Today, we discuss the dress. But, in the spirit of Twitter and short blog posts, we’re going to save time and only talk about what WOMEN should wear to court. We cannot and will not talk about what men wear into court, except briefly to affirm you’re dressed perfectly! Thus, dear men, your ugly neckties are safe. In fact, they just accentuate your personality, which is totally cool, because, you know, you’re a dude.
According to a recent Twitter war, the biggest threat to the judicial system is what women wear. As an example, one of our colleagues tells the story of a woman being sworn in before the Supreme Court. One of the justices (who shall remain nameless), actually sent the woman home, because her skirt was “too short.” Because, as you know, too short a skirt gets in the way of justice.
Disparity between focus on men’s clothing and women’s clothing runs rampant on advice sites. Here’s our best summary of advice we’ve gathered on the internet. We’ll omit obvious stuff like “don’t wear shorts.”
Men: Wear a suit. No crazy ties. Oh, and shoes, too. Crazy socks are probably fine and will make you seem more approachable. Juries like that. Thanks.
Women: Skirt should be near the knee. Don’t wear open-toed shoes. Judges hate that. Don’t wear flats. Don’t wear spiky heels. Oh, also, your heels should be flawless. And don’t wear anything too flashy. Pantyhose? Probably you should, but make sure there are no holes (bring an extra pair or two in your bag, just in case). And they should be nude-colored. Except when they’re not. But definitely not tights. Juries hate that.
*checks notes and flips page*
Q: Can you wear a lighter color, say light blue?
A: No, wear black or blue so you look like your male colleagues and don’t stand out.
Q: What do you wear if it is cold out that’s professional?
A: Don’t worry! You can wear slacks while you commute and then change into a skirt in the bathroom before anyone sees you.
Q: What if what I’m wearing is a bit form-fitting?
A: Heavens! Are you even attempting to be professional???
Don’t wear anything too strappy (this applies to shoes too, see above). Or too sheer. Not too dark, but nothing light. Nothing flashy, lest the jury should be distracted from your male colleagues’ arguments. Where were we? Yes… not flashy, but not plain. Not “new” but not outdated, dark but not too dark. You know — feminine. Is that so hard?
Q: What about a pantsuit?
A: Have you been reading anything we’ve said so far???? Remember: be feminine. Pants aren’t feminine, as everyone knows.
If you are a woman seeking advice about how to dress in court, there is tons of it out there. It’s like a whole industry is obsessed with what women wear. And that comes with consequences.
One of the consequences is that there is heightened fixation regarding how a female lawyer is supposed to look. Often, the answer is: Like a man. Not just because of wardrobe, but because of gender-biased assumptions and implicit biases. That extends to the highest ranks of the legal profession. “You don’t look like a judge,” a recently penned post states a common remark that many female judges on Twitter and beyond have received — repeatedly. And it’s not just judges. Attorneys, too, indeed senior counsel, have been mistaken for paralegals and interns. They are too young or too pretty or too … something. (Read: Too female). They just don’t look like a lawyer or a judge. And the industry certainly knows what lawyers look like.
And that is why the focus on female fashion has got to stop. The reason that women don’t seem to “conform” to what a lawyer “looks like” is because the stereotype of a lawyer is a man. Perhaps if there were more focus on that issue, then the clothing issue would be less of an obsession. Or, at the very least, we would be being honest about what we’re arguing about in the first place. No one — well, almost no one — wants to admit that they don’t think women can or should be lawyers. So, instead, our colleagues argue and pontificate about how, if lady lawyers would just put some effort into looking like lawyers, they wouldn’t be asked to make the coffee in the board room or be asked for their bar card by the bailiff. Or the Court, as has happened to one of our writers (just three guesses which one, and the first two don’t count).
As an example of things that ought to be the focus of our attention, studies show that women do not enter the law on equal footing. And, no matter how brilliant they are and how hard they work, there is a glass ceiling that bars them from having what their male counterparts have. Men are disproportionately equity partners. Men make more money than women lawyers, on average. Using wardrobe as a measurement of what it means to “look like a lawyer” is just another way of justifying the gender bias inherent in the legal profession. So let’s talk about that — how lady lawyers are treated — rather than what they wear.
In other words, we agree with Texas Supreme Court Justice Guzman’s tweet. “Women should wear what they want. Period. I like dresses and skirts. But I don’t want anyone suggesting that they are what I MUST wear.” And, when all else fails, be like RBG.
LadyLawyerDiaries (Twitter: @LadyLawyerDiary) is a forum run by lady lawyers for lady lawyers and their male allies. The handle and corresponding hashtag (#LadyLawyerDiaries) celebrates and promotes women in the law while shining a spotlight on their successes and war stories. Please follow them on Twitter and lend your voice to the conversation.
LawProfBlawg is an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school. You can see more of his musings here. He is way funnier on social media, he claims. Please follow him on Twitter (@lawprofblawg) or Facebook. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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