Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wear to Work: "Appropriate Attire"

Recently, there was controversy about the women's dress code at the House of Representatives. Specifically, multiple women journalists had been barred from parts of the building for wearing sleeveless dresses. Apparently, the text of the rule left some room for interpretation, providing for "traditional coat and tie" for men, while providing only for "appropriate attire" for women. After several congresswomen spoke up about what was, in their view, an archaic interpretation of "appropriate attire" or "appropriate business attire" to exclude sleeveless business casual attire, change is promised

This is an interesting question for me, because, well, even as I loathe "full dress" business formal with all of my being, I nonetheless believe in its importance for certain occasions, particularly court and job interviews. My natural tendency is to push the business casual boundaries towards the casual as much as possible for any given workplace. Nonetheless, I'd still be shocked - shocked! - if I saw anyone appearing for an interview with me or before a court in "problem" attire (peep-toe shoes, loud colored shoes, etc.).

Of course, congresswomen themselves are absolutely the most qualified and the most vested with the authority to make decisions about what is appropriate in their workplace! Furthermore, the expectations for journalists who happen to be conducting interviews or otherwise working in the building should absolutely not be the same as, say, for someone speaking on the House floor. If one is to draw an analogy to the courtroom, of course the attorney likely should be in a suit (they may not need to be, but a failure to don one, of the right general color and formality level could cause a jury or a judge to react poorly), but there's no such expectation for members of the jury, or for witnesses, or for people observing the proceedings, including journalists. Absolute formality in business clothing has its place, but a somewhat limited and specific place, only for people in certain roles. 

It's not too surprising, now that I've been in the field for quite some time, to find that expectations for women's business formal dress are generally more conservative for lawyers than in other business fields. The bit about Supreme Court dress codes is particularly interesting (page 3 of the linked article). Everyone, men and women, was wearing rather archaic "morning dress" until quite recently, apparently. More recently, I've definitely heard that at least one Supreme Court justice, even in the last six or seven years, will still criticize women for wearing suits of any color other than black. Apparently, the propriety of pantsuits is also not universally accepted nationwide, though I've been lucky enough that I've never needed to work anywhere where that's really a thing. (I prefer skirt suits, but I'd resent a system in which it wasn't optional.)

As for me, well, thanks to a recent job offer after a long, long interview season, I may be becoming part of that dramatically high attrition rate statistic (also see piece from 2006) for minority women in biglaw. I'm possibly destined never to be back after having worked in biglaw for a little less than a year before my clerkship. It's incredibly exciting, though not set in stone just yet! One side effect of the possible change will be a need to buy more suits and expand my collection of more formal work clothing. Back in biglaw I'd often have several days, perhaps even several weeks on end where I wouldn't expect to see or speak face-to-face with anyone but my officemate and other junior associates, but that's looking to change. More client contact and more court proceedings or important proceedings may be in my future. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Moving in NYC

Moving is my least favorite chore, bar none. Now that I've done it three times, I have enough experience to offer a few tips on in-NYC moves. I've moved between buildings in Manhattan twice, and, a few weeks ago, I moved between two units in my building. Given how much things cost, how most NYC residents don't have cars and don't know anyone with one, etc. etc., general best practices for cost-conscious moving in the city are likely a little different than elsewhere. 

One note: moving is an area in which I'm a bad minimalist. Because of the realities of how expensive it is to move and store things here, it can offer be better to throw things out and replace them later than to keep them. While I'm not especially prone to frugality while moving (convenience and not needing to lift my furniture myself wins out every time, I've always used professional movers and tipped well), frugality always beats minimalism for me when moving. Back when I left student housing, I was at least able to give away much of what I wasn't keeping, which was nice for the recipients, the planet, and also for me because I didn't have to drag things out to the curb. 

Also, this helpful post is generally accurate for the details that I can corroborate and seems to be quite useful as another data point on this topic. With that, here are my tips for moving in NYC.

1. Just say no to the storage unit rental. This isn't a concern in all moves, but it was a possibility when I briefly moved out-of-state to study for the bar exam between graduation and starting work. Normally, a NYC-dweller would impose on the kindness of friends and store things in their apartments, but my friends were all doing similar moves, so that was out. K was working and able to store some things, but he lived in a studio furnished to near-capacity, and I didn't want to crowd him in his own place. I didn't want to keep much, just the objects pictured above and an Ikea Hemnes dresser and nightstand, but I worried the dresser wouldn't fit. 

As it turns out, even a small storage unit for three months cost more than the replacement cost of the dresser and nightstand, and that was before factoring in the money I'd inevitably need to spend transporting everything to and from the storage unit. Most frugal types agree that storage units are a giant waste of money. The dresser, nightstand, and everything else ended up fitting comfortably in K's studio, so that worked out. 

