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My wife’s a teacher, and on Fridays, she can sometimes wear jeans in her classroom. I never wore jeans when I was working as a research attorney, but when I went to the office, I dressed down in a polo and khaki pants. It’s a nice freedom to dress casually in these ways, but is “casualness” appropriate in the courtroom?
Denise Hoelscher, in her blog “You Don’t Have to Be a Fashion Plate, But You Do Need to Dress Professionally,” notes that a professional appearance can be the difference between attracting a client and losing one. With the lines between acceptable and casual now blurred, she offers some tips on how attorneys can strike the right balance between “overly formal and stuffy or too casual to be trusted with a serious legal matter.”
Likewise, the blog, Levo League, noted the difficulties in dressing for court when it asked, “Do female lawyers have the worst dress code?” The blog highlights a case in which a judge issued a memo about female lawyers adhering to the dress code after an attorney appeared in a sleeveless blouse.
So within the courtroom, is there a clear definition for “professional” attire? More importantly, is the definition different for men and women? And are there good reasons for keeping “casual Friday” out of the courtroom?
I don't think there are well-defined rules, especially for women, but there are certain guidelines that I follow: I always appear in a dark-colored suit and heels; I keep my blouse conservative, and keep the suit jacket on; I also make sure my hair is styled, my makeup light, and my jewelry small. I think these clothing choices impart a certain amount of decorum into the proceedings, show the judge that I'm professional and respectful, and remind people that what happens in a courtroom is important. I don't think men have to worry about nearly as many of these decisions, but mostly because their options are more limited.
I recently read an article posted on Slate.com called "Female Lawyers Who Dress Too “Sexy” Are Apparently a “Huge Problem” in the Courtroom." The part I found most interesting was the fact that a 'pantsuit shocked the profession.' While in law school, I was advised a 'skirt suit' was the proper courtroom attire for females, but pantsuits were considered appropriate in an office setting; although, I am not sure if the difference for dress code varies that greatly between men and women. In my experience, it seems like dress code is somewhat of a subjective matter unless a specific policy is in place.
The Slate.com article referenced above - www.slate.com/.../female_lawyers_still_must_dress_conservatively_to_impress_judges.html