Author: has written 5301 posts for this blog.

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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123 Responses

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin April 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm |

    You’d think women have enough unnecessary rules and/or hoops to jump through. Why not add more!

  2. keezee3
    keezee3 April 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm |

    I totally agree that dissecting what women wear and giving them rules is a way to police their bodies. This simply doesn’t happen to men the way it does to women. I don’t know of any rules for men that say, ‘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 masculine.’ There are no regulations on ties, either. Men are told to have tailored suits, however women are supposed to hide their shape.

    Many parts of this article dealing with how women dress is all about ‘protecting’ the men. You don’t want your hair down styled in a distracting way. Distracting for whom? You don’t want too much cleavage showing, too much leg showing, too much arm showing, etc. It’s all about keeping a lid on your sexuality so that men don’t lose control around you. Heaven forbid you wear a sleeveless shirt to work. Creating all these rules to subdue the sexuality of women is sexist, wrong, and just plain bullcrap. I’m not saying that women should show everything off, I’m simply saying ease off a little.

  3. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm |

    I think a lot of this is a type of “knowledge test.”

    For example: I don’t make my interns wear suits, and I wouldn’t care that much if they were a few minutes late every now and then, or if they made a small transposition error in their writing, or if they wear a v-neck, or even (horrors!) red shoes.

    But when someone comes in for an interview, I pay attention to how they look, and how they sit, and whether they were on time; I similarly look for minor spelling errors in their resume and the like.

    I’m not actually testing them for the question “do they have a black suit?” Instead, I’m testing “do they understand what is generally required for an interview package; have they done the work to demonstrate that knowledge; have they made appropriate assumptions?” And in THAT context, those things are important. Because in the end, being able to understand–and follow–social codes is actually pretty darn important in many areas of my office. Not with me personally (I’m often barefoot in the back room, or in shorts and a ripped t shirt if I’m not meeting people) but with the clients, opposing counsel, and judges.

    And in the broader world, these things are important. In all seriousness, I think that some of the biggest problems for people who fail to advance are that they
    (1) don’t follow social codes;
    (2) don’t know what the social codes are at all; and/or
    (3) undervalue the importance of those codes

    This can especially be a problem for people who are switching social classes (in either direction.) And that is why these things can be good. If–like me–you were the first one in the family to have a suit-wearing job, where else are you giong to learn it? Osmosis?

    It’s like, say, wearing a tie. I am the same person whether or not I wear a tie, and whether or not I wear a pink flowered tie (one of my favorites.) But if I go to court without a tie, or go to court with a pink flowered tie, I’m sending a message either that I don’t know the social codes, or that I don’t care about the social codes.

    If I’m making the no-tie choice with full knowledge of the consequences, that’s fine. but if I didn’t know? I’d be screwed.

  4. ,
    , April 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

    yall do realize that this is the nature of the legal profession? like it or not, the profession is almost entirely ruled by men. you can sit there and whine about how backwards it is and that this is the 21st century and we should be past that, but realistically, if you want to succeed, you dress conservatively. end of story.

    the bar association panel was just telling women what they need to hear to be successful. it might be backwards, but it is reflective of the profession. it’s still a man’s game.

    if you want a fun profession where you don’t have to play this game, go elsewhere.

  5. Lance
    Lance April 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm |

    This all makes me tremendously sad. Oh, patriarchy. Two thoughts though:

    “Never wear clothes that reveal your body shape?”

    What other kinds of clothes are there??

    “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 presume those students were female. I knew a couple of male students who actually put on a wedding band, under the theory that employers like men with commitments, as they’ll stay on the job no matter how miserable they get. On the other hand, they were interviewing for Texas jobs, so…

  6. Daisy
    Daisy April 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm |

    I don’t understand why the author is upset the men’s advice boiled down to a few simple things & the advice for women was much more voluminous. In the legal profession men have one choice: a suit. The advice for that has few areas for debate & advice (the button down collar, the cut of the suit, and the tie choice). Women on the other hand have infinitely more choices & therefore, infinitely more areas to screw up – or get it right.

    Working in a law firm isn’t the same as working in other professional enviornments. If you don’t dress appropriately you’ll never rise to a rank high enough to try and change the out-dated system. I’ve seen quite a few women get blown by based on the whole skirt-suit debate. You might not like it, but if you don’t adhere to the old school rules you can wear your bare legs in the unemployment line.

  7. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm |

    Let me put it differently:

    It shouldn’t matter if someone wears a pencil skirt, whatever that is.

    But it should also be true that a new professional should know “there are some fools who will care if you wear a pencil skirt. Do with that what you will.” Just like a new professional should know how to give what is perceived as the “right” kind of handshake, or what are the “right” kinds of ties or haircuts.

    Then she can, well, do whatever the hell she wants. As she should.

  8. norbizness
    norbizness April 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm |

    I wore a short sleeved dress shirt as a paralegal in the middle of summer in Houston and nearly got fired; I got read the riot act a week later for wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt that was not white or beige.

    As for what happens in front of a jury, unfortunately I don’t think Title VII applies to them.

  9. Thomas
    Thomas April 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm |

    Daisy, men’s rules are contrained but they’re easy. I have unmarked choices. I can wear a dark suit, a white shirt and a motif tie every day of my life and, if I had enough money, never wear the same combination twice, and always be correct for any businesswear occasion. Nobody will ever say that my clothes are too slutty, too revealing or any of that shit.

    Women’s rules are a complex system of traps and landmines. They’re not a simple code, they’re a system of social policing.

  10. norbizness
    norbizness April 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm |

    Just think of the payment as including some sort of conformity/suppression of personal expression premium; something I can definitely attest to in business casual working for a governmental agency. Somebody at a corn dog stand might just as well ask why they have to wear that giant striped hat.

  11. Patrick C
    Patrick C April 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm |

    The reason there are so many more rules for women is that their fashion choices are much broader! Men can only wear suits and button-ups – women have different kinds of suits, different kinds of shirts, etc. Men have the same basic “short” hair, women have a host of options. It’s also really hard for a man to look slutty in a suit. It’s very easy for a woman to look slutty with the way her shirt is buttoned, the earrings she wears, the shoes she wears, etc.

    While women have more rules here, the underlying standard is the same: look professional, plain, and uncreative. The standard just happens to eliminate more options for women.

  12. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers April 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm |

    I think it may also be, in part, because toxic masculinity does such a good job of policing men, many of the “don’t’s” for men go without saying, because it’s assumed men know them. (Like Sailorman’s “pink tie” thing. People don’t tell men not to wear a pink tie, because men already know that if you wear a pink tie you are advertising that you are not buying into the whole toxic masculinity thing, and in some places that can actually get you *killed.*) I mean, all this about how not to dress in a slutty way for women may be, in part, because women are under great pressure from other areas of our lives *to* dress in a sexy way… whereas men just aren’t allowed to be sexy ever.

    Given the choice between the plethora of choices women have, and the tsk-tsking of well-meaning nags who are trying to tell me how to limit those choices, and the lack of choices men have coupled with the lack of a lot of people questioning their available choices, I would actually rather take the woman’s lot in this… although I consider the lack of the boring, sedate male choice as an *option* to be a fatal flaw in the menu of women’s choices here. Women should absolutely be permitted to wear pant suits, with fully closed dress shoes that tie. But men should be permitted to wear pant suits in *purple*, and the fact that they can’t would bother the hell out of me if I were male.

    (I come by this honestly; my dad had little patience with IBM’s dress code when I was a baby and he was a junior programmer, and he used to go to work in pink shirts.)

    So part of the problem is that there’s a huge range of women’s choices and a rather narrow range of them that’s “professional”, whereas men aren’t allowed a lot of leeway to escape “professional” dress in the first place. But I also noticed that many choices which are totally unremarkable among African-American women are being marked as “unprofessional”. So if you wear a smartly styled skirt suit and stylish flats and pantyhose, but you have giant hoop earrings, all of a sudden you’re not professional anymore? Funny how giant hoop earrings are much more fashionable among black women than white women. You would almost think that black fashion choices were being singled out and rejected from the standard…

  13. annie
    annie April 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm |

    i was the “,” author from the comments – didn’t mean to post without my name, sorry.

    i’m not saying you can’t critique the system. of course it’s absurd, as a law student myself i understand this. but is it even more absurd to show up and not play the game. good for you for recognizing that.

    to be fair, you weren’t at the event. you don’t know if they gave a disclaimer or not. my career services office frequently gives such advice and always says “this is stupid, but you can’t do anything about it as an associate”. even if they didn’t give the disclaimer, what does that matter? people attending the event [law students and lawyers] are well-educated, reasonably intelligent individuals. they can figure out what is harmful and sexist without being told by someone. they don’t need an explicit message that “we’re helping you but it’s stupid.” ultimately, the event was for helping women succeed as lawyers. the way to do that is to draw the right kind of attention – your intellectual ability, not what you’re wearing.

  14. benvolio
    benvolio April 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm |

    But if I go to court without a tie, or go to court with a pink flowered tie, I’m sending a message either that I don’t know the social codes, or that I don’t care about the social codes.

    And my response would be that the ‘social code’ in this case is restrictive way past the point of arbitrary, and well into the policing discussed above. And, also if enough people wore pink flowered ties to court, the overton window shift would magically shift.

  15. ipens
    ipens April 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm |

    I don’t work in a law-related field – not at all – but it strikes me as interesting that there actually is a great deal of diversity in what men could consider formal wear. For some, it would be a polo shirt and khakis. For others, it might be a nice button-down that isn’t one of those white suit ones, also paired with a nice pair of pants. Others might like the retro rat-pack look, which is certainly fitted. Does it speak to what Alara says above about toxic masculinity? Or, is it just an overall sense on the part of the establishment that men already ‘know better’ but those silly women need to be reminded of what’s professional all the time. Hence, the ‘we give you women a laundry list because know you’re bound to screw it up unless we spell out every last thing for you’ approach contrasted with the ‘you know what you’re doing, dudes’ approach for men.

  16. Sam
    Sam April 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm |

    As a woman who attended the event and found it informative and helpful, I am rather embarrassed by the snarky nature of Attractive Nuisance’s comments. They are completely paraphrased and at times are incorrect. Further, the panel mentioned that you never want to present an image that is not YOU during an interview since you may be required to keep up that false appearance during your tenure at the company/firm. The most important piece of advice conveyed at the presentation is that you should feel and dress like YOU during an interview. I find it somewhat disappointing that neither blogger mentioned that idea!

  17. Kate
    Kate April 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm |

    Can Attractive Nuisance be my best friend? Love, love, love.

