I’m boiling to death on my vac scheme — do I still have to wear a suit?

The air con is crap and there’s only one fan per office

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one vac scheme student and training contract hopeful is convinced 30 degrees is not suit weather.

areer

Help me! I’m a second year law student doing a vac scheme at a law firm in London (don’t want to name names but it’s a well known midsize commercial firm). I’m having a great time but I cannot hack this heat. We were told before we started to wear full suits ‘as if we are in meetings’ everyday, I only have a black one and it’s making me a sweaty mess. Worst still I have to get the tube in so I look like a drowned rat before I’ve even got to the office. The air con is really bad and the firm does provide fans but they are one per office so about one per ten people. How forgiving do you think they would be if I rocked up in a floaty blouse and a skirt with no blazer? I really want a training contract at this place!

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

69 Comments

Anonymous

Mate just take your jacket and tie off when you sit at your desk, are you mental or something? Just because “they” tell you something does not mean you have to do it – just look at what other people do. I bet the lawyers do not walk around fully suited.

Out of interest though, Is that firm CMS? They’re known for having an OTT dress code so people always look smart and presentable (or to make up for their mediocrity, depends how cynical you are).

(39)(3)
CMS Employee

Interesting – I didn’t realise CMS had this reputation. I never wear my jacket and tie unless I’m meeting clients, nor do most of my colleagues.

(13)(1)
Anonymous

Yeah logically once the SC / MC move up that void around the 70-80k mark might well be filled by the mid-market…one can hope.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Suck it up. Make sure you take dry shampoo with you and use it if your hair starts to go greasy. Drink plenty of water and minimal makeup. Dab at your face with a tissue if needs be and wear a good anti-perspirant. I’ve been in a sweltering court all week in a three piece suit, wig, collar and gown. No, it’s not pleasant but if you actually want a training contract there either ask the question of someone in the office to show initiative, or wear what you were told.

(21)(2)
Anonymous

Get a linen suit – they’re fairly cheap and much cooler…

(7)(1)
Anonymous

“Linen suits are only worn by Southern European poofters and idiots who get too hot in the summer.”

An unnamed MC firm partner told me when I asked him the same question.

(8)(0)
Anonymous

Part of being a grown up is learning how to dress like one.

Invest in some nicer fabric suits. London is the ultimate destination for tailoring so you don’t have to splash out on Savile Row to get a good suit. Make sure its a high thread count wool (Super 120 wool and higher will be lightweight and more breathable) and if possible an unlined suit without a canvas. A lot of companies make wool-cotton, wool-linen and wool-silk mixed suits which would be even more breathable and still formal enough.

You could easily find a suit or two like that from anywhere between £150 – £400 on most high streets. Borrow the money if you need to because if you get a good suit it’ll last a couple of summers.

You don’t want to be remembered as the sweaty guy who smelled so bad the firm ended his vac scheme early.

(7)(21)
Anonymous

“Part of being a grown up is learning how to dress like one”….That’s from the bhagavad gita no?

Hah, no seriously though you sound unbearable.

(34)(2)
Anonymous

Not knowing much about women’s formal fashion, I’m sure you can switch it up with a sleeveless blouse one day, long sleeve shirt the next and a short the following. Hold your blazer on the way to work to reduce the intake of heat. Look at professional fashion blogs. There’s many out there.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Nah mate, don’t worry about it. Ditch the suit. You see, the legal profession is actually really lade back and not at all populated with uptight wankers who will judge you more on your double cuffs and appropriate denier tights than your technical ability. The reality is they’re free spirits. I mean, look around you! See that guy over there, the partner who’s leading the department and taking over a cool mil each year? He’s in a Hawaiian shirt. So chill your beans.

And clients, dude, they’re the same. Like, everyone thinks they want their lawyers to look sharp. But the reality is, they’re totally cool with paying a partner £700 plus VAT and hour and an Associate (who will say nothing in any meeting, but just sit their taking notes for two hours as a kind of lawyers’ liability shield) £500 plus VAT an hour to turn up to a meeting in hotpants and a vest top. Clients totally respect that, actually – they just love it when some pasty poshos turn up to take thousands off them dressed like they DNGAF.