2. Do what you can by yourself. This is regardless of whether one is hiring movers. Generally, moving fees correlate to how long a move will take, so if you've packed everything yourself, and disassembled overly bulky furniture, that will keep costs down. It's fine, in my experience, to keep bare-bones bedframes (like this) and most other furniture assembled, but fancier beds may need disassembling. K and I try to move ultra-fragile items that require special handling, i.e. the television, ourselves, often with the help of his parents and their car, so the movers can work more quickly. 

3. Hire movers, probably, and comparison shop. For myself and my NYC-based friends, there's no way to avoid hiring professional movers. No one is comfortable with driving in the city, certainly not enough to drive a rented Uhaul. It's really far too big an imposition on our friends to have them spend hours on a weekend helping with a move anyway, and we would never ask. Movers are the way to go.

Finding and hiring the right movers can, however, be much easier said than done, especially for a fair price. That author I linked was quoted a shocking range of prices for her move, from a very fair $418 from one company for moving one person's worth of items (roughly equivalent to a studio apartment's worth?) into a high-floor walkup, a roughly two-hour job, to $730 elsewhere, and then $900 from a company that apparently made the slightly preposterous claim that it's normal to spend a month's rent on a move (definitely not!). All for the same job! Plus, Yelp reviews don't always seem that trustworthy or reliable

I generally never call around to find movers because I mostly relied on Unpakt to comparison shop. I felt very comfortable using Unpakt because I could see a range of rates from different companies and lock in a fixed rate, rather than running the risk of the bill being based on unpredictable factors affecting how long the move takes (i.e., traffic), or that a moving company would suddenly impose surprise extra fees. The downside is the need to book very early to lock in the fair, but still slightly inflated rates I got. Unpakt's pricing algorithm was also completely unable to give me a fair price for my most recent same-building move ($550 was the best quote for a move that ultimately cost $240). I generally was paying a  premium on Unpakt, probably something like $50-$75 extra on each of my two small, elevator-building moves, compared to if I'd shopped around more. (I imagine the Unpakt premium would increase with larger, more complicated moves.) 

  • Move 1: $282 before tip, very small move, two elevator buildings, total time 1.25 hours. This was for the boxes, two suitcases, that dresser, and the nightstand. I probably overpaid for this, and I booked a month and a half early, but keep in mind that most movers require paying for a two-hour commitment even if a move takes less, so this also wasn't that overpriced. (I'd be surprised to be able to hire a company to come out for much less than $240.) 
  • Move 2: $430 before tip, fairly typical studio apartment move, two elevator buildings, total time 2.25 hours. I booked a month ahead. I'd have expected to pay maybe $360 for this move before tip if I had comparison shopped. Incidentally, the moving company proactively arranged for a partial refund because we ended up having fewer objects than we listed when we booked, which was a pleasant surprise. This move was originally $450
  • Move 3: $240 before tip, same-building one-bedroom apartment move, elevator building, total time 45 minutes. This was my first time booking a move without Unpakt. It's very possible that I'd have gotten a better rate if I shopped around more, for a company willing to forego a two-hour minimum (the $120/hour rate for movers is likely one of the lower rates out there), but I had been averse to looking more because the first company I called quoted me $700, making $240 feel like a steal. Also, I think it's fair to require paying for two hours, given that movers need to drive in to Manhattan with a truck so that they can bring dollies and moving blankets. 

Also, please do tip your movers well, as they're performing a difficult and important service. I strongly believe there's a moral obligation to tip well in this context. All of my tips have worked out to ~$30-35/person on the crew for fairly quick, small-ish, elevator-building moves. This seems a reasonable and somewhat generous rate (look at the most recent post from a few months ago, not the ones from five years ago). I would expect to tip more if I was moving to or from a walkup.

4. Ecletic storage solutions are often necessary, and may need to be replaced in the next apartment. I've been lucky enough that my apartment kitchens have always had reasonable cabinet and counter space until just now. My current apartment has an extremely illogical lack of cabinets, as you see above.

Space may be extremely limited, so it's not unusual to need something like a kitchen cart with a wooden top to create counter space for food prep or a (somewhat unattractive) set of wire shelves to compensate for a lack of cabinets. Spices, dry goods, etc. may all end up out in the open. Illustrative examples of common storage solutions are below, though in actual practice, I think these things should be fairly easy to find on Craigslist and the like, as most any apartment presents unique challenges on the kitchen storage front. These items are also quite expensive at retail!

As for K and I, we opted for the most frugal option we could find to solve our kitchen cabinet problem, using interlocking stackable wire shelves (different size online). We also got a sliding drawer mesh organizer for spices on our counter, but alas, we somewhat resent how much it cost. (Storage items are so pricey, and generally cheaply made.) These items were, at least, on the frugal end of what was available, and potentially versatile enough for future apartments. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Reading: Rising Above

Given the recent social and political climate, here's a quick disclaimer. Today's post absolutely does not deny the importance of standing up and speaking out bluntly regarding truths that those in disagreement may find harsh or alienating. The role models I am describing do not, by any stretch of the imagination, shy away from arguing things that make others uncomfortable. See, e.g., Justice Ginsburg's Shelby County v