    I may get policed in all sorts of ways, but at least I can pretty much wear what I want to work in academia when it comes to my colleauges. My students do police me, but my colleagues don’t very much at all (I would be naive to say not at all, but I would say at least in my field, at my university, people don’t SEEM to care what others wear).

  18. Lance
    Lance April 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm |

    Jill– Thanks for the clarification. Idle thought: It occurs to me that the people most likely to change the biglaw culture are also the ones most likely to leave for public interest and the like once they pay off their loans. I’m therefore not surprised that biglaw is behind the times.

    ipens– At least at my firm, men have a lot of freedom. I have two different pink ties I wear on a regular basis, and one of my favorite combos is a lavender shirt with a dark purple tie. Of course, women also don’t follow the “rules” above, so I’m not sure if my office is anomalous.

  19. Lily
    Lily April 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm |

    Thank you for this!

    I read this article this morning and was horrified at some of the advice for female law students – particularly about “being respectful” for the men you’re working with/for. As a female law student, I understand that I need to dress a certain way: fairly conservative, with a suit that fits well but not too well, a shirt that doesn’t show any cleavage, pantyhose. I also don’t have a problem with dressing that way – I knew I would have to dress this way before I entered law school, and as a matter of fact, I enjoy it much of the time!

    What bothers me is the ridiculous details it comes down to sometimes. Don’t tell me I can’t wear my hair up or down or that a colored shirt under my suit is unprofessional. Trust me, as a smart female law student, to be able to make these decisions for myself.

    You said it – this is a way to police our bodies and our clothing. What’s even sadder is that women in the profession, such as Legally Fabulous, are contributing to this hatred and are minimizing women attorney’s to simply what they wear.

  20. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil April 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm |

    You know what they say – ‘the bigger the hoop, the bigger the ho’

    I have to ask: Who says this? Who?? I have never heard this aphorism before.

  21. Ben
    Ben April 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm |

    Instructions to women to “always wear skirts with suits” strike me as terribly silly.

    I am glad I live in New York where men can wear colorful shirts and ties (even pink!). Maybe the rule against brightly colored shirts makes sense in other parts of the country where wearing colored shirts is frowned upon for men too. (In Washington, D.C., you may notice that politicians might wear nice ties but always wear solid colored suits with white shirts. Boring.)

  22. Emily
    Emily April 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm |

    I am a lawyer, and I really think that pantyhose should and will go the way of the dodo as a relic of uber-sexist society. It is incredibly uncomfortable, and I don’t know of many young female lawyers who put up with it. I rarely wear skirt suits, but when I do I never wear pantyhose.

  23. irene
    irene April 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm |

    From the other side of the coin to Emily (#27)’s POV – I love pantyhose. Wear them under dress pants if I can help it – anything to space out drycleanings. Of course I rarely wear skirt suits too, because then I have to be careful to not run the nylon…

  24. Shelby
    Shelby April 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm |

    I’m a woman with brown skin. There is very literally NOTHING I could wear to NOT look slutty to the mainstream. Now I could gain a lot of weight and play toward more of a Mammy stereotype, but I still think my “excess” fat would signal “excessive” carnality and I’d be punished appropriately for that offense as well. All these “if women just wore X” comments are so fricken disengenuous. It’s not about the clothes, it’s about policing bodies. I have wide hips, I can’t desexualize that by wearing a loose-fitting skirk cuz GUESS WHAT?! My hips are still there! The same for women with large breasts. I remember friends in highschool getting dress code violations for long-sleeved t-shirts cuz they were “too tight” ie. “Your large breasts are sinful wear baggy sweatshirts every day always you slutty mcslutslut.”

    And with people of color, men’s bodies are policed more than you think. If your hair is curly or highly textured, you best not let it grow more than half an inch long or you’ll end up looking “political” and “intimidating.” You’d also have to try to have lighter skin and not be particularly tall and heavy-set or you’d risk looking like a “thug.” Some people can follow the dress code all they want and still NEVER be deemed “appropriate.”

  25. KAJ
    KAJ April 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm |

    I am at my large law firm wearing a dress sans pantyhose today, and it is delightful. Also, you can see that my body has a shape. In fact, of the female associates and partners wearing skirts or dresses I’ve seen today, most are bare-legged (this is true even if I only consider partners/associates generally considered to be at the top of the partnership consideration list). And have bodies with visible shapes! Some are wearing large hoops! Several are wearing pink! PINK!

  26. shannon
    shannon April 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm |

    Don’t wear hoops that are larger in diameter than a quarter! *a real, bizarre rule. really.*

  27. Donna L.
    Donna L. April 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm |

    I’ve worked in New York City law firms for 30 years now, and I think these “rules” haven’t been valid for a long time.

    What women have to wear to court is one thing (although I’ve seen women appear in court barelegged with open-toed shoes more than once, and I have a feeling nobody cared), but in the office? At firms that changed years ago from the suits every day rule to casual Fridays to business casual every day? I wear tights in the winter, and go barelegged in summer (with sandals), all the time. In other words, even apart from the days I wear pants, I wear pantyhose only a few months out of every year. And I wear dresses with patterns, and v-necked tops, too. Who cares? Nobody. And lots of other women I’ve seen do the same.

    At least the clothes I wear are clean and in reasonably good condition, unlike all the male lawyers I’ve seen over the years (partners and associates alike) who show up in rumpled khakis, and shirts with frayed collars and cuffs.

    If a male lawyer dresses like that, he may be thought of as a slob, but is just as likely to be thought of as an eccentric genius who’s way too busy to think about petty concerns like clothing.

    A woman lawyer could never get away with wearing the equivalent. The “freedom” to choose what to wear may be greater — and I admit that I’m probably a lot more comfortable on hot summer days than all the male lawyers with long-sleeved shirts and long pants, sweating away if they go outside — but so are the expectations, and the policing, of one’s appearance.

    And as someone who worked as a guy for the first 25 years of her legal career, and (to the best of my knowledge) was only the second trans attorney ever to transition at a New York City firm, I think I’m qualified to speak of the differing expectations for male lawyers and women lawyers (as to appearance and otherwise) in that particular environment!

  28. cathy
    cathy April 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm |

    I am really bothered by how many of the above comments boil down to ‘live with sexism, because you deserve it you nasty bitches and we’ll punish you if you object”. As a person who has faced social consequences for fighting to wear pants in a pre-law related setting, I can say that if I had to do it all over again, I would. No one should ever have to sacrifice their dignity and self respect to meet some narrowly defined definition of professional womanhood that is so restrictive it excludes pretty much all women, which, most likely, is the goal of this bullshit to begin with. It is because we have fought and continue to do so that we have made the progress that we have. I will not put on a skirt, I will not grow my hair out, and I absolutely will not tone down my arguments because an assertive woman makes men uncomfortable. And if the old men don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves.

  29. Faith
    Faith April 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm |

    “I have to ask: Who says this? Who?? I have never heard this aphorism before.”

    I have. I believe the last time I heard it, however, I was in high school. The people saying it were my fellow students.

  30. juicepockets
    juicepockets April 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm |

    Thanks for this post, Jill! I used to work in Biglaw, and now I work in-house, and I have seen a wiiiiiide variety of clothing styles among my past and present co-workers.

    As a fat woman, I feel this scrutiny very acutely. I am expected to dress in a certain business-casual-and-also-conservative manner because I am an attorney, and yet it is nigh impossible to find such clothes in plus sizes without spending a fortune at Bloomingdales (where I did buy an awesome interview suit [with pants!!], however).]

  31. annie
    annie April 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm |

    cathy – that’s fine if that’s your attitude. just realize you’re eliminating a lot of potential jobs.

    and wearing a skirt suit requires you to sacrifice your self respect? sensitive much?

  32. Dave
    Dave April 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm |

    It’s horrifying to think that anyone still expects women to wear pantyhose and skirts to work instead of pants. I mean, fine, skirts look nice and if you want to wear one go ahead, but who really cares? If it’s good for a man it should be good for a woman (and vice-versa if you’re so inclined).

    What’s weird to me is that ultimately (the skirt thing aside), the baseline of what’s appropriate for men and women in a business environment is exactly the same: close-toed shoes, slacks, neutral, collared, long-sleeve shirt. Maybe a jacket and/or tie. Not too much skin. (It’s distracting! It would be if I did it too!)

    A law or business environment is about playing down sexuality and other distractions. Women’s fashion is largely about playing up those things, so it’s no surprise there’s a conflict. The solution is to stop telling women how to dress all of the time and let them figure out what’s appropriate on their own like adult human beings.

  33. Rebecca
    Rebecca April 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm |

    Speaking of Jumping through hoops, Comrade Kevin, make sure they’re not too big, those hoops.

    “I personally hate hoops, I suppose a small hoop is okay. You know what they say – ‘the bigger the hoop, the bigger the ho’ “

  34. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale April 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm |

    I worked at a law firm in Chicago, and while many women did not follow these rules, most followed most of the rules most of the time. Chicago law firm culture is very conservative in terms of dress rules, and Chicago business culture generally is more conservative in terms of dress than either coast, outside of maybe DC.

  35. roses
    roses April 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm |

    I’d like to second Jill about how only women look “slutty”. I’ve seen men come to work with waaay too many buttons undone on their shirts, pants that are indecently tight, and hairstyles and facial hairstyles that say “sexy” instead of “professional”. Men can and do dress in ways that are sexy in an unprofessional way, but they’re not called slutty for it, and not policed for it to the extent women are.

    On a related note – I recently had a man tell me my shoes (floral print peep toe pumps worn with tights) were inappropriate – while wearing jeans and sneakers which are a big time violation of the dress code here. He felt entitled to police my attire even though he was explicitly violating the dress code himself, while I was not.

    Finally, a lot of those rules are of the lose lose type…. don’t wear anything too feminine, but don’t wear pants either. Don’t wear your hair down, but don’t wear it in a ponytail. Wear clothes that are fitted, but don’t wear clothes that are form fitting. Don’t wear too much makeup or jewelery – but I doubt no makeup at all and no jewelery at all would fly either.

  36. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm |

    I think Annie has a point to the extent that sometimes the best jobs are the ones in which patriarchy is most deeply entrenched. I’m using comparables in finance and thinking of big firms like Bank of America or Goldman. You’ll get paid more here and typically get more respect from your peers for working there.

    So there’s a trade-off that I’m making and I know many other women are making too. To break down some of the walls put up against women in the super patriarchal firms, you’ve got to get in first (and then you can sue the shit out of them like the women who got Merrill/BoA for engaging in practices that prevented women from getting advanced). Does that mean I’ll conform even when it’s a ridiculous pain in the ass to get button down shirts in fun colors for a price I can afford on student loans? Hell yes, it does. Reaching towards parity in these firms will make it a lot easier first to bring in other qualified women and then to get rid of these bullshit policies. (Please note that the whole way through, I’ll reserve the right to complain about the dress code but know it won’t get changed if the institutions remain mostly-men).