As for judges, they’re the best. Like, totally, you can get away with anything. Naked is the way to go – totally in the buff – if the court’s too hot. You’ve seen this stuff on TV with wigs and gowns and high collars and tabbards and waistcoats and oxford brogues, but seriously, show a bit of flesh! Court is totally relaxed these days, btw.

So chillax and enjoy.

Cretin.

(16)(27)
Anonymous

Was that worth all that effort? Do you feel better about yourself now? I sure hope so, because that was a sad display of insecurity.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

I wrote the comment about the breathable suits but I even misread that this was a female fashion inquiry.

In that case you are spoiled for choice when it comes to fashion in London. The same principles apply but you’ll probably be able to get breathable fabrics for women for much less the cost. Buy separates and be creative.

(3)(1)
MC(Donalds) Trainee

a.) Look to see what everyone else is doing. At my firm, and other firms that I have been at, it is fairly usual to dress down a bit whilst working. The suit jacket and tie are reserved for meetings, the rest of the time a shirt is fine. Just make sure you put on the rest of your suit if you meet up with grad recruitment or with a client.

b.) The tube is an issue. The easy solution is to see if it is ok to leave your smart wear at the office. When I was a vac scheme student I asked my supervisor if it was ok to leave my suits in our office. She was fine with it, so each Monday I brought in enough clean shirts for the week and a couple of suits to hang up. Again, this will depend upon the culture at the firm, at mine it is a fairly common thing to do. (people gym first then get changed at work).

c.) Get summer appropriate smart wear. Again, look to see what other people are wearing.

(9)(0)
Anonymous

Perfectly acceptable to lose the jacket and tie – haven’t been to a single law firm where that isn’t the norm.

Have a cold shower before you leave in the morning to cool yourself down – and invest in a suit which isn’t black (navy blue / charcoal only).

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Wearing a black suit would get you sacked at our shop. Sartorial suicide.

(11)(0)
Anonymous

I would have thought at most places a short sleeved dark dress or a skirt and short sleeved (may be not sleeveless) pale, non-patterned blouse would be perceived as very formal and appropriate. I would wear the blazer to work and then take it off in the office (ask your supervisor first if you like, but there is no way that they would say no!).

The main problem is tights. It is a bit informal not to wear them, but I reckon that no one would bat an eyelid in this weather, even if they noticed. If you have a female supervisor you could also ask them if it’s ok not to wear them. Otherwise don’t ask obviously.

Regarding the tube, I think the answer is to wear other clothes and then change in the toilets of starbucks before you come in (I wouldn’t change in the office toilets, sadly).

I had this problem as a (female) pupil, when I was expected to wear a suit and white shirt everyday, so I feel your pain.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

I also don’t agree with the comments above about following what others in the office are doing. Sadly as a vac schemer you are expected to be a bit more formal, and personally I don’t think that walking in in informal wear or (for a guy) simply losing the tie without asking first would go down well in some places.

(4)(1)
Free the nipple

I think in more places asking if you can take off your tie would be seen as a lot worse than just doing it. What next, put your hand up and wait for a partner to answer so that you can ask them to go to the toilet?

(4)(1)
Anonymous

You’re not allowed to go to the toilet as a vac schemer: you either hold it for the day or shit yourself and leave humiliated.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

So what you are suggesting is to approach the partner and ask whether or not you can take your tie off? Seriously? If I were that partner I would probably send you home immediately. Of course you bloody can.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

Er no, clearly I am not suggest she talk to the partner, I am suggesting that she have a conversation with the person she is sitting with. You might think that it is beneath the dignity of a supervisor to talk about such things, but actually I think that most people who have been assigned a vac schemer or mini pupil (or a trainee or pupil) recognise that their mentoring role extends beyond black letter law and that it is perfectly appropriate for them to give advice on corporate culture.

