Deciding what to wear for your law firm on-campus interviews (OCI) and in-firm interviews can be stressful, not to mention expensive. But it is important that you make the right choices because how you present yourself during the law firm recruit is a factor that hiring firms consider. A smart, professional appearance can go a long way to convincing a law firm to hire you into their summer, articling or associate program.
First, before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I want to mention that this article only talks about the standard clothing for the OCI and in-firm interview process. I’m not going to address hair, jewellery, and other aspects of your appearance other than to suggest that you do what you think is appropriate and comfortable. Second, I want to mention that Bay Street has what many people consider to be a conservative culture. There are strong arguments in favour of expanding Bay Street’s culture to allow for more personal expression, and many firms are trying to do so. I encourage you to look into how Bay Street’s culture should change, but I’m not delving into this topic in this article.
The Basics: Suits, Shirts, Shoes and Belts
Men are expected to wear standard business attire for OCIs and in-firm interviews. This means a wool suit, a pressed shirt, a tied, a pair of dress shoes, and a leather belt. Generally, you only need one suit, one pair of dress shoes, one dress belt and one or two dress shirts while in law school, but you will require a larger wardrobe for summering and articling.
What to Look For in a Suit
Suits are the most noticeable part of your professional wardrobe. They’re also the most expensive. When buying a suit, you want to pay attention to the following factors:
Outer Fabric: The outer fabric is what people see. If possible, try to get a 100% wool suit. Pure wool is the most breathable and durable suit fabric. Synthetic fabrics or wool blends are cheaper than pure wool, but they tend to be lower quality and don’t last long. Unfortunately, synthetic or blended wool suits can standout when put beside pure wool suits, especially after a few dry cleanings.
Liner: The liner is the fabric inside your suit jacket. The liner isn’t visible so it isn’t important for appearances, but it matters for comfort. Liners made from Cupro, Bemberg, rayon or viscose are breathable and will keep you cooler (this is a big factor if you tend to sweat). Polyester is commonly used as a liner, but it isn’t breathable.
Canvassing: High-quality suit jackets have a floating layer of fabric between the outer layer and the liner. This layer is the canvassing, and it adds structure to the jacket. Suit jackets can be fully canvassed (more expensive), partially canvassed (less expensive), or fused (least expensive). “Fused” jackets aren’t actually canvassed; the outer layer of the jacket is glued (fused) to the inner liner. Fused jackets are common; you should assume that most jackets are fused. Fused suit jackets don’t drape as nicely on the wearer, and they tend to not be good quality because the glue can disintegrate over time causing “bubbles” to appear.
Colour: The most common colours for business suits are blue and grey. Black business suits are uncommon and usually reserved for funerals. If you are starting your business wardrobe, consider making your first suit a solid dark blue. Solid dark blue suits are the most versatile.
Buttons: Most business suits have two buttons. Three-button jackets are uncommon and usually only found on older suits.
Pleats: Pleats are uncommon on business suits. Pleats are uncommon and typically only found on older suits.
You’ll want to get your suit tailored. A cheap suit that is well tailored looks better than an expensive suit that doesn’t fit right. Make sure a proper tailor does the tailoring. Seamstresses may be able to help out in a pinch, but they are generally unfamiliar with suits (especially canvassed suits).
What to Look For in Shirts and Ties
Every good suit has a good shirt and tie. Good shirts are 100% cotton. Standard dress shirts are solid white or light blue. Patterned shirts aren’t too common in business situations. If off-the-rack shirts don’t fit you well, consider getting custom shirts. Spier & MacKay and Surmesur are two good custom shirt manufacturers. They sell custom shirts for around $100 to $150 each.
Your tie completes your suit. Good ties tend to be 100% silk, but its hard to tell expensive ties from cheap ones without looking at the label. Feel free to express your personality using your tie, and know that you don’t need to spend much money on the tie you wear to your interviews.
What to Look for in Dress Shoes
For your first pair of dress shoes, consider getting a pair of simple black leather dress shoes. Black leather dress shoes are the most versatile dress shoes, and they are also a requirement of barristers when attending court. Real leather will last longer than synthetic leather shoes, and good leather will age well.
In the business world, the archetypal dress shoe is the Fifth Avenue by Allen Edmonds. Even if you don’t buy a pair of Fifth Avenue shoes, consider getting a pair of shoes that are similar in style.