    But Annie, you lose me here: “and wearing a skirt suit requires you to sacrifice your self respect? sensitive much?” — because it’s not wearing a skirt suit, but the fact that women didn’t get to choose what business attire for women IS. Do you remember the big women-only vote or the years and years of practice we’ve had making HR policies while we’ve systemically kept out men? Because I don’t. So if someone says she doesn’t want to wear a skirt suit to give the impression that she’s professional when she could do her job just as well in a pair of pants, then let her complain about wanting to wear pants.

    Incidentally, I wore pants to all of my interviews (again, in financial service settings). Why am I going to defend the right to choose pants in interviews across professions? I like not having to worry about runs in my tights, making sure there’s no option that I’ll flash an interviewer, and so on. If someone else feels like I should, why would pants make them less professional? The men-folk get to wear them.

  37. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm |

    No one should ever have to sacrifice their dignity and self respect to meet some narrowly defined definition of professional womanhood that is so restrictive it excludes pretty much all women

    Is it that exclusive?

    If you’re male, you may or may not be able to wear a variety of things… but if you wear a dark suit, buttoned up white shirt, dark tie, and black formal shoes… well, you’ll be pretty much OK everywhere.

    If you’re female, you may or may not be able to wear a variety of things… but if you wear a dark suit, buttoned up white shirt, and black formal shoes… well, you’ll be pretty much OK everywhere.

    You may not like those clothes, but they are attainable and not especially exclusive. I’ve known plenty of men and women who basically rotate through those same outfits day after day. They are basic, simple to describe, and accepted pretty much everywhere.

    And w/r/t sexism: Unequal enforcement is sexist. Requiring skirts or long hair is sexist. But if the place you’re working for requires conservative dress across the board (everyone don the black suits!) it may be obnoxious but doesn’t seem especially sexist.

  38. LS
    LS April 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm |

    I have a twist on the engagement ring situation and would love to hear others’ thoughts: I am a UofC 1L, but I’m from New York and lived there a long time. I want to interview for firms’ Chicago offices because my fiance is under a 6 year contract here. The automatic presumption I always got while interviewing is that I intend to return to NY. I was planning on wearing my engagement ring, because I was told by our Office of Career Services to tell firms why I want to be in Chicago. Something along the lines of “My soon to be husband matched at a 6 year program here after I came here for law school. We love it here. In fact I’m getting married across the street THIS weekend.” Our OCI is two weeks long and I am getting married on the weekend in between the two weeks (fun!). My ring is more than 1.5 but less than 2 carats, and now I’m worried it’s slightly too big for an interview at my age. Should I take off the diamond ring, just wear the plain wedding band, and claim I’m already married, and that I want to be in Chicago because my “husband” is in a 6 year program? That’ll be true the second week of OCI, at least. Is the bias against married women bad enough that I should leave off all the rings and make up some other reason for needing to be in Chicago? I don’t intend to have children for another 15 years and I have no moral problem with lying to avoid bias. Do you think I should do something else? My school’s career office just really impressed upon me that I really needed to establish a tie to Chicago. This is so much grief.

  39. Tori
    Tori April 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

    and wearing a skirt suit requires you to sacrifice your self respect? sensitive much?

    It shouldn’t be, annie, but for me, wearing a skirt to work (not as a lawyer or in a law firm) means I spend a comparatively large portion of my day fighting and defending against sexual harassment. And the whistling, the catcalls, the overtly sexual comments, the people trying to *look up* my skirt? The rational part of my brain understands that all of these actions reflect poorly on them, not me. But to the emotional part that knows I shouldn’t fucking have to put up with it? Yeah, it does a number on my sense of dignity.

  40. zuzu
    zuzu April 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

    Gee, the person I want to be taking careerwear advice from is a law student. Whether that’s Legally Fabulous, who seems not to have gotten the memo that if a federal judge is telling you it’s okay to wear pants, IT’S OKAY TO WEAR PANTS (and has been for TEN FRICKIN’ YEARS, btw) or annie, who uncritically accepts the sexist shite as part of a man’s game that we have to play because it’s a male-dominated profession.

    It shouldn’t matter if someone wears a pencil skirt, whatever that is.

    It’s the bottom half of just about any skirt suit. Which means it’s a ridiculous, made-up rule, just like many of the others are. The more specific the rule, generally the more baseless and/or variable it is. Anything to keep you guessing!

    But it should also be true that a new professional should know “there are some fools who will care if you wear a pencil skirt. Do with that what you will.” Just like a new professional should know how to give what is perceived as the “right” kind of handshake, or what are the “right” kinds of ties or haircuts.

    The problem, as I stated above, is that beyond “wear a nice, conservatively cut suit in a dark color with a plain shirt, nice shoes and understated jewelry and makeup for interviews, similar for court appearances and client meetings,” there aren’t a whole lot of universal rules. But you can’t put together a panel or a wardrobe-consulting business if that’s the only rule, so rules tend to multiply, and to vary depending on who’s putting together the panel or paying the expert.

    Since there aren’t a whole lot of variables in menswear even possible, the real business is in telling women how to dress and how not to dress. And you keep in business as a clothing consultant by throwing out arbitrary rules that nobody actually follows or cares about and pretending they’re received wisdom and are musts — and then changing those rules occasionally, so nobody knows what to follow (and you keep getting asked back to explain it to the poor fools).

    It’s rather like those modesty lectures with all the arbitrary “stumbling blocks.” Never any hard-and-fast rules with that crowd, either.

  41. Ami
    Ami April 12, 2010 at 6:09 pm |

    I ran into this when I was getting my master’s in nonprofit management. My professor (who seemed to be a dude of the old school business persuasion) gave us a hand out with tips on dealing with the media. The list of how to look as a woman dealing with the media was easily 5 times as long as the men’s.

    This was the third class. It was that day that my brain shut off to him and I decided to go through the motions. I knew that if we were so fundamentally disparate, I wasn’t going to get much from him. (I was right…his class evoked sexism over and over.) His course was required and he was the only one teaching it…and apparently it had been unchanged since 1991 (when most of this materials were dated.) So yeah, robot Ami got an A in that class, but real Ami walked away with very, very little.

    I’ve got enough of society telling me how to act, dress, think, and speak. I don’t need my formal education doing it. Just like female lawyers in Chicago don’t need their bar association doing it.

  42. zuzu
    zuzu April 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm |

    Reaching towards parity in these firms will make it a lot easier first to bring in other qualified women and then to get rid of these bullshit policies.

    That’s how the no-pants policy at my firm fell. There were only two female partners out of 13 but 9 female associates of 15, and when one of the female partners announced in an elevator full of female associates that she’d just bought a bunch of pantsuits, all the women started showing up in pants. And what could the boys do, fire us?

    and wearing a skirt suit requires you to sacrifice your self respect? sensitive much?

    Spend a 15-hour summer day pushing out a brief in a skirt and pantyhose while running around hauling boxes and copies of exhibits — and not having any other option — and get back to me on that.

  43. karak
    karak April 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm |

    When I got my first business job, my aunt told me to make sure my stomach an chest were covered, and my skirts hit the knee. As she reasoned, “men must cover their chest, stomach, and knees, and so should you.” Fair enough.

    But fuck the rest of that. Wear skirts? In the winter, where there’s 3 feet of snow outside? And now I have to shave my legs every day or every other day? And BUY pantyhose, which really adds up, because I ruin them in about 2.3 seconds, and my shoes are uncomfortable and I’m always cold in those damn skirts.

    This “advice” means that women have to spend more money and much more time than her male equivalent does to get ready for work, wearing clothing that’s often more uncomfortable. Boo, that.

  44. bellacoker
    bellacoker April 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm |

    I know that the article referenced is about what employers are expecting to see from potential employees, but interviews are also about the potential employee seeing if the employer is a good fit for them. If the employer has a enforces a draconian dress code and it pains you to comply, then the job is not going to be a good fit. There may be other reasons why you feel compelled to take the job ($$), but there is no reason not to keep looking for a work environment where you feel happy, and safe, and respected.

    Sometimes, sadly, we have to choose to shuffle in order to make our way in the world, but we sell ourselves short if we decide that shuffling is the only way.

  45. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 April 12, 2010 at 6:23 pm |

    I never gave much thought to the way attorney’s dress until I saw a judge throttle an attorney–not mine, thank goodness–because his tie was not fully exposed in court. He was wearing a sweater, a vest actually, underneath his suit, which concealed most of his tie. This attorney did something to piss off the judge, and while the judge was tearing into his ass he also mentioned his poor choice of clothes.

  46. Sam
    Sam April 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm |

    I’m not cathy, but I know that having to wear a skirt would make me lose my self-respect! It took me 3 years working in academia to finally feel comfortable enough to present as male full-time in my dress. I’m still female-bodied, and most likely always will be, but I know longer own any skirts/dresses or other clothes that I would have bought in the women’s department. After I finally started dressing and presenting as I felt comfortable, my work increased tenfold, much to the delight of my bosses. So yes, having to wear a skirt and dress in a manner so antithetical to how i feel would again start to hinder how i relate to people, which would affect my work and therefore my self-respect.

  47. Kate
    Kate April 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm |

    I don’t know if anyone will be interested in this perspective, but I’ve done mock trial for 8 years and it is ABSURD the number of judges who have told me that they have docked me points for wearing pants. And frankly, almost all of them were women. While the creepstery leers of old male judges are bad, honestly the weird/bitter/who-do-you-think-you-are-for-looking-cute-in-a-courtroom comments from women annoy me more.

    Achieving an effective courtroom demeanor is difficult enough when you have body parts that men find “distracting” and lack the deep baritone that many judges seem to consider a prereq for appearing authoritative. I wish people in the mock trial community (and, sadly, the real world) would recognize these wardrobe “rules” for what they are: sexist, demeaning, and utterly beside the point. So I’m going to fucking keep wearing my (adorable) pantsuit, and outclosing the other guy anyway. Ugh.

  48. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale April 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm |

    Uh, for plenty of people being forced to dress in skirts requires sacrificing self-respect. Hi. Not all of us are straight & feminine – even in law! Shock!

  49. zuzu
    zuzu April 12, 2010 at 6:44 pm |

    Even if you *are* straight and feminine, being forced to wear skirts is no picnic. The “forced” bit being the important bit.