Also, the idea that it is obviously always ok for work experience people/trainees to take their ties off round the office is simply incorrect. In my chambers pupils are certainly expected to wear a tie at all times. I tell my mini-pupils that they should feel free to take their tie and jacket off in my room but should put them back on when they go round chambers, as it would reflect badly on them if they were wandering round tieless. Ridiculous maybe, but that is the culture here, and it’s very normal in chambers. I agree that most law firms are most relaxed, but that doesn’t mean that more old fashioned ones don’t exist.

It sounds like the letter-writer is in a formal environment. In those circumstances it is always better just to ask what expectations are rather than make assumptions which might be wrong. She has presumably got a supervisor and it is the supervisor’s job to answer precisely this kind of question.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Your response reflects more on your chambers than what goes on at law firms. Please desist in giving advice on things you don’t know about.

(2)(2)
Anonymous

As a vac schemer I absolutely do not think you can assume that it is fine to do what associates are doing. Bemoaning the slovenly dress of associates is a favoured pastime of some older members of the profession. To some extent this is understandable – office culture in city firms has changed quite a bit in the last 5-10 years; even 5 years ago, it was not the norm in many firms to go tieless. A vac scheme is ultimately an extended interview, and at many places you will be expected to behave and dress more formally than associates.

To reiterate, most supervisors take their mentoring duties seriously and are not going to be put out by a casual conversation about dress code expectations by a vac scheme student. If you’re not sure, it’s better to simply ask.

(1)(2)
I was that guy

Come into work in the morning, place your jacket over the back of your chair, turn the computer on, make your desk look busy, then disappear down an air conned pub. Come back at end of day, tidy up desk, turn PC off, take jacket and go home.
Simples.

(38)(0)
True story

This is precisely what I did on my vac scheme at Jones Day.

Well, that and slurping up my supervising partner’s ‘hot sauce’. I’ve made partner in three years.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Why are most comments geared towards OP being male? She clearly says she’s considering a skirt…

(5)(4)
Anonymous

Inherent and ingrained sexism. People don’t realise they do it, but many tend to read voices, especially in Law, in a male voice.

(0)(0)
Jones Day Partner

At our firm Vacs Schemers are actively encouraged to wear as little as possible – how else will we know if we want them as trainees?

(25)(3)
Then you...

I think it is important to encourage the vac schemers to cycle or run to work.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

I agree that you should invest in a short sleeved black dress in a lighter material. Personally I don’t wear tights to court in the summer, but I am a tenant and I know pupils who are expected to wear black tights. I would be surprised if you were expected to wear your jacket all day long in the office – if in doubt, just ask.

(1)(0)
Office tips

Tights should not be worn in my opinion, so long as you have reasonably nice legs. Show enough leg so that it is sexy, without being slutty.

Definitely no jacket, that is absurd. Reasonable low cut top, ideally shoulders showing.

Don’t over-do the makeup.

(4)(4)
Mid-size firm

Agreed. We have a vac schemer who looks (from her face) like she could be an Instagram model, but she never shows enough skin to let you know the full picture. To make it worse, she doesn’t even appear to be on social media when I go to look her up.

Word of advice vac scheme ladies – at least make sure you are on LinkedIn, but ideally Facebook too. When recruiting people look for your social media profiles and if there is nothing there it is somewhat suspicious – hiding anything?

(4)(1)
Maggie

Good point about the social media thing. People need to know that they are working with a real person who has friends, likes to go to the beach, have a good time, etc. You worry that those without a profile (or those trying to hide it) might be a bit of a loner.

(2)(0)
Jones Day Equity Partner

Please forward me her email address, measurements and mobile phone number immediately. I’ll pay you in Bitcoin.

(9)(0)
Diverse Transvestite

Men can wear skirts too or transvestite discrimination n all.
Every office is now obliged to have at least one under SRA ethics

(3)(2)
Anonymous

I would not dare wear one suit for 2 weeks on a vac scheme. Better buy a couple more.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

Did two vac schemes last summer, I and most of the other girls on the schemes didn’t bother with blazers all the time – just bring one to wear if you’re called into a meeting. We all wore dresses and skirts with blouses in the hot weather, as did most of the associates/partners. Managing partner was in a sleeveless dress when we met her. Take your cues from how the people actually working at the firm dress though – if they are all in blazers all the time then you will have to do the same, but that seems unlikely!

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Depends on the firm, leave your suit jacket and tie on a hanger in your office, walking around with a well ironed shirt and suit trousers should be fine. I recommend buying a small USB desk fan (or two).

(1)(0)
Jones Day Partner

You’re welcome to wear your birthday suit if you prefer.

(2)(1)
Jones Day Vac Schemer

I know this may seem a little crazy but it is really hot in here and I am finding it a bit difficult to concentrate. Would you mind if I take off my blouse? I have quite a conservative bra so its all good, right?

(10)(0)
Anonymous

This is the sort of initiative one must exhibit if they intend to parlay their vac scheme into a training contract.

(0)(0)
Vac schemer who wants a TC

If only it was that easy though. I would do a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t to get myself a training contract, but it isn’t like I can just approach a partner and start unzipping him. I think it is a shame, men in the office are too afraid to be forward these days out of fear that somebody will lodge a complaint – there are no signals.

(2)(0)
How it works

The signals go both ways. Generally if you make the effort to look at my crotch area, a lot, that will be signal to me that you are serious. I will of course return the favour by looking at your cleavage excessively upon our next encounter. Usually from there we realise we are on the same page and we can escalate. When I send you a calendar for a con call with the US in the late hours, it is time for us (lowercase) and the only call will be you calling my name. Then you’ll maybe get a job. No guarantees, performance is important for a vac schemer.

(7)(0)
Anonymous

Find it shocking that half of these comments are assuming you’re a lad even though you’ve stated that you want to wear a SKIRT. I’d say take your blazer off while you’re round the office and only put it on when you’re meeting clients etc.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

Absolutely hilarious the snobbery on this! Why would you even want to WORK in an environment where you’re constantly worried if you’re going to get the sack for making sure you don’t pass out with heat exhaustion is completley beyond me!!

(2)(2)
I was that guy

Nowadays, using an air conned pub as a tactical redoubt, during a heatwave should be cool. Take your lap top, printer and smart phone. Arrange for appointments in the pub. If the firm doesn’t have air con, it can decamp downa pub

(1)(0)
MC Trainee

In my firm you’re even bloody expected to wear your jacket when your asleep at your desk.

(3)(0)
Doc. Ludvig Friedrich Von Lowenstein

Fascinating.
Should we decamp?

(0)(0)
Doc. Ludvig Friedrich Von Lowenstein

Latvka, Simka, Prof Plum, et al, in my office , The Pig and Trough, tomorrow 12 noon.

(0)(0)
Scouser of Counsel

I’ve had to ditch the waistcoat this week…

Pity there’s a convention at the Bar that we have to wait until an overheated judge decides that we can disrobe…

(0)(0)
Blue Pencil (2PQE)

Try not to overthink these things.

Whether you are offered a training contract or not won’t hinge on whether you wear your jacket all day, put it on a hanger or put it on the back of your chair. So long as you are dressed smartly and wear your jacket to client meetings, etc., nobody is likely to pay attention to your clothing.

If you’ve been told to wear a full suit everyday – I can’t imagine that they mean ALL day everyday. Take a cue from other people in the office, but this would be a very odd rule.

Most firms have changing facilities – could you commute in something more comfortable and get changed there?

If you still have questions – try to drop them into conversation with whomever you end up speaking to (trainees, HR, buddy, supervisor). They won’t be offended!

Good luck!

(1)(1)
Doc. Ludvig Friedrich Von Lowenstein

There’s a convention at the World Psychiatric Organisation.

(0)(0)
J

This is advice if you get the TC at the firm. I had the same problem but when in court, as it is always stuffy and I sweat like a nun in a whorehouse:

1. Make sure nothing you wear has polyester in it (socks and undies included); cotton all the way;
2. Buy medicated anti antiperspirant (this stuff works for a week and stops those dreaded pit marks);
3. Get a desk fan, write your name on it;
4. Run each hand under cold water for 15 seconds each at the wrist (lowers your body temp)
5. Don’t work for an organisation that makes you sweat your balls off!

Hope it helps.

(1)(0)

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