Ladies, are you really, truly that clueless about what’s appropriate to wear to the office or the courtroom? I mean, are you flashing way too much skin?
Personally, I haven’t detected a sexpot epidemic in the legal profession, but lately there’s been a bunch of articles about this issue. For example, Loyola Law School’s externship director issued this memo:
I really don’t need to mention that cleavage and stiletto heels are not appropriate office wear (outside of ridiculous lawyer TV shows), do I? Yet I’m getting complaints from supervisors.
The memo continues:
The legal community is small in L.A. and judges [and] lawyers who have unprofessional experiences with externs TALK freely amongst themselves about the experiences. It can be embarrassing.
Your behavior in the field will create an impression and reflect vicariously on the quality of Loyola Law School and its students.
Above the Law’s Staci Zaretsky, who first reported on the memo, takes issue with the condescending tone of memo. She writes: “How many times do women in the law need to be told not to dress like streetwalkers?”
Over at Slate, Amanda Hess puts the Loyola memo in historical context, noting that fashion trends in the legal sector move slowly. Pantsuits, she notes, wereconsidered taboo in the courtroom not that long ago. “While men have a fairly standard uniform, women are forced to change outfits depending on the tastes of the presiding judge,” Hess writes. And most judges, she adds, are older men.
And what do male judges think? For better or worse, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska gives us the inside scoop. In his blog Hercules and the Umpire , the judge shares this anecdote:
Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.
Needless to say, the judge has been getting slammed for his strange (kinky?) comments (the ABA blog offers a good roundup). Despite calling himself a “dirty old man” in his blog post, Kopf insists he’s trying to give some needed wardrobe advice to female lawyers, reminding them of these three golden rules:
1. You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.
2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.
3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.
Arguably, both the judge and the Loyola memo are just telling women how the world really works—though the tone in both seems scolding—and, in the case of the judge, downright salacious.
Which leads me to believe that it might be the beholder’s problems—particularly those “dirty old men” who seem to lose it every time a pretty dish walks by. And if that’s the case, let them die happy!
Seriously, I can’t recall many female lawyers—especially those who go to court—dress in ways that I’d call titillating. (Of course, I’m in New York, while the standards in Southern California and Nebraska might be different.)
So let me ask you this: Are women lawyers dressed way too sexily these days? Or is there just an unfounded (sexist) presumption that shapely women are sartorial bimbos?
Related post: Is Cleavage the New Power Tie?
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