  50. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale April 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm |

    [or identify as female, despite how we’re read & legally classified]

  51. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale April 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm |

    Yes, zuzu. Agreed.

  52. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm |

    And for that matter, what about trans attorneys? I suppose you’d have to start buying into binary gender coding and go all out whichever way you present?

    That really sucks. That’s actually horrendous.

  53. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 12, 2010 at 6:54 pm |

    Sorry Butch Fatale — I was expanding on your comment and didn’t see that you made the point already.

  54. jfm
    jfm April 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm |

    On why this kind of thing is worth noticing/criticizing:

    Social norms, rules, codes–these are things that don’t simply exist, a priori. It’s not as if God handed down a rule that female lawyers must dress conservatively, and that’s that. Norms are created by people and enforced by people–and they can and do change over time, when people change them. It’s extremely disingenuous to suggest that a relatively powerful institution like a Bar Association is simply reflecting pre-existing social norms by explaining how women’s appearances ought to be policed. When they say things like this, they also create and reinforce those norms. They could have hosted a panel that worked to push toward more inclusive, casual, or gender-neutral dress codes–which wouldn’t have changed anything overnight, but it would make a contribution in that direction. They could have pushed for a new dress code requiring clown suits, or bikinis. Whatever. The point is, by making statements about “appropriate dress,” they’re doing more than just describing norms. They’re helping SET the norms.

  55. Jamie J
    Jamie J April 12, 2010 at 7:17 pm |

    Oh cripes, I feel like I’m voluntarily type-casting myself as That Commenter Who Only Ever Talks About The British Legal System, but, well, at least it’s somewhat relevant here.

    I found this really interesting because here in England & Wales (Scotland does things differently, law-wise) there are some similarly troubling things. As you probably know, what you wear in court (especially in the more serious kind of criminal cases) is very circumscribed: most obviously, whether you’re a man or a woman you have to wear a funny white collar with two rectangular flappy bits, a big shapeless black gown, and an eighteenth-century-style white horsehair wig. Which goes some way to making women and men look equally odd. But there are also rules a lot like what’s described in the article, and both the rules themselves and the way they’re enforced make things disproprotionately hard for women.

    A male barrister is expected to wear, under his voluminous gown, either a three-piece suit or a two-piece with a double-breaster jacket (either way it must be dark-coloured) and similarly formal dark shoes. And that’s about it. A female barrister can wear any sort of formal-looking dark suit (whether with a not-too-short skirt or trousers – either is fine) and dark formal shoes, with minimal or no make-up and minimal or no jewellery, and her hair must be tied back and not showing under the front of her wig. Also if she’s wearing any visible top underneath her suit jacket it has to be white (there is sort of a practical reason for this, but not a very good one), whereas male barristers can get away with shirts from light pink to light blue.

    Moreover, male barristers routinely get away with wearing single-breasted two-piece suits, often with the jackets left unbuttoned (which is traditionally Not Cricket), and I’ve never heard anyone remark on it at all; but I’ve quite frequently heard other barristers, court staff, and judges criticize female barristers for breaking the various rules that apply to them. And, perhaps even more bizarrely, it’s often considered not only acceptable but positively prestigious to have a gown that’s full of tears and holes and a wig that’s falling to pieces and has turned a dirty yellow colour; and, while this in theory applies equally to men and women, it’s much easier to get away with that sort of thing if you aren’t simultaneously being expected to conform to a lot of other rules that are supposed to make you look neat and tidy and respectable.

    As to engagement rings and wedding rings, we too have a phenomenon rooted in sexism, but with the opposite result: female barristers, especially in previous decades when they were a smaller minority of the profession, have often tended to wear rings on the ring fingers of their left hands even if they aren’t engaged or married, just to discourage unwanted attention from sleazy male barristers!

    One cheerful note, though: rules of court etiquette here mean that barristers have to stay in pretty much the same place throughout any court hearing, namely sitting or standing behind a desk. Which means that the judge usually can’t see your legs or feet at all. I once beheld the glorious sight of a barrister who appeared to be dressed completely in accordance with the rules until the court adjourned for lunch, at which point she emerged from behind the desk wearing cream-coloured sheepskin boots, light grey tights, and a denim mini-skirt.

  56. ElleDee
    ElleDee April 12, 2010 at 7:19 pm |

    PrettyAmiable, didn’t you know that being trans is super unprofessional?

    Really though, if you’re in a firm that can’t handle a cis-lady in pants, it doesn’t bode well for trans folks.

  57. Jamie J
    Jamie J April 12, 2010 at 7:24 pm |

    [Sorry, ‘double-breaster’ in the third paragraph should be ‘double-breasted’.]

  58. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe April 12, 2010 at 8:01 pm |

    I honestly couldn’t tell whether those women in the article you linked to were being satirical. Some of what they said made some sense, but just as I was beginning to take them seriously I’d get to a line like, “There are a lot of married men at law firms and you do not want to tempt them.” WTF?????

  59. cathy
    cathy April 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm |

    Sailorman, it is definitly not enforced equally. For the record, dark suit, buttoned up white shirt, and polished black shoes describes what I wore perfectly fine. In fact, minus a tie (which I was told in no uncertain terms I was not to wear either) my suit was the exact same as the guys. Men, if they wear a dark suit, white shirt, dress shoes, and a plain tie, are okay everywhere. Women are fucked no matter what they wear. Butches like me are told that we are too manly and need to put on skirts and have long hair. Femmes are told that they need to not have such long hair and that their feminized clothes are inappropriate. I have seen judges berate other women for wearing ‘too much makeup’ in the same breath as they complained about me wearing none.

    Also, anyone who thinks women’s and men’s clothes are priced equally has never shopped for both. Men’s clothes are almost universally cheaper and made in sizes more representative of average male sizes. The men I speak to can’t imagine how of a group of ten women, only about two or three can go into a store and reliably find fitting clothes. As someone with uneven sizes (plus size top, not plus size bottom), it can take me days to find any matching suit at all, let alone a frill-free dark colored one. Mens shoes are far cheaper as well (I have big feet and routinely buy mens shoes and you can count on saving twenty bucks on something as simple as sneakers and the gap for dress shoes is even wider). Also, price makeup, pantihose, etc and add that on (add on even more for darker skinned women, darker make-up and pantihose are often harder to find and pricier).

  60. Tori
    Tori April 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm |

    If you’re female, you may or may not be able to wear a variety of things… but if you wear a dark suit, buttoned up white shirt, and black formal shoes… well, you’ll be pretty much OK everywhere.

    Except, um, no.

    If I wear a dark suit with pants, someone tells me I should be wearing a skirt. If I wear a dark suit with a skirt, someone tells me I dress too provocatively and should be more covered up.

    If I wear a white button-up shirt in the size that fits most of my torso, it gapes at the breasts and exposes my bra. If I wear a white button-up shirt in the size that fits my breasts, it does not fit under my suit jacket.

    And with either of these options, I hope that I have managed to find a neutral colored bra in a 30H (or maybe even a 32GG: I’ll settle) because it’s a veritable guarantee that the jacket is not going to button over my cleavage, and that portion of my white button-up shirt will be exposed.

  61. Ismone
    Ismone April 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm |


    Yeah, no. First of all, I can’t wear button-down shirts. You would be able to see my bra in the gap through the buttons, and I don’t have the fucking patience to pint them together (which also looks unprofessional.) Also, it can be very difficult to get a “conservative” “well-fitting” suit if you have a figure–my hips, broad shoulders, big chest and big band size make it really tricky to get something I don’t either swim in or that doesn’t show off the fact that, yes, I do have a small waist, big hips and big boobs. It is really difficult to buy shirts with high necklines that don’t make me look like a grandma.

    And seconded about being considered too butch–I’ve gotten that too. There is simply no winning. Some people think I’m inappropriate if I look “too” femmey, others think I don’t look femmey enough–and that is in the same outfit on the same day. Ditto for looking unfeminine/hiding my figure, then you get called “mannish,” “slobby,” or people say things about your sexual orientation that they mean to be insulting.

    So, I’m sorry, you really don’t know what the hell you are talking about. It’s hard enough for me to find a suit that fits my figure, let alone one that also has a skirt x long and a waist that isn’t too nipped in blah blah.

  62. Gayle Force
    Gayle Force April 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm |

    I haven’t read the comments here yet but, yeah, that shit starts in law school:

  63. Seattle Winter
    Seattle Winter April 12, 2010 at 9:52 pm |

    I call BS. I am proud to be a gender-nonconforming, queer, spiky fire-engine red hair-having, jeans-wearing (2L) future public defender. As for my wedding ring? I fought and continue to fight with all of my heart and soul just for the right to put it on, so you bet your ass I won’t be taking it off for anyone else’s benefit.

    No no. I will show up to work every day in an office where people come to work each day because they love their job, not because they need to pay off their Barney’s charge card; the one suit I own will hang from my office door for when I need it for court.

    And screw the haters. We’re changing the world.

  64. DAS
    DAS April 12, 2010 at 10:10 pm |

    ipens … a polo shirt, etc., would not be considered formal wear, at least as I understand the term. What you describe is called, AFAIK “smart casual”. As an academic, I am expected to wear “smart casual” (if even that), but I know in many “professional” environments you still have to wear “international business-wear”, which is, for men, pretty straightforward (and hence not full of landmines). The sexism involved here, IMHO, is not in that panels cover all these landmines with women and then just say to men “wear a dark suit, light shirt and conservative tie” but that women aren’t simply allowed the same, simple dress code (pants-suit with a tie) but rather have to navigate landmines because international business-wear isn’t so well defined for women.

    In fact the sexist conceit is that men are supposed to dress in an interchangable manner while women are supposed to each be dressed differently. It works for truly formal wear (all men in tuxes) but not in a business environment: if society expects men to just wear a suit they should allow/expect women to dress the same — not expect all women to dress uniquely, requiring a great diversity of women’s clothing choices, and then get huffy when women choose “wrong”. But I guess the whole point here is to just make women miserable with a “you can’t win” situation.

    As to the issue someone else raised about the cost of women’s vs. men’s clothes, in my experience (shopping with girlfriends and now with my wife), women’s clothing is actually cheaper than men’s clothing (at least on a per outfit basis). It’s just that men’s clothing lasts whereas women are expected socially to constantly be changing their clothes, so hence women’s clothing is not built to last so long. A man might have 5 suits and 10 shirts, which he will mix and match for years, but a woman would be expected to have twice as many suits and who knows how many blouses. So the clothing cost for women is indeed more. But I would shop somewhere else if you are paying for a particular item of women’s clothing as much as you pay for a similar men’s clothing item … unless that woman’s clothing item is as robust as the similar men’s item.

