Why the Legal Profession Is Cracking Down on How Women Lawyers Dress.


Recently, L.A.’s Loyola Law School’s externship director sent out a memo to its student body detailing what constitutes appropriate behavior and dress for students working outside school for class credit. The memo included this line, singling out women: “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…” Legal industry watch-blog Above the Law notes that the memo didn’t include anything about men’s dress code.

“No, you don’t need to mention that cleavage and stiletto heels are inappropriate office wear in a widely disseminated public memo, but you just did,” writes Above the Law blogger Staci Zaretsky. “We’d love to know how many complaints were received that this information needed to be presented to students in such an incredibly condescending way.” (Emphasis mine.)

Turns out, lecturing women lawyers about how they dress has become kind of a thing these days. A Slate article points out there have been plenty of recent examples where women attorneys have been singled out for perceived sartorial infractions:

· Last year one judge in Tennessee wrote a rule for women lawyers appearing in his court: “I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent.”

· In 2010, a judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Illinois said: “You don’t dress in court as if it’s Saturday night and you’re going out to a party.”

· A judge in the Eastern Division of New York said: “The color pink, no. Hoop earrings—I have seen those. And they looked great, actually.”

· And in 2010, the Chicago Bar Association held an event called the “What Not to Wear Fashion Show” where, according to Slate, they “convened a group of judges, law professors, and law students to nitpick (mostly) female courtroom fashions as amateur models sashayed down the runway.”

While I’m all for professionally appropriate dressing, I’m also having a hard time believing that women attorneys are showing up in court wearing “Saturday night” cocktail dresses or ridiculously inappropriate apparel. Slate chalks up this spate of lecturing women lawyers to the prevalence of older male judges on the bench in most courts—and the broader fashion choices women have at their disposal, in general. There are also fewer women in leadership positions at top law firms for more junior associates to look up to—”Only 4 percent of the top 200 law firms in the U.S. have female managing partners,” cites the article.

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