Law firms, even "white-shoe" firms, have changed dress codes to reflect the times. With many companies now allowing employees to wear jeans to work, law firms have changed to a business casual policy in order to make employees comfortable and able to fit in with clients. In order to dress appropriately, the business casual lawyer should adhere to a few rules.
Legal "Business Casual" Rules for Men
In U.S. law firms, it is now universally accepted that ties are not required for business casual dress. However, long-sleeved shirts are still the accepted norm. Conservative colors are also standard, even in a business casual environment, with blue and white as the perennial classics. If men choose to wear short-sleeves, polos are the safe choice.
Slacks need not be formal. Dockers or dressy khakis are appropriate, with or without cuffs. Jeans, sweatpants and shorts, however, should not be worn in the law office. Trouser fit is crucial. Pants should fit and should be cut well. Extra pleats, overly wide legs, bell bottoms or odd lengths may have been appropriate in the past, but pants today are cut conservatively and simply.
Light-colored athletic socks are never appropriate for work, unless there is a law firm softball game and you're playing. In addition, man-sandals, flip-flops and athletic shoes should not be worn to the office. The advent of the "dress sneaker" has cast some confusion on appropriate footwear rules, but when in doubt, leave them out. While jewelry may be appropriate in other industries, the legal profession still does not look kindly on male earrings or other visible body piercing.
Legal "Business Casual" Rules for Women
Tailored shirts, knits and blouses are safe choices. Solid colors are best. Long or full short sleeves are best. It is not appropriate to wear tank tops, no matter how formal, unless it is being worn under a jacket that will not be taken off. Fit is very important. Too-tight items are highly unprofessional and likely to damage credibility.
Both skirts and pants should be dark-colored -- navy, gray, black and khaki are safe choices. Brighter items are slowly being added to most women's wardrobes. As long as the colors are solid and not overly-bright, women have some flexibility, especially during summer months.
Skirts should reach the knee while standing and offering full coverage when seated. Slits should not be high and should not be placed in a provocative place. Generally, slits should be those appropriate for walking or climbing stairs.
Pants need not be creased for a business-casual office. However, they should be tailored and fit well. Pants should not be too tight or sit too low. The growth of the denim industry has lead to an increase in tailored denim pants. While denim is appropriate for more creative industries, jeans, tailored or not, are simply not appropriate in a legal setting.
Simplicity is best. Swinging earrings and long necklaces are not appropriate in a conservative environment. No one should be distracted by your jewelry when speaking to you. Shoes should match clothing in color and style. Open-toed shoes, while appropriate in many circumstances, should not veer into sandal territory. Glittery or strappy shoes should not be worn to an office.
Don't mistake the attire worn by attorneys on television as appropriate attire. When in doubt, overdress. Always remember, the law is a conservative profession. And white shoes? Generally not appropriate.