  65. evil fizz
    evil fizz April 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm |

    I’m a JAG attorney, so we have a uniform regulation. Even with that, there’s plenty of policing regarding makeup, nail polish, or anything that makes a nod at being too femme. Of course, cut your hair too short and refuse to wear anything beyond chapstick, and that’s like you’re pretending to be one of the guys which is squarely in lead balloon land.

    Also, I have to ask, is there something going on with New York lawyers that Law and Order is using as a cue when dressing their female attorneys? The newest dark-haired ADA doesn’t even wear suits to court and she’s frequently in something colorful. What’s up with that?

  66. zuzu
    zuzu April 12, 2010 at 10:40 pm |

    No no. I will show up to work every day in an office where people come to work each day because they love their job, not because they need to pay off their Barney’s charge card

    You’re a 2L?

    Just wait until you get your first student loan statement. Hahahahaha.

  67. Something Something
    Something Something April 12, 2010 at 11:50 pm |

    I don’t want to come across as unsympathetic here, because I totes agree that how women’s clothing is policed can be awful.

    But one thing I can’t grasp is why women with “non-standard” or “difficult” body types can’t follow the same advice (order) that is given to guys w/r/t buying clothes for the workplace, i.e. get them tailored to fit properly?

    Is it that even if they do that, they’re still screwed because now they’re “showing their body shape”?

  68. bellareve
    bellareve April 12, 2010 at 11:50 pm |

    ugh, so much of this is policing not only gender but also class and body size.

  69. Butch Fatale
    Butch Fatale April 12, 2010 at 11:51 pm |

    Seattle Winter, where are you that you’re so sure you’ll get a PD job straight out of law school? Me and about 50 of my classmates would like to move there. From all I hear, the class of 2011 is going to have a pretty rough time getting work – even more so than the classes of 2009 and 2010. So I’m not sure why you’re telling a bunch of current attorneys that they’re doing it wrong, and that they’re materialistic and shallow for having jobs where they have to wear suits. Personally, I also hope to not need a suit outside of court, but I have to say I don’t have your confidence that the market is going to be on my side.

  70. Henry
    Henry April 12, 2010 at 11:52 pm |

    I couldn’t believe the laundry list they spewed at the women. You can make it real simple:

    men – suit
    women – suit (pants or skirt their option)

    Does anyone really look at pantyhose, hair or earings anymore – I don’t even think these things convey anything at all other than oh those earings look nice. Sorry, I’m just not getting a hard-on for the jewelry choices of professional women, or the type of suit or skirt they wear.

    Obviously there is an extreme that could be reached if there were no dress code, but that would have to cross into male/female stripperdom for me to even notice – if a man chose to wear a muscle shirt under their suit jacket, I’m sure that would be inappropriate and would detract from whatever they were trying to say — the Chicago folks have put the line so far on the conservative side that they have created a mile long list of don’ts…maybe they have so many friggin don’ts because its not 1950 anymore and the clothes most people normally wear all now fall outside their mindset.

  71. Sky
    Sky April 13, 2010 at 1:04 am |

    And what, pray tell, are genderqueer lawyers supposed to wear?

    Oh wait, I forgot, I’m allowed to be fired for my gender in most parts of the country. Never mind.

  72. Grey
    Grey April 13, 2010 at 1:59 am |

    Something Something – tailoring is, well, not free nor cheap. And it can sometimes destroy clothes. I’ve had a few unfortunate experiences in that area…it’s frustrating when you have to add 10% or more to every outfit in cost. Modern clothes, especially women’s clothes, no longer have the same style of seams and allowances they did in yesteryear – those ‘odd’ attributes of vintage clothing are what meant women in those times could alter them with relative ease.

    I’m slender, muscled, and large busted (with a biggish rear as well, frankly, and a small waist) – I work out a lot. As a result, anything that is tailored on me looks as though I am deliberately emphasizing an hourglass figure. I was fairly mortified at work recently to have someone accuse me of trying to affect a ‘naughty school girl look’. A fitted (not tight) skirt to the knees and a fitted (not tight!) blouse combined with glasses evidently meant I was trying to sex things up. It was so depressing, because I’d just found a brand that would fit me too. Back to a smock…

  73. evil fizz
    evil fizz April 13, 2010 at 2:32 am |

    But one thing I can’t grasp is why women with “non-standard” or “difficult” body types can’t follow the same advice (order) that is given to guys w/r/t buying clothes for the workplace, i.e. get them tailored to fit properly?

    Because “fit properly” is a frequently a euphemism for “conform to a largely arbitrary standard that satisfies all onlookers at all times”. And it usually means that women with “large” breasts, “broad” hips, or a “big”* butt are inevitably not “dressed appropriately”. No amount of tailoring is going to make someone who’s inherently puerile about breasts respond appropriately to a woman with a large chest, regardless of whether it’s covered with a suit jacket or not.

    *random use of quotes because those terms are arbitrary too.

  74. jenny
    jenny April 13, 2010 at 2:48 am |

    the problem is almost anything a woman wears can be considered “slutty”. Wearing a tweedy knee length skirt with spectacles? You’re obviously working the hot librarian look because you’re a nasty milf-y slutbag trying to inflame mens’ passions. Wheras a man would have to indulge in a neon flashing codpiece to provoke the same reaction (and even them he’d probably be accused of being gay, not slutty).

    I’m English and if I ever end up in court (I’m
    a solicitor not a barrister so it isn’t likely) I will certainly not conform to any crappy ‘rules’ on discreet jewelry. I’m
    a big girl; I do big necklaces. End of. Also, I wear trousers to interviews on purpose because of the pathetic discrimination against them which persists. I’m a great candidate. Even if I don’t get the job they will be forced to see a great candidate NOT IN A SKIRT and hopefully that will have some impact, somewhere.

  75. timothynakayama
    timothynakayama April 13, 2010 at 2:52 am |

    “ 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. ”

    When it comes to dress codes, I dislike the underlying assumption that some people always seem to have that men get off without much of a warning. OF COURSE men get off with less lecturing at dress code meetings/lectures/symposiums/orientation….because while a lot of options may begin with “Sure you can wear this, but only if you wear it like this” for women, most of those options are a big, resounding “NO, you cant” for men anyway.

    I mean just going by what’s on this thread alone (and common sense alone), we can construct a “Can I wear this?” for women and men and we can already see exactly why men’s dress code advice at such meetings are usually short, compared to women.

    1. LONG HAIR – Sure, but not too long, and don’t tie it up and try to keep it out of the way. Not too short either.
    2. LONG NAILS – Sure, but make sure they’re manicured and buffed and well-taken care of
    3. EAR RINGS – Sure, but make sure there are not hoops or huge or distracting.
    4. JEWELLERY – Sure, but make sure they are tasteful and classy and not whore-ish.
    5. PANTS/SKIRTS – Sure, but it’s preferable to wear Skirts. More professional
    6. OPEN-TOED SHOES – Sure, but it’s generally better to wear close toed shoes. More professional.
    7. NAIL POLISH – Sure, but try not to wear dark colours.
    8. MAKE-UP – Sure, but try not to put it on too thick.
    9. LIGHT COLOURED SUITS – Sure, but try to wear darker coloured suits when meeting clients.
    10. CLOTHES THAT EXPOSE MY ARMS, ELBOWS OR CLEAVAGE – Sure, but make sure no one sees any tramp stamps, and try not to show too much cleavage, as it’s unprofessional.

    1. LONG HAIR – No.
    2. LONG NAILS – No.
    3. EAR RINGS – No.
    4. JEWELLERY – No.
    5. PANTS/SKIRTS – No. Just Pants. No Skirts.
    6. OPEN-TOED SHOES – No.
    7. NAIL POLISH – No.
    8. MAKE-UP – No.

    And I also dislike the underlying assumption that, for some reason, Men should feel LUCKY and GRATEFUL, for having LESS Clothing options at work (and truthfully, everywhere as well).

    Sure, Men have less chances for screwing up, but isn’t that the price women pay for having more options? It does make sense, if you have more options, you also have a higher chance to make more mistakes with your option?

    Also, has it ever occurred that Men DO like expressing their self through the way that they dress as well, but Corporate dress codes make this extremely impossible?

    For every woman complaining of the restrictions of the dress code on her clothing options, is a man who wishes he had options with his dress code in the first place.

    For every woman who complains that the world sees her body as a sexual thing, is a man who just wishes someone in his lifetime would call him/let him be sexy.

    For every woman who enjoys the praises on her lovely attire at work (or anytime else), is a man who wishes he could get maybe five nice comments on his clothes in this lifetime.

    For every woman who complains that women’s dress code make it hard/impossible for women to look powerful/authoritative, is a man who complains that men’s dress code make it hard/impossible for men to look glamorous/beautiful. (Just go through any OSCAR Award thread and you’ll see that many women (and men) mention they can’t even tell tuxedos apart)

    For every women who shakes her head and says that men don’t lose out because all the men I hang out/work with just can’t be bothered about fashion or how they dress, is a man who says the same thing about women in his life and their lack of interest in sports/videogames/monstertrucks and how this of course means ALL women are not interested in those things.

    Also, for those posters above who say that they see men wearing purple suits or pink shirts and ties while still working in the corporate world, it is highly likely in the office that those men work in, the women are allowed even greater freedom in their clothing choices.

    I have worked in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Australia….and I have never worked/seen a corporate office where the men had MORE clothing options than the women. Never. Unless things are somehow different in the United States.

    I just refuse to believe that when it comes to dress codes, Women are the ones who overwhelmingly get the short end of the stick.

    And as for the poster above who said women’s clothings are more expensive than men’s, sure, if you compare your designer brand heels with something a guy can get at PAY LESS SHOES. Or compare you designer shirt to a no-name brand a guy can get at TARGETS.

    In my experience, men’s clothing (per item) cost more, simply because they are made with more durable material. Men’s clothing are often thicker, with stronger threads and can last a while (or a lifetime if need be). Women’s clothing on the other hand, seem to be very fragile, to my hands, of course.

    But definitely, if you are talking about sheer volume/quantity, women’s clothing cost more, no doubt.

  76. Emily DB
    Emily DB April 13, 2010 at 3:18 am |


    keezee3–Men may not have rules that say ‘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 masculine,’ but on the other hand it’s taken for granted–therefore unspoken–that a man should not wear a tight, low-cut, bright, patterned, or ruffled shirt. A man who wore these things would be labelled “gay,” Othered, and therefore “sexually deviant/destructive” which is seen as equally or even more professionally/personally damaging and inappropriate than a woman who dresses as a “slut” and is therefore labelled “sexually divisive.”

