Volume 12, no. 1
Clad with Style
By jennifer j. rose
Only a generation ago, lawyers dressed themselves all the way from navy blue to brown, clad only slightly more distinctively than judges. The only acceptable symbols of distinction were the old school tie and the class ring. Some of us are old enough to remember when courtroom arbiters forbade women from wearing pants in court. As women entered the profession in greater numbers, the stage for change was set. Three decades ago, the “dress for success” movement marked an attempt to create a sort of dress code lasting only until secretaries picked up on the trend. What you wear defines who you are and what you do, but it’s important for lawyers to create a signature look.
My years in the profession started out with gypsy and upscale hippie garb, moved onto the Nancy Reagan red and yellow power ties of the 80s, the trademark pearl chokers of the 90s, to the “anything goes as long as it’s black” style of the new century. If there was any constant, it was that I violated the dress code for lawyers. It was as if my motto was “The tackier, the better.” I’m not going to wear one of those power suits, and you can’t make me.
I took my sartorial cues from a New York City divorce lawyer a generation superior to me who could easily pass for a Times Square hooker. Respected in the profession, enough to be invited to speak at bar programs, one time she shared her perspectives on lawyerly attire with me. “Wear what makes you feel happy and successful, no matter what it is,” she said. I never failed to think of that lawyer when I decided to wear red, spaghetti straps, spike heels or even a rebozo to court. And I never failed to remember an older lawyer who told me that she could remember a time when women lawyers wore white gloves to a deposition.
You’ve known those lawyers whose entire wardrobe looks as if it had been stashed in the car trunk for a season, indestructible polyester only a cut away from a leisure suit. Maybe that’s the right look for them. I just don’t want to be one of them, that’s all.
What is important is that you create your own style, whether it’s simply wearing bright silk scarves, yellow ties, red shoes, Hawaiian shirts, the Lands’ End look, or an earring. While comfort’s always important, consider the impact of your look upon your clients. Do they seem to like and respect what you wear? What does your attire say about you as a lawyer? Remember, one of the best things about being a solo or small firm lawyer is that you get to make the rules.
jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, follows her own dress code in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.