Matt Broadbent - Uniform advice and how it might suit you
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So you want to be a lawyer? That means you are probably going to have to act and look like a lawyer. It is a well-worn, but still relevant, fact that if you look and feel the part when you meet employers then you are far more likely to convince them that you are a credible or even attractive hiring proposition. So what do lawyers look like? No, not the ones in wigs and stockings who look like they are about to launch into a comedy song and dance routine, but real day-to-day lawyers doing day-to-day lawyering. That's right, a person, male or female, in a suit: standard, boring, business dress; the uniform of lawyers and many other professions.
This means you've got to have a suit - maybe you already have one, especially if you have done office work along the way, and feel like you've got it covered. Alternatively, you may have a slightly disreputable item that is wheeled out for weddings, funerals and other formal occasions. Either way, ask yourself these questions: "When I put my suit on do I feel transformed? Do I think that dressed like this I am on my A game and everyone around me knows it? In this suit can I take on the world?" If the answer is yes, read no further. However, I suspect that in most cases, the answer is no. Think what a psychological boost it is to really feel the part when you meet an employer in a social, assessment or interview environment. You will inevitably perform better if you feel like you look the part and fit into the environment you have entered. In other words, there is a strong case for having a 'special' suit acting as both decoration and armour as you wage your campaign to get a job in the law.
So where should you acquire such an item? No, not Oxfam. Swanning around in the schmutter of a man who died in the 50s is fine for Shoreditch High Street but less good half a mile down the road in the City of London. No, you need to be looking at a proper purveyor of good quality kit. Good old M&S is fine, as is one of the tailors such as TM Lewin, which has taken formal clothing to high streets nationwide. Their standard, off the peg, offerings are perfectly respectable, but do they offer that extra something that says, 'this is me and I am ready'?
In the modern era it is rare to have something made specifically for oneself, but suits are one of the times when it could be worth it. Something fitting exactly your shape and specifications is what you get. No compromises - just a suit that is exactly right. The cost of such a garment can reach the stratosphere if you go to Saville Row, but the realities of the modern world mean that bespoke options are available at more manageable levels. You are looking at £200-£300 for a good M&S suit and at £500 for Hugo Boss number. There is an altogether more luxurious alternative as I discovered when I visited Apsley Tailors on Pall Mall.
Apsley was established in 1889 - a time when all suits were bespoke - and the process for creating a suit for a customer remains essentially the same as in the 19th Century. I'll tell you, in hopelessly imperfect layman's language, what the process was like for me. Firstly there is a conversation about what is needed, when and where the suit will be worn (day to day, for travel or to a wedding). The customer is then given the opportunity to peruse a baffling array of cloths and linings of different weights and colours. It is worth giving this some thought in advance, as there are trade-offs between how hard-wearing, warm, flashy or versatile different fabrics will be. You should certainly keep saying 'sober, sober, sober' to yourself for fear of ending up looking like Ted Bovis from Hi-di-Hi. There will also be consultation on each aspect of how the suit is to be cut. Every detail is up for grabs: number of buttons, real or fake cuffs, lapel size, how many vents, pleats, button or zip flies, shoulder padding and more. It's strangely exhilarating to have so much choice - decisions about which you've never previously had an opinion. Finally, the tailor himself emerges from his lair below stairs to measure your every dimension and set in train the process that will ultimately produce a garment fitting you and only you!
A week later I am back again to try the suit in its rudest form - the fabric has been cut and tacked together to make the shape of a suit that I am invited to don. The tailor then proceeds to make all the minute adjustments that cause the suit to fit just right. A bit in across the back, a little more room around the arm hole, and so on. Once the ideal fit has been achieved and recorded by the insertion of a multitude of pins, I am eased out of the suit and it is whisked away to be completed in Asia. This is why mere mortals can afford a bespoke suit. The customer experience and the specialist cutting and fitting happens in the UK, while the full fabrication takes place elsewhere. When the suit arrives back in the UK, I go to the shop for a final fitting. If anything is amiss, further changes are made, but my suit fitted like a glove (well, a suit-shaped glove) first time.
My new suit received its first outing at the LawCareers.Net Training & Recruitment Awards – check out the photos on our LC.N Facebook page! In the meantime you can read a rather more involved description of how a suit is made or you can look around Apsley's site and look at their celebrity customer gallery (what links 'big' Sam Allerdyce, Caprice and the Duke of Kent?) .
Apsley Tailors (est 1889) is glad to offer a 15% discount on your first bespoke suit PLUS a free bespoke shirt to anyone quoting 'LawCareers.Net' at their Pall Mall showroom in Central London before 15 August 2013.