  77. piny
    piny April 13, 2010 at 3:56 am |

    Sailorman, I agree with everyone else about the uniform. It isn’t that simple. If it were, I could borrow one of my dad’s suits and wear it on the street without provoking comment. You have to add makeup, accessories, details of grooming, and various double-binds around different body types. A guy can also cut off all his hair.

    There are mannerisms, too: a woman who acts too butch or too effeminate can wear whatever the hell she wants, and she will still be attacked for failing to fit into the dress code.

    And what Evil Fizz said. The problem is not that women are refusing to follow the rules. The problem is that the rules include baseline sexism. Being a cis or trans woman–or, of course, a trans or genderqueer or gender-non-conforming person–is abnormal and conspicuous. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on covering properly: you have to phrase that oddity very, very carefully, because if you fail to do so you will be offensive.

  78. Dave
    Dave April 13, 2010 at 8:47 am |

    This is just a question: other than stupid comments, what is the harm of looking “too butch” or “not feminine enough” in the field of law? How bad is the bar to career advancement for women who just say “screw it”, refuse to play the game, and dress more or less like the men?

    Is there any legal recourse (ha!) for women who go that route and are attacked? It would seem that being told you’re not dressing fem/sexy enough by someone with authority over you would be grounds for a serious harassment suit.

  79. Lucy Gillam
    Lucy Gillam April 13, 2010 at 9:09 am |

    The wedding ring thing points to something that really is quite insidious: not only are a spouse and children considered a detriment for professional women and a benefit for professional men, but they often are just that. I see this even at my community college, which has to be one of the more egalitarian and family-friendly work places I’ve ever been.

    Also, to answer above about plus-sized women, I will say this: no amount of tailoring is going to make a fitted suit look on me the way it looks on someone who doesn’t have a stomach that sticks out above and below my waistline. I have recently come to an epiphany, when I realized that no matter what I wore, I always thought some other woman’s outfit looked more tidy and put together, even if she was wearing what I wore yesterday when I had the exact same feelings about our respective outfits. My body is considered inherently less “tidy” because of its shape. The clothes don’t need to bulge in a way that people consider unattractively: I do. And that doesn’t even get into the impossibility of finding tops that show not a hint of cleavage when you’re a DD.

  80. Jadey
    Jadey April 13, 2010 at 9:13 am |

    @ Dave

    Hiring, firing, and salary decisions are subjective things. Impressions are ambiguous, but potent. My father is a labour and employment lawyer and these are exactly the kinds of cases he encounters all the time – there’s no way to “prove” why someone was fired, not hired, or not paid as much. The employer can give one reason and the employee (or prospective employee) can suspect another. Hell, my father cultivated a friendship with a female employee, brought her and her child into our family, and then, when the friendship soured, turned around and threatened her with making her unemployable in the city if she didn’t go quietly – and got away with it (we only know because she’s a close friend of *our* family now that he’s no longer part of it). He’s hardly the only one to ever do something like that, and to have such a shitty reason to do so.

    As for fighting back, people who complain or buck the trend or pursue harassment suits are not generally looked favourably upon by others (and anecdotes are useless except as illustration, because we’re not talking absolutes, but strong trends with, yes, the occasional exception). The point is that women (and especially women who do not fit in in other ways, such as being trans, or of colour, or of the “wrong” social class) are starting out from a disadvantaged position – they do not possess the necessary social capital to work the system in their favour without taking incredible risk of losing what leverage they have. Discussing and criticising as a group these practices, as this post does, is probably a much more effective way to challenge these standards than individual women acting alone without support, and risking being swept under with negative performance reviews (although I am certain that there are some people out there trying, and, hopefully, succeeding in some way).

    Some law offices may prefer women to look more butch, some may prefer women to look more feminine – some may have differing opinions within the same office and you might end up pleasing one partner to piss off another. The point is the overwhelming policing involved, no matter how a woman might want to look, it is a risk for her not to prioritize how her employers (and other people who otherwise influence her ability to work effectively) want her to look.

  81. Sarah
    Sarah April 13, 2010 at 9:43 am |

    For all those who don’t appreciate how bad the job market is for attorneys right now:

    Yes, that is a posting on the DOJ website where they are advertising four temporary, no-promise-of-permanent-hire, six-months to a year UNCOMPENSATED Special Assitant US Attorney position. They want top young attorneys with excellent academic records and judicial clerkship experience, and I can almost guarantee they’ll get them.

    The rules are stupid. The rules seem designed to make professional women look weak, be unable to run, and spend far, far more money and time on their appearance than men do. The rules make us spend ridiculous amounts of precious time contemplating if an outfit hits the narrow gap between “tramp” and “frump”.

    But anybody who thinks I’m shallow or materialistic for wanting to know about these rules – for wanting to know that the difference between having an a-line pencil skirt and a flounce skirt might be what makes or breaks me at the interview – you are in no place to judge.

  82. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 13, 2010 at 10:33 am |

    Sarah, google image search “a-line pencil skirt.”

    timothynakayama, I hesitate to address this at all, but I think rather than being an issue of choice as you insinuate in your very, very long post, the question is about body policing and what it means for women in general.

    For instance, in my last place of employment, I wore a pair of pants my superior deemed “sexy” because it fit well. (Obvi the straight men-folk in the office couldn’t focus with my cute butt accentuated). Overweight people wore tight pants and it was not a “sexy” issue and they were allowed to do so at their leisure.

    This policy screws over all the women. For me, it meant I had to go out and purchase more clothes on my salary (lower-middle class wages) that put me in debt because cost of living is so effing high in the DC area. I did not get DESIGNER shirts and skirts and pants. I shopped the sale rack at H&M and Wet Seal for their $5 and $10 clothing items. For the women who thankfully were not made aware of my situation, it meant that because they were overweight, showing off their curves meant they couldn’t be viewed as sexy by the straight men-folk in the office. What a kick in the fucking face.

    When you have a damned if you do wear this, damned if you don’t or damned if you are thin and damned if you’re not situation, then I’ll give a flying fuck.

    Oh, but at least I have the option of short sleeves.

  83. ACG
    ACG April 13, 2010 at 10:44 am |

    @timothynakayama: Yes, you’re absolutely right that things in the business world are terribly, unfairly horrible TO MEN. And we at this feminist blog will get right on that as soon as we’ve achieved gender pay equality, health-care equality, reproductive freedom, institutionalized defense against rape and domestic violence, and institutionalized protection against sexual harassment. We may be able to slot you in ahead of societal double-standards about sexuality, but I gotta tell you, the agenda’s filling up pretty quickly.

    I have to point out that it’s not just clothes – there’s really not much of anything a man can do to be labeled a slut, up to and including sexual promiscuity. For me, having boobs is enough to do it.

    And no, it’s not easy or affordable to get my clothes tailored. I’m a fairly pronounced hourglass – large-ish breasts, a little waist, and a considerable backyard. I also have a midlevel job at a state university that froze salaries after its second budget cut. Finding off-the-rack clothes in my price range is extremely difficult, because everything is sized for assless people. My choices:

    1. Buy button-down shirts that button over my breasts, which bag at the waist (right frumpy, say the superiors),
    2. Buy button-down shirts that fit at the waist and wear camisoles underneath (right casual, say the superiors), or
    3. Wear knit tops that fit at both waist and rack (terribly casual, say the superiors, and also I need to keep those breasts where no one can see them).

    I also get to buy pants that fit my butt and then safety pin them at the waist in the mornings. Why not a belt? Because it makes them paper-bag at the waist, which, the superiors say, is…

  84. Emily
    Emily April 13, 2010 at 11:03 am |

    I would just like to third the comment that not all women can wear the “standard” uniform. I NEVER wear button down shirts. I just stopped altogether. Because no matter how well it fits in the dressing room, when I wear it in real life there WILL be a moment when my bra and/or boobs are showing through the gaps between buttons. I only wear shells with suits. Women with big boobs simply cannot wear button down shirts and be confident that they will be “appropriately” covered.

  85. benvolio
    benvolio April 13, 2010 at 11:16 am |

    I noticed that SecState Clinton was rocking a suit with pants at the nuke summit. As was German Chancellor Merkel.

    I feel like that deserves a ‘so there.’

  86. Sarah
    Sarah April 13, 2010 at 11:17 am |

    @PrettyAmiable – So sorry I forgot an “or” in there, but was the snark really necessary?

  87. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 13, 2010 at 11:24 am |

    Whoa, chill your shit. It’s not snide. Google image search pictures of the skirts you’re asking about. You’re assuredly going to have a better idea of what an a-line skirt looks like if you see a picture of it rather than a qualitative description. I’m not really sure why you consider that advice snide. If it’s the take-down of the douche who posted that confused you, please just focus on the part that I clearly intended for you. I’m also not really sure why you interpreted the advice as a grammar call-out. I make lots of grammar mistakes and didn’t even notice yours.


  88. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm |

    piny 4.13.2010 at 3:56 am

    Sailorman, I agree with everyone else about the uniform. It isn’t that simple. If it were, I could borrow one of my dad’s suits and wear it on the street without provoking comment. You have to add makeup, accessories, details of grooming, and various double-binds around different body types. A guy can also cut off all his hair.

    Completely true. I wasn’t intending to suggest that it’s all about clothes; there are many other ways in which conformity is enforced which have nothing to do with the clothes one wears. Hair is an excellent example. I just thought we were only discussing clothes, which–apparently–was an error on my part.

    I will say that while IMO women certainly have it far, far worse in the general “gender conformity” area, I still don’t see quite as much of a gap as you do in the specific limited area of clothes. Men’s clothes are about the same price for the same thing (a random search on brooks brothers–middle quality formalwear for both sexes–shows the prices to be pretty much identical.) And men of different shapes run into problems that are similar to the ones you describe.

    (it’s true that women certainly get completely hosed on the bust front, though; I’ve got both AAs and Fs in my family and both of them have harder times shopping. In addition to the universal variables of body size, women have an extra variable–bust–which makes it even harder to universalize clothes.)

    My point is that in the end it’s not the clothes that are the issue, it’s the extra required conformity as a result of gender that is the issue. IOW, I may have just as much difficulty as ACG finding a shirt which doesn’t either constrict or poof out or strangle me or what have you. It’s not as if I can reliably buy off the rack either. The difference is that–unlike ACG–because I’m a man, I’m “allowed” to look a bit less well dressed.

    I still do disagree about the utility of training youngsters to understand what the social codes are, and how to meet them–if they want to. I say that because so many people apparently DO NOT know, so I think they can be useful.