What to Look for in a Belt
Your belt should match your shoes and, if you choose to wear a watch, the leather band on your watch. Your belt should be made of real leather.
How to Build Your Wardrobe Affordably
Price is often the biggest concern when it comes to getting clothes for OCIs and in-firm interviews. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to get out of spending money on dress clothes. There are, however, some strategies for keeping costs down.
Buying Quality that Lasts
High-end menswear can be very expensive, but it can also be high quality. In the long run, high quality menswear can be more economical than lower priced, lower quality menswear. If you buy quality clothing while in law school, you should be able to keep using it long into your career. Keep in mind, however, that price along isn’t a marker of quality.
I recognize that not everyone has the option of buying high-end menswear. I also understand that you might not care much about long-lasting clothing, and only want something to get you through OCIs and in-firm interview. But, if you have the means, I recommend buying quality pieces of clothing that will last you a long time. Quality suits are made of 100% wool, fully canvassed, lined with Cupro or Bemberg, and made in Canada, Italy or Switzerland. High quality suit brands include Canali, Coppley, Samuelsohn, and Ermilio Zegna. These suits start around $1,000 with Coppley being the most affordable. Quality dress shoes and belts are repairable and made of pristine leather, and quality shoes often have a leather sole. A quality shoe and belt manufacturer is Allen Edmonds.
Picking Suits for Your Price Point
Suit price points vary widely, so I’m not going to give precise prices here. The cheapest suits on the market are off-the-rack suits. These are, as you would expect, suits that you can buy straight off a retailer’s rack. Off-the-rack suits start at around $200 to $300. Banana Republic, Hudson’s Bay, J. Crew, Moores, RW&Co, Suit Supply, Spier & MacKay and Zara, among others, sell off-the-rack suits. Unfortunately, off-the-rack suits usually aren’t great quality, especially the suits sold by fast-fashion retailers. Most off-the-rack suits are fused and made with synthetic or wool blend fabrics. They’ll look good for your interview, but they are unlikely to prove durable.
It is possible to find high quality off-the-rack suits that use pure wool and full canvassing. Liquidation and outlet stores, like the Outlet by Harry Rosen, sell high-end suits at discounted prices. Good suits at stores like the Outlet by Harry Rosen start at around $600—certainly not cheap, but a hefty discount compared to the regular price.
Made-to-measure suits are an alternative to off-the-rack suits. Unlike off-the-rack suits, made-to-measure suits are tailored to your body. Indochino, Moores, Suit Supply, Surmesur, and Spier & MacKay sell made-to-measure suits. Made-to-measure suits start at around $400 to $500. Made-to-measure suits aren’t necessarily better quality than off-the-rack suits, but they will fit you better. Most made-to-measure suits can also be upgraded to feature use pure wool fabric or have full canvassing.
Buying Used Clothes
I realize that there can be stigma around buying used clothes, all the more so given that law firms often project a more fancy image. But I recommend that you re-evaluate any hesitation that you have around buying used suits because they may be your best option. The biggest benefit of buying used suits is that you can access a high quality, designer-brand clothing for a fraction of the retail price. Used suits are also better for the environment and, if you buy the right type of suit, much better quality than lower-priced new suits.
eBay and Grailed: The Best Brands at Low Prices
eBay, as you likely know, is an online marketplace where sellers can post both new and used items. eBay makes it easy to find a suit, either new or used, and you can filter by size, brand, fabric, and more. New suits on eBay tend to be either factory rejects or older models that re-sellers picked up at outlet stores or store liquidations. The used suit market on eBay is much more varied, and some used suits are decades old. Note that suit styles change every few years, so try not to get a suit that is too old.
If eBay isn’t your style, you might like Grailed. Grailed is an online marketplace for men’s luxury goods. Grailed tends to have a more curated selection of fashion-forward items as opposed to eBay, but Grailed lacks the filters that eBay has.
I find that sellers often post the same items on both Grailed and eBay, but the prices on eBay tend to be lower. Consider checking eBay before buying anything on Grailed. Also, keep in mind that returns can be difficult on eBay and Grailed so you’ll want to double-check sizes before making a purchase.
Law firm interviews are stressful enough without having to worry about what to wear, or worry about the cost of paying for your dress clothes. You want to make sure that you smart and professional, but don’t forget to consider other factors such as affordability and quality.