navy rarely show dirt or stains (think: spilling a drop of coffee on a tan suit). Finally, according to a salesperson in the suit department at Macy’s, all suits go on clearance in February and March. If you choose black or navy, all of the winter suits in those colors will be marked down.

(2) Choose a crisp, fitted, wrinkle-free white button-down shirt as one of your blouses.  Why white? It looks great with everything and on everybody. Additionally, you can wear a white button down with the skirt from your suit or underneath your shift dress to create a completely different look.

Why wrinkle free? What happens when you wake up late one morning? Wrinkle free shirts can be thrown in the dryer in a pinch. It could literally save you twenty minutes. Check Banana Republic or Brooks Brothers. Their wrinkle free shirts tend to go on sale at the end of the season. 

(3) Choose shells that work without a cardigan or jacket. When it is ninety degrees, nobody expects you to keep your sweater or jacket on all day long. But, keep your jacket with you just in case you get chilly or have to make a quick court appearance with your mentor. However, if you purchase shells that cannot be worn alone, you lose the ability to take your jacket off and some of your creative combinations. 

(4) Choose neutrals that go together. (Think: Black and charcoal gray). If you choose to neutrals that work together, you have even more combinations! You can wear the pants from one suit and take the jacket from the other suit for a contrast combination. You also limit how many pairs of shoes that you will need. If you choose black and gray, you could literally start work with only one pair of black pumps.

(5) Buy Some Colorful Accessories on Clearance. Check the clearance racks at your favorite department stores. At the end of the season, you can often find beautiful work accessories for 70% of the original price. (JCPenney always has a great sale on work appropriate accessories.) Purchase your colorful statement pieces cheap and pay higher prices for classic items (a good set of pearls will last you the rest of your career). Add a colorful scarf to your black suit! Scarves are very fashionable, and they are on sale everywhere! Also, don’t be afraid to go into stores that you normally would nor shop in for work accessories. Forever 21 and Wet Seal have great jewelry selections, including fun brooches for very cheap.

Now, to continue building your wardrobe, set aside a small amount of money from each of your paychecks. (Twenty dollars will do!) Every two weeks, go to your favorite department store and shop the sale racks. Soon, you will have enough pieces to add prints and patterns and fabulous shoes!



I am an intern with a federal COA and one floor is "suits only" so I would check with your judge’s clerks before purchasing any of the non-suit pieces. Apparently some judges are much stricter and more formal.


There is certainly variation from one office or chambers to another. But unless a place is really casual Suits are a great investment. They can be worn as separates in a less formal setting but of course together in court, etc.
One tip about wearing suit peices as separates: always dry clean the wholesuit even if you’ve only been wearing one half - otherwise they’ll age/fade differently.

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