    Why do I think they don’t know? Because their actions make it seem so: why would someone spend a lot of money on law school and lot of time on an application and a lot of social capital on a reference, and travel to the city, only to show up to a job interview without an appearance which would enhance their ability to get hired? This seriously happens all the time. And shit: if you want to be your own person go right ahead. I did.

    But if you’re going to go to the “2500 billable hour minimum” kind of firm so that you can make the big bucks, you shouldn’t lose out on a promotion or bonus by lack of knowledge. If the named partner wants “chicks in skirts” then I think it’s better for everyone that people know that, so that they can work elsewhere, or start lining up a gender discrimination suit.

  89. Amanda in the South Bay
    Amanda in the South Bay April 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm |

    Let me add my voice to those who think all these female dress rules are a bunch of fucking bullshit.

    I’ve had plenty of legal interviews, and as a trans woman, I am very well aware of how much attention people pay to factors that have no bearing on how well one can do their job.

    I know I’ve faced discrimination for being trans from attorneys who were interviewing me, and it sucks to be discriminated against for reasons that have nothing to do with my knowledge of the law. In a similar vein, does violating any one of those chicken shit rules really have anything to do with your ability to work as a lawyer? Especially if you rarely go to court?*

    My experience of also being in the Army has taught me to be very impatient of chicken shit rules; the legal profession is full of them. Guess why I’m back in school working towards a job in a field that is the total opposite of the law?

    *I think being an uptight tightwad about what people wear to interviews (unless its really, really over the top) is a form of lookism. Something that is completely irrelevant for a job position, and not dissimilar from much of the discrimination that trans and gender variant people face in interviews. OMG, my hair is in a ponytail, I’m a complete fucking slob who can’t be trusted!!! Geez, who comes up with this shit?

  90. La BellaDonna
    La BellaDonna April 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm |

    I may have just as much difficulty as ACG finding a shirt which doesn’t either constrict or poof out or strangle me or what have you.

    Sailorman, unless you have a truly anomalous build, you are unlikely to have as much difficulty as ACG finding a shirt – whereas a LOT of women will have the same difficulty ACG has finding a shirt. If you haven’t had to shop for it, you have NO IDEA how hard it is to fit a large bust into a standard button-down, suitably jurist shirt, which doesn’t gap, and therefore means you’re a slut, or doesn’t bag, which therefore means you’re a slob. And knits, which could bypass that issue, are not permissible, because they cling to large busts – and then suddenly you’re back to being a slut – because of your body shape, not because of any action you’ve taken.

  91. Justyna
    Justyna April 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm |

    Wow. That is just horryfying. I mean these are some of the general does and don’t dresscodewise, but to see them displayed in all of their brutality is just plain scary.

  92. Donna L.
    Donna L. April 13, 2010 at 1:52 pm |

    To the person who asked what a genderqueer lawyer is supposed to do, I think the answer at most law firms, unfortunately, would be that said genderqueer lawyer is out of luck.

    Nobody at my firm had a problem (at least, not one they told me about to my face) when I transitioned.

    But you should have seen the trouble I got into for my “unprofessional appearance” when I impulsively got my ears pierced a month or so before my transition, and started coming to work with little gold studs in my ears. Specifically, “either be a man or be a woman, I don’t care, but none of this in-between stuff!” In other words, transitioning from male to female: OK; I guess we have to accept it. Presenting as a guy with earrings: not OK.

  93. Loosley Twisted
    Loosley Twisted April 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm |

    I had a job right after graduation in ’96 at an architectural firm. They were conservative and I guess I just never understood the “skirts” only rule. I watched around me and tried my best to fit in. I hadn’t worked in an office before, and no one told me any ‘rules’. Even after spending every work day in my bosses office getting bitched out over it, I still to this day don’t know what I did different then say my co-workers. It became the joke of the office. Every morning, he would walk in, (I was always there before him) and he would do a once over and nod his head in the direction of his office and expected me to follow. There were times my secondary bosses would say no, she is working on a project for me. And I would miss out on his longing bitchfest.

    I worked there 3 yrs and 10 months. A lot of times I had to work the weekends as well, and those were the only days that I was not bitched at.

    The interview my mother picked out an awesome outfit, but it was a skirt and went to my ankles. The top looked like a suit top but was part of the dress. I hated it. (on the basis of it being a skirt) otherwise I loved the deep green back ground with small floral print that gave it color. Very unusual to wear to an interview, but my mom said do it. So, I did. I was hired with in like 10 minutes into the interview for more money then I had ever made in my life.

    However, If I had to go back and do it over, I would have told him to shove it up his ass. It was not worth being the singled out female on the floor for inappropriate clothes every single day from then on out. I was the laughing stock of the floor and I hated it. But I refused to quit because I knew that’s just what he wanted.

    When my reviews came up, I was told I was combative, argumentative and antisocial. I never once argued with a single person. No one ever came up to me and confronted me on anything? Only his every day argument over my out fit. and EVERY TIME I asked him what was wrong. Point to it and tell me to change it! I mainly wore dark pants, (sometimes with hose, sometimes not) Dark turtle neck shirt with a silk shirt over it. I couldn’t wear the silk shirt without something under because it was see through. I mixed and matched my tops, sometimes just plain white oxford button downs, sometimes nice prints. Nothing that the other women in the office were not wearing. I even had 3 of the women in the office go shopping WITH ME. My parents bought me 3 sets of wardrobes in that 3 yrs, and nothing they picked out, or I picked out would please this man. (And obviously it was only HIM) no one else thought my clothes were any different then anyone else. The other architects on the floor didn’t understand it either.

    Then during the last two weeks (when I gave my notice) I wore a skirt on a fluke, I don’t know why, but I guess I just wanted to see his reaction. It was a DENIM skirt, a definite NO NO, in the conservative office. He smiled at me and said cute outfit.


    He was a skirt man, and because I refused to wear one. I was tormented everyday for 3 yrs and 10 months. I doubt I changed anything in the office either.

  94. ACG
    ACG April 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm |

    @La BellaDonna: That’s another problem women run into – If the guy next to me is wearing an unflatteringly tight shirt, he’s a guy in an unflatteringly tight shirt. If I’m wearing an unflatteringly tight shirt, it’s because I’m trying to use my bosoms to distract everyone away from my professional inadequacies and sleep my way to the top. And I’ll probably steal your husband.

  95. AK
    AK April 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm |

    Man, reading that article made me glad I work in a field involving manual labor. It’s a predominately male-dominated field (horseshoeing), but the nice thing as that most people, male or female, can’t physically handle it. I wear comfortable jeans and a loose (and long, so that while I’m bent over it doesn’t ride up) tee shirt to work. I get comments about how I’m too “little” to do the work, but I have the easy response of handing them my tools and saying, “Okay, you give it a try.” That shuts them up right quick. ;) Otherwise, I’ve never gotten comments on my appearance.

  96. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub April 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm |

    Loosely Twisted, that sounds like a nasty case of workplace bullying. I’m pretty sure that if you switched to skirts, he would have found another reason to tear you apart.

  97. octogalore
    octogalore April 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm |

    Great post, Jill! Totally agree with “It just gets silly, after a while, and becomes a way to police women’s bodies more than anything else.” I have not-so-fond memories of being called before firm management for violating the “no jeans” rule with a button-down jean skirt (below the knee) on casual day.

  98. Jennifer S.
    Jennifer S. April 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm |

    This doesn’t have anything to do with being a lawyer, but… coming from a college grad who’s just breaking into the working world, the thing that bothers me about the disparity between women’s and men’s professional clothing is that it seems to come with this assumption that women are extremely skilled at self-presentation. The code includes a very specific uniform for men, and for women it’s “… just look formal and nice.” As a woman who is not particularly adept at self-presentation, this terrifies me. Instead of being able to stick with a safe uniform, I have to utilize the social skills, aesthetics and fashion sense to pick up on the unspoken standards of what is acceptable and combine that with what looks “nice” (and what I can afford, since my experience in offices has been entirely temp jobs).

    It would just be a case of “can’t dress yourself? Tough cookies,” if this standard applied to everyone. But a guy just as fashion-blind as me could get a few boring suits and get on perfectly fine. I feel like am penalized (or have to go through a lot of effort to avoid being) for not having a set of skills that guys don’t particular need to have. For men looking professional is mostly a test of your willingness to subsume your individuality to certain norms – for women it’s a much more confusing, difficult, and time-consuming project. And if you do count looking professional as part of someone’s job, then women have to do a lot more work in that department than men.

    I’m really fortunate to be a very average sized person, too. If I had to deal with all the things the other women on this thread are talking about, I’d probably give up and become a telemarketer.

  99. Attractive Nuisance
    Attractive Nuisance April 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    I agree with your take on the discussion about appropriate attire for women in law (or in business in general). I must admit that it is mostly because you called me the smart one. But, also, I think everyone can agree that in order to be successful, it is necessary to play the game and follow these rules about appropriateness. But, the panel was pretty ridiculous, and while I wish I did not report honestly on the event, I sadly did. I guess I will just have to continue my quest to find a job where it is appropriate for everyone – men and women – to wear leather.

  100. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan April 14, 2010 at 1:59 am |

    I guess I will just have to continue my quest to find a job where it is appropriate for everyone – men and women – to wear leather.

    ME TOO.

    PETA volunteer? :D

  101. zuzu
    zuzu April 14, 2010 at 10:17 am |

    Sailorman: even if the particular items in a man’s wardrobe cost about the same as those in a woman’s wardrobe (suit/suit), and leaving aside what kind of quality you get for the money, women still have to buy more. A man can wear the same suit multiple days without comment, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s a dirty ho who didn’t sleep at home last night.

    This policy screws over all the women. For me, it meant I had to go out and purchase more clothes on my salary (lower-middle class wages) that put me in debt because cost of living is so effing high in the DC area. I did not get DESIGNER shirts and skirts and pants. I shopped the sale rack at H&M and Wet Seal for their $5 and $10 clothing items. For the women who thankfully were not made aware of my situation, it meant that because they were overweight, showing off their curves meant they couldn’t be viewed as sexy by the straight men-folk in the office. What a kick in the fucking face.

    If those other women don’t know what you’ve been told about your wardrobe, how do you know what they’ve been told about theirs? Because I can guarantee you that even if they don’t get tagged as “sexy” (and interesting that you should interpret how they dress as “showing off their curves” rather than the more probable “having severe fit issues, being overweight and not wealthy enough to run out and buy a new wardrobe and all”), they’re being judged for the way their clothes fit. Fat women will be viewed as sloppy almost no matter what they wear because their *bodies* are viewed that way. Your body may well be viewed as sexy, which is the same problem, only expressed differently.

