BUT, as regards women lawyers, I say: this focus on women lawyers’ attire is driven (once again, as in so many arenas) by the need for men to control women (and yes, women will police other women for them, as in the stilletto example above). Our culture still judges women, even the most powerful women, by a completely different standard (one inferior) to men: Diane Sawyer asking Hillary Clinton if she can be both a grandmother and president (did anyone ask Dwight Eisenhower that question when he was running?), the New York Times firing Jill Abrahamson because of her “abrasive” management style (did anyone fire Abe Rosenthal for being too abrasive?).
The fact of the matter is, professional women who have spent three years and tens of thousands of dollars are smart enough to pick out their own wardrobes without help. Women usually are aware of how they look, and what effect their clothes are intended to have. To those who complain about women’s courtroom attire, I say: you may not agree with her choices, you may not like them… but unless you really think a woman did not intend to present the appearance she does (there’s a run in the back of her tights, she has chalk on the seat of her pants, she is missing a button, or her skirt is hiked up in back) then keep your thoughts to yourself. Why not focus your energy on, oh… something that matters?
I’m curious what fellow lawblrs have heard as ‘advice’ regarding their attire. I’ve heard on several occasions not to wear skirts to interviews, as it makes us appear too ‘feminine.’
So, to sum up today:
@miss-sardonic has been told by moot court judges, in recorded comments, that she should have been wearing a skirt instead of a pantsuit.
a-necessary-dream has been told women shouldn’t wear pantsuits
emmeetsworld has said that her office has a rule of skirts for court (kudos to the in-house more casual dress code). She also notes that the Hilary Clinton look (conservative skirt-suit, pumps, pearl earrings) is commonly considered a must for East-Coast interviews.
Jdandunderemployed has been told that she shouldn’t wear shirts that fall outside the dark blue/black spectrum. She also has heard stories about how women shouldn’t wear pants during moot courts. (And her story about the legal aid lawyers is great)
@theshinyinternets has been told, by a moot court judge, in lieu of constructive feedback, that she should ‘leave her hair down’ because it looked to ‘severe’ pulled back and she’s a ‘lovely girl.’ Kudos to her for not killing him dead right there.
notloblawlawblog has been told to not have her shoes too high OR too short. You know, like Goldilocks. Also, you should wear enough makeup to look like a ‘woman,’ but not so much as so men actually ‘know’ you’re wearing it.
And OP herself, heather-ilene has a great story about her Legal Research prof telling her that without a suit jacket and button-up white shirt, she couldn’t possibly be expected to be dressed for court.
Miss-Sardonic put it best, when she said: Judges and other attorneys will feel they can critique your appearance because you’re a woman, and their advice will contradict, so you really can’t win.
Ladies, I have to applaud you for the fact that you all take this crap with a grain of salt, you don’t punch the people who are trying to police your body in the face and, hopefully, you stand by your fellow ladies when they make their own wardrobe choices.
If you’ve got your own story, please share. It helps when we’re not alone in feeling how ridiculous this is. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, the sharing of stories will empower other women to stand up and not let others dictate what should be in their wardrobe.
Third week of law school my criminal law professor (a prestigious LA attorney and criminal law authority) pulled me and my friend aside and advised us of the following:
Because she thought we didn’t “look” like the rest of the students (we’re both blonde, with long hair, and are relatively stylish), things after graduation would be relatively more difficult for us. We would therefore have to try a little harder to be heard than would everyone else in the class. So as to wardrobe, these were the rules:
1. Skirt suits to court only. Never pants.
2. Pantyhose always. No exceptions.
3. Closed-toed shoes always. No sling backs. No kitten heels.
4. Skirts below the knee. Always.
5. Hair up and back for court with minimal make up for court. Always.
6. No colorful nailpolish or lipstick. Ever.
7. Only wear suits in muted colors. Learn to love grey, black, brown, and navy.
8. No bare shoulders in the office.
9. Casual Friday never means jeans.
10. In court, no flashy jewelry (especially statement pieces), brightly colored handbags or shoes, or any other unusual accessories that will unnecessarily draw attention.
This all sounded suffocating, stupid, and hateful at the time. But I listened. At first.
Then, a few years in, I felt stifled. So I decided to let a little bit of “me” out. I dyed my hair platinum. I started wearing more pink. I got playful with the nail polish and extravagant with my shoe selection. Huge mistakes.
You know what happened? People stopped listening. Just those few little changes, that I felt were necessary to “express my individualism,” were just enough to distract judges, other lawyers, my peers, and my employer enough so that I could no longer effectively get my message across to them. They weren’t listening, they were too busy looking at my hair. They stopped sending me to court.
I learned that the reason my professor gave me and my friend all those dumb rules is the same reason most female lawyers out there (and I’m sorry for saying this) dress like dumpy shlubs. Most just don’t give a fuck. So, when a female attorney comes along who looks really good, it pretty much throws everything off. The men lawyers get all distracted and the dumpy women lawyers get all irritated—either way, no one is listening. So you’ve just gotta suck it up, and try to blend in. Otherwise, they just won’t hear you.
If you look at the female lawyers who appear in front if the Supreme Court, none of them look like Ally McBeal. Law firm don’t sent the Ally McBeal types out to court, or anywhere on any type of important appearance.
Also, when a firm hires you, there going to put your bio on the firm website. Probably with a photo. Clients will check that photo out to see who is working on their case. When they come to meetings and see you, the firm will not be pleased if you have transformed yourself into Barbie (right before a big meeting with corporate bigwigs at US Bank), as I did.
I’ve been litigating in Los Angeles for a while now, I’ve seen it all. You’d think that if there was anywhere in the world that you could be a stylish, glamourous attorney, it would be here. Or, if nothing else, you’d think you could at least be a bit laid back here. Nope. Sadly, the judges here are grouchy and old, and mostly men, just like everywhere else. As are most law firm partners. And if you want them to listen to you (instead of thinking about what a stupid, disrespectful kid you are for daring to wear pants inside a courtroom), you must blend in.
BTW, all this is a million times more important if you go into any sort of big firm, corporate, insurance, or any defense type work.