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Lilly Pulitzer at the Law Firm

Vivia Chen

June 18, 2012


Nine months of the year I'm cloaked in grays, black, and occasionally a dash of purple. It's the New York uniform. It can take you to the office, a corporate cocktail party, or a memorial service for the senior partner. (Come to think of it, "funeral chic" describes a lot of law firm attire.)

But come summer I transform into someone decidedly unManhattanish: the Lilly Pulitzer girl. Unabashedly bright and nauseatingly cheery, Lilly Pulitzer prints don't reflect my true personality at all. But for reasons that would take a Freudian analyst to explain, I can't resist them this time of the year. I own about two dozen Lillys, and I can't get enough of them.

Luckily, I no longer have to stand out as the oddity in pink, green, and yellow, because wild prints are all the rage right now. Almost everywhere you look—J. Crew, Kate Spade, Jason Wu, Altuzarra—flashy, splashy prints abound. So the issue is this: How far can you go in sporting bright, loud designs while still maintaining professional dignity?

In my field—journalism/blogging—what's acceptable as office wear is a nonissue. Just as long as you're dressed in something that comes from a respectable thrift shop, anything goes. Indeed, I could wear vintage Hawaiian shirts every day, and no one would give me a second look. (In fact, one guy at The American Lawyer did wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts to the office for years—even in the dead of winter.)

But what if you work in a stodgy field like law? Corporate fashion stylist Gretchen Neels offers this advice: Break out those bright floral prints this summer—but do so in small doses. She suggests "adding a printed blouse, scarf, belt, or handbag to coordinate with one’s core neutrals."

Neels, who recently released a series of e-books called I Hate to Shop! But Still Want to Look Great, adds, "Personality and proportion, however, should be taken into consideration. An all-over print that looks fantastic on someone over 5’ 7” could be overwhelming on a petite frame." Whether you can carry it off depends on your persona: "Extroverts can usually carry bolder prints and colors better than their introverted office mates, who find too much color burdensome."

Kat Griffin, the founder of fashion blog Corporette, offers similar advice on her site: "Depending on your confidence level here, I’d start small—leave the print to a small proportion of your outfit, and look for smaller, tighter patterns as opposed to very large patterns."

So both Neels and Griffin seem to think it boils down to attitude. Personally, I think you should dispense with the gradual approach and self-analysis. I say go whole hog with the crazy florals. If you are in the mood to wear an over-the-top print in the summer—assuming that the dress is simply cut and not too revealing—what's the downside? It will probably make you cheerier—and maybe even lighten up the sullen souls around you.

Really, what law office couldn't benefit from a dose of gutsy color?


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It's sad how our work will restrict us from even enjoying our short life. it makes it look even shorter just like if time had to stop in our mid twenties. How could it be that our brain capacity is measured with what we wear?

I am a very senior-level attorney in a BigLaw firm in Washington, DC, and I wear something Lilly almost every day in the summer, especially when the temperature is over 90. Granted, if I'm going to court or meeting with clients, the Lilly will be reserved to a scarf, belt, or other accessories. But, on non-client days, I wear a skirt or shift dress, with usually a white or navy blazer or cardigan, to the office. Although this year's skirts and dresses were offered in shorter lengths, so I'm sticking with past designs whose hemlines hit the top of my knees. Too bad Lilly Pulitzer company thinks it has to offer shorter hemlines to attract 20-something buyers. Preppy women in our late 40's, 50's and 60's have been wearing Lilly since the 1960s or 1970s(even if by borrowing from our mother's closets or having child-sized dresses made from our mother's prior season dresses' fabrics). As a nearly-50-year-old woman, I would appreciate Lilly keeping the hemlines to the knees and targeting those of us with "experience" and disposable income! Anyway, yes, I'm a senior lawyer who wears certin Lilly pieces to the office!! Viva la Lilly!!

I work in BigLaw and I have 4 or so Lilly dresses I wear to the office. However, I work in Ft.Lauderdale, and I wear the less flamboyant, longer dresses, with more muted patterns and a longer hemline. I don't wear the bright shift dresses pictured above to the office. They are sun dresses and not quite appropriate.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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