    Also? Those fat women in your office don’t have the luxury of being able to go out to H&M and Wet Seal and finding anything for $5 or $10. They’re lucky if they can find anything at all in their price range, because plus-size shopping is so dismal.

  102. Reconstructing Law School
    Reconstructing Law School April 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm |

    Well said. I sat through a very similar panel at my law school during my first year. I’m ashamed to say that I let them get in my head, spent way to much time thinking about what to wear (or not wear), and ultimately felt terribly self conscious during summer associate interviews.

  103. Donna L.
    Donna L. April 14, 2010 at 12:10 pm |

    “A man can wear the same suit multiple days without comment, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s a dirty ho who didn’t sleep at home last night.”

    Yes! I’ve seen plenty of male lawyers wear the same suit every day for a week (or more) — of course, it could be five different suits that all look exactly the same, or, for business casual purposes, five identical button-down shirts with five identical pairs of khakis — and nobody would dream of saying anything. Not that I ever used to do that (I would alternate suits), but I could have. Since transitioning, though, I know perfectly well — even though nobody’s told me so, it’s one of those things one simply understands — that I have to wear something visibly different every day. I’d certainly never wear the same suit two days in a row. The appearance expectations of law firm culture, even if unspoken, are far greater and more burdensome for women than for men. (As well as completely contradictory, as others have pointed out, so you can theoretically be criticized no matter what decision you make.)

    I always keep my hair in a ponytail, by the way. Mostly because if I wore it down I’d have to worry about making sure it looked “styled,” and I haven’t gotten around to getting my hair cut or styled in almost a year. Hair expectations are a whole lot easier for guys, too!

  104. La Lubu
    La Lubu April 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |

    AK, I hear you. This is fairly low on my top-ten reasons I became an electrician, but it made it on there—not having to fiddly-fuck around with ridiculous, contradictory women’s clothing “rules” and performance femininity.

  105. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm |

    “If those other women don’t know what you’ve been told about your wardrobe, how do you know what they’ve been told about theirs?”

    I was thoroughly shamed by management and essentially told that I couldn’t continue wearing those clothes. I literally had to retire several articles of clothing. They did not.

    “Because I can guarantee you that even if they don’t get tagged as “sexy” (and interesting that you should interpret how they dress as “showing off their curves” rather than the more probable “having severe fit issues, being overweight and not wealthy enough to run out and buy a new wardrobe and all”), they’re being judged for the way their clothes fit.”

    Ahh, I forgot that you would have a better measure of my office situation based on my post than I would – what, with all of my experience and all. My mistake.

    Next time I will convey that these women, while overweight, were not plus-sized (and thus could and did shop at H&M, Wet Seal, and so on) that these clothes, while tight, were the kind of tight that they took pride in. You see, we talked about clothes and other frivolous things around the water cooler. After my admonishment (read: utter shaming), I did not.

    “Also? Those fat women in your office don’t have the luxury of being able to go out to H&M and Wet Seal and finding anything for $5 or $10. They’re lucky if they can find anything at all in their price range, because plus-size shopping is so dismal.”

    Really, I don’t think my management would have really considered how deep their pockets were compared to mine if they had an issue with that mode of dress. Also, every other person in my office had a dual income and no kids. (It was me and four other women). I can’t guarantee that they didn’t have other financial obligations (because I certainly did), but at least superficially, they were doing a little better than me. Fat =/ poor. Working in the same office at various weights =/ all else equal.

    I spent the whole comment saying that there’s no way to win in this situation. I wasn’t saying that I had it harder than them. For instance, no top on me could be too sexy because I am small-breasted. This is likely not true for any of those individuals.

  106. zuzu
    zuzu April 14, 2010 at 2:04 pm |

    PrettyAmiable, it’s not exactly out there to assume that people in the same work environment are making about the same amount of money. You only supplied your own salary level in your original comment.

    Also, it sounds like your problem is with management, not with the other women you work with. So why did you focus on them and what they wear/get away with/show off? If there are inequities in the enforcement of dress code, then it’s the person enforcing the dress code who’s the problem, not your coworkers. And, again, it sounds like you got chewed out behind closed doors and haven’t told your coworkers any of it despite what you talk about at the water cooler. Maybe you’re not the only one who had the same experience. Which brings it right back to management’s door.

  107. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    “Also, it sounds like your problem is with management, not with the other women you work with.”

    YES. I don’t understand how that’s been unclear. Like every commenter on this post, I’m talking about how you cannot win as a woman no matter what you wear and what you look like. I’m focusing on them to show that they, who are different from me simply by fact of NOT BEING ME, are also NOT WINNING. You see, I talked about other women because this is an issue that affects ALL women, and I assumed that a comment that just said “OMG MANAGEMENT SUCKS” would be pretty fucking obvious. Please read what I wrote and stop assuming that because I talked about women who are overweight that I’m judging them. The entire commentary started with “…the question is about body policing and what it means for women in general,” and you even quoted me as saying “This policy screws over all the women.” ALL the women. You see, while they are overweight, they are still women.

    This is not “THIN CHICK COMPLAINS THAT ITS SO EASY TO BE FAT.” This is “CHICK WHO HAPPENS TO BE THIN GIVES AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THIS LEVEL OF BODY POLICING IS DAMAGING TO ALL WOMEN IN ALL SHAPES.” If you don’t like my example because it doesn’t suit your ideals of who should be upset about body policing, then don’t read what I have to say.

  108. Abby
    Abby April 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm |

    Unbelievable, if any of you were actually at the presentation, you would have discovered that the advice provided was for three different arenas – court, an interview, and the office. There are certain things you can wear in an office that you should never wear to an interview. The bottom line of the whole presentation was about looking appropriate in each situation so that your clothes do not affect the outcome you were looking for.

  109. Gembird
    Gembird April 14, 2010 at 4:25 pm |

    This kind of stuff makes me realise how lucky I am in my current job. I work in R&D at a medical manufacturer, so our dress code is essentially “Make sure you look clean and that your hair/jewellery won’t get caught in your experiment and kill you”. Having said that, not only are we hidden away from the public, this company pretty much encourages self-expression as long as you don’t become a walking health and safety hazard. It’s a good set of rules, because our department is pretty much an even split in terms of gender and yet we all wear the same outfit- black trousers, buttoned shirt/plain t-shirt, v-neck jumper(sweater) and nerd glasses.

    I understand that in law, there are rules about what you wear to court and what counts as professional- it’s a very public profession, so it’s a given that you have to look smart. What I don’t understand is how some people think that women having a wider range of clothes to choose from makes it okay that they also have more rules. Women are perfectly capable of knowing what to wear from a dress code as simple as men have (black suit, white shirt, shiny shoes, or whatever) and the idea that needing to eliminate more choices makes us incapable of actually doing so is deeply patronising.

    Also, I feel like I came in really late and everything has already been said. I hope there’s some value in this somewhere.

  110. zuzu
    zuzu April 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm |

    Whoa, PA, ease off the caps lock. You weren’t very clear in your original comment, and your characterizations of the women involved were full of highly-charged phrasing, like “overweight” and “flaunting their curves” and so on. Your second comment went into how much more money they made than you. If you wanted to say that no one wins, you didn’t get that across very clearly, but I agree with that point.

    Abby, is it ever really appropriate for a Bar Association panel to be body-snarking about tramp stamps?

  111. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable April 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm |

    Please don’t tell me how I should react when someone says that I can’t say that these women are allowed to celebrate their shapes. “Showing off their curves” is offensive if you’re offended by these bodies. I’m not, nor have EVER indicated I am – and further think that we should celebrate ALL bodies and that the idea of offense at a body type is grossly condescending. I also was completely unaware that “overweight” was an inappropriate term. Incidentally, I actively chose not to use “fat” in my original comment because “fat” seems infinitely more loaded than “overweight.”

    And my second comment referred to your insinuation that these women would have been much worse off than I was because plus-size clothing is expensive. I replied to each of your inflammatory comments and finally lost patience because you’re being a jerk. Again, I would like to point out that my original comment was perfectly clear when I used language like “the question is about body policing and what it means for women in general” and “This policy screws over all the women” before directly segueing into describing how every woman in that office is harmed by this kind of dress dynamic. In the future, please tell me what glasses you will be reading my writing with so I can edit appropriately at the time and not have to get offended by baseless accusations.

  112. current 1L
    current 1L April 15, 2010 at 12:43 am |

    I was so glad that this site and Jezebel picked up on this ridiculous panel. Female law students seem to get this advice ad nauseum and it’s really frustrating! After a mock interview (a woman), my interviewer told me I did really well, but then proceeded to tell me that I have to be careful when dressing my body type (petite with disproportionately big boobs) because it was “distracting.” I was wearing a well-fitting black skirt suit with a well-fitting neutral undershirt!!! She even told me that I might want to look into dying my naturally blonde hair “a more conservative color.”

    And here I thought I came to law school to learn about the law.

  113. Jackie
    Jackie April 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm |

    What gets me is the nail polish advice, I know it may seem like a non-issue. However, people have different skin tones, and different nail polish colors look better with different skin tones. Like, with burgundy, I think it would look lovely on a woman with a darker skin tone, however with a woman who has a lighter skin tone people might think they look too unconservative.

  114. Matt
    Matt April 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    Being a law student, I find it quite disturbing that my chosen profession is so uncritical of itself. While I agree that the “way it is” must be dealt with in order to engage in the practice of law, I don’t think it is healthy to just accept it that way. Just because something is, doesn’t make it right.

    Moreover, I find it offensive that women should have to police their looks because married men who are colleagues/clients/partners/judges might be tempted – as though men shouldn’t be expected to control themselves, married or not. I’m a man and I’m offended by the implication that I can’t control my libido or that I’m unequivocally desirous of women who wear well fitting, fashionable clothing.

    I have been told by moot court judges to dye my hair to a more conservative color. I’m blonde. I understand that our profession requires that clients buy our services and that the more conservative character we construct, the more palatable, more serious, and safer we appear for prospective clients. But we should probably ask ourselves at what cost does this accommodation or marketing accomplish that feat. I would argue that it perpetuates a destructive idea that only certain kinds of people, looking a certain kind of way can be taken seriously or depended upon. If anyone in “serious” society should be sensitive to these concerns, why shouldn’t it be lawyers?

  115. Bethany
    Bethany May 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |

    Women cannot win in regards to their dress. Women are so unfairly scrutinized in the workplace. If a woman wears too feminine clothes she is considered slutty and not serious about work, but if she wears too masculine clothes she is oftentimes considered too butch and aggressive. It is so difficult to find the acceptable middle ground for a woman’s appearance as a professional.

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