This article is kind of horrifying. It covers an event at the Chicago Bar Association, where they highlighted fashion Dos and Don’ts for lawyers. Above the Law brought in two writers to cover the event, one of whom (Attractive Nuisance) seems pretty bright and is understandably horrified at all the What Not To Wear lectoring, and the other of whom (Legally Fabulous) uses her personal blog to compare herself to Elle Woods, and seems to invest a lot in the idea that female “appropriateness” means not being slutty, and slutty also kind of correlates to looking poor and/or female. So, you know. They had different takes, to say the least. While it sounds like the panel attempted to be gender egalitarian, the advice for men boils down to “make sure your suit fits and is clean,” whereas the advice for women is 40-parts long, all detailing ways to not be trampy. Also, even though it is 2010, women should wear skirts always. Also pantyhose. Says Legally Fabulous:
If you’re wearing a skirt, you have to wear tights or pantyhose. Get over it. I’m still of the old, conservative school of thought that women should be in skirt suits. The Honorable A. Benjamin Goldgar, a judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Illinois disagreed. He said he doesn’t even notice if women are in skirts or pants in court. I’d say for an interview – stick with a skirt.
Attractive Nuisance, God bless her, was a little more skeptical of the advice offered by the panelists, and didn’t seem to take too kindly to the laundry list of ways that women are apparently soiling the legal profession with our hair and our jewelry. She summarizes the advice to female attorneys thusly:
The chorus of female attorneys added some caveats: make sure your suit is not too fitted, wear flats, wear minimal jewelry, wear minimal makeup, do not wear hair in a pony-tail, do not wear hair down in a distracting way, wear pantyhose, do not wear open-toe shoes (especially in front of a jury says Justice Goldgar), do not wear peep-toe shoes, and do not wear dark nail polish (avoid burgundy, cautioned Professor Collins). Wear a shirt under your suit that is not too tight, not low-cut, not bright colored, not patterned, not ruffle-y, and not too feminine. Finally, when going on a job interview, do not carry a recognizable brand-name handbag because you are trying to project the image that you need money. Oh, and do not wear your engagement ring if it is large because it may anger your women interviewers and cause jealousy (and perhaps rage).
When I was interviewing for legal jobs, I did hear married or engaged students say that they often removed their rings before interviews — but it was because they were afraid that employers would see them as potentially leaving the field in a few years to have a baby. I’m not sure what’s worse — the fear that an employer won’t hire you because they don’t want to deal with you going on maternity leave, or the fear that an employer won’t hire you because your interview is with a jealous, marriage-mad woman. And I also always interviewed in a skirt, for precisely the reasons outlined above — because I was aware that some interviewers didn’t take kindly to women in pants. Also because it was August and it was hot (and I attempted to wear pantyhose the first day, but stripped them off in the bathroom after about 20 minutes).
But there’s a big difference between making individual choices in a constricted environment in order to better your changes at getting a job you need, and convening a Bar Association panel where you have leaders in the legal field shaming women for what they wear, and promoting some really backwards, sexist viewpoints. This isn’t just a “how to get a job” panel; promoting these kinds of views at professional events does harm to female associates and female law students. It gives sexist men and women cover to discriminate both in hiring and in giving projects, and to brand female attorneys based on “appropriateness,” which too often correlates to perceived social class (of which race also factors in) and to body type.
Don’t get me wrong: In the legal profession, there are appropriateness lines. Most offices have dress codes, and at least in my experience they’re usually reasonable. Yes, you should wear a suit to court and to client meetings and to interviews; your suit should fit. Yes, you should wear appropriate shoes, and not sneakers or sandals. No you should not wear jeans or leggings or sweatpants or weekend casual-wear to work. I have less of a problem requiring business-casual wear (and businesswear in some situations) in an office environment where clients are around, where the interactions are fairly formal and where the employees are well-compensated enough to afford a set of work clothes. But hair up vs. hair down and plain shirt vs. colored shirt and nice jewelry but not too much jewelry and on and on? It just gets silly, after a while, and becomes a way to police women’s bodies more than anything else.
Legally Fabulous’s take on the jewelry advice is demonstrative:
Jewelry: Keep it simple. Pearl or diamond studs are the best choice for earrings. Possibly a VERY SMALL hoop (although I personally hate hoops, I suppose a small hoop is okay. You know what they say – ‘the bigger the hoop, the bigger the ho’)
…yeah. But maybe I’m just annoyed because I do wear big hoop earrings, sometimes. But then, I suppose I am a huge ho anyway, because I also don’t wear pantyhose. And sometimes I even wear pants.
And that’s just for businesswear, which these days is primarily worn for interviewing, client meetings, and court. Business-casual office wear isn’t any easier on the ladies. Attractive Nuisance (who I kind of just want to start referring to as “the smart one”) summarizes the advice:
If you work at a business casual office, do not commit any of the cardinal sins identified above. In addition, never wear boots, never show your arms, NEVER wear pink, never wear clothes that reveal your body shape, never wear clothes that reveal your tramp stamp, and never dress like a “sleazy girl” which apparently means wearing a fitted pencil skirt and side ponytail.
Now, why should we be careful not to wear pencil skirts or pink or display our arms? Legally Fabulous tells us:
“Looking sexy in a law firm is disrespectful” – Mary Nicolau. Absolutely. No one should be able to see your cleavage and your skirt or dress should be knee-length and not too tight. The partner you’re working for is someone’s husband/father/boyfriend. Show some respect.
Ah, yes. To protect the men! Because if an adult man spots an elbow somewhere, all hell might break loose. Nevermind that the partner you’re working for may actually be someone’s wife/mother/girlfriend, and may just want to wear her damned pencil skirt without getting looked at sideways.
Attractive Nuisance boils it down:
In sum, if you are a male lawyer, invest in a well-fitting suit (and be grateful). If you are a female lawyer, invest in a well-fitting male suit and a male who will wear said suit and speak for you, Cyrano style.
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