Dressing for success — bargain-style

By Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

It is not every day that a student is rewarded with a $1,880 custom-fitted suit for his or her pro bono work, such as Tanisha Taylor, a third-year student at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas.

But that’s exactly what happened when a local law firm recently gifted her the suit for completing more than 200 hours of volunteer work. Taylor said that she was thrilled not to have splurged $60 on a suit as she had planned.

Other students are not so lucky.

First impressions are key in to the legal profession, but creating that first impression can be difficult when for recent law school grads. Buying expensive clothes can be challenging particularly considering the bank balance they have.

The average debt for a private law school education is $134,497 and $96,054 for a public one, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

Meanwhile, a high-quality suit can cost about $1,200. See the problem?

While an investment in a wardrobe is an investment in a fledging lawyer’s career, one still should not break the bank while doing it. The good news is that you can look professional and not put yourself deeper in debt.

Knowing what to look for is key before venturing into any discount store. General fits can be dicey if you don’t know the laws of the suit — such as the fit on your shoulders, the length between your cuff and your sleeves and so on.  

The Gentleman’s Gazette and The Corporette are great resources for men and women on what to look for when buying a suit or any other professional attire.

Here are some general tips: Keep the color palette simple on your first buy. White and blue are your best friends when it comes to dress shirts. Navy blue and charcoal suits should be your go-to as well according to the web sites.

Before you start driving from store to store, do your own research on when sales are going on and the wait for them to start. Map out where you want to go and consider making calls to the store to see if they have what you’re looking for online in stock. They might be able to hold it for you. !

Here are some stores that may sell what you need and how to buy at a lower price.

Target is one possibility. It’s a definite go-to for women’s shoes and accessories to go with your outfit. The Cartwheel app is a Target app that alerts you whenever there is a sale. It is also linked with the Target web site, which allows you to compare online and in-store prices. The Target store will match the online prices.

Macy’s is another option. Its selection caters to men and women, and the store has very frequent sales. Name brands such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are offered. The Krazy Coupon Lady — a web site that offers coupons — is a master at Macy’s savings.

Ann Taylor has it all — but only for women. If you are a card member with you can get exclusive sales. And on top of that, it offers student discounts. Signing up for the newsletter also gives you a 30%-off coupon.

Banana Republic is comparable to Macy’s, and there are third-party coupon websites that apply to the store. Be mindful of the pieces you choose. An article from the Law School Toolbox website said some kinds of style can earn you a dirty look from the judge.

“I would advise primarily shopping there for more casual clothing and maybe a professional piece or two once you can tell the difference between a professional and a trendy suit,” said Ben Nelson, author of the article.

At Express, if you sign up for its newsletter and verify your student status with UNiDAYS, you get 15% off . Taking a look at its clearance section on the website as is a worthy effrt, and the price point falls to about as much as Macy’s will charge.

Nelson also mentions Brooks Brothers as being his go-to courtroom attire but it’s not cheap.

“The trick with Brooks Brothers is to buy only the few items that you absolutely cannot do without and to do so at a Friends and Family Event where you will get 25% off the entire store (at all other times, Brooks Brothers has a 15% student discount),” Nelson said. “In today’s world of more casual office styles, there aren’t many more places that you can go for courtroom attire and pay the kinds of prices you’ll find at a Friends and Family Event.”

Men’s Wearhouse is also an opiton. If money’s really tight, keep your eyes forward and go straight to the sale section. They have quality dress shirts for $30.

It is difficult to spend money on yourself as a new graduate, but this investment is for your career. Your wardrobe is the first unspoken statement you make to your employer — and client. It shows you take yourself seriously and you will take them seriously. The last piece that ties your whole outfit together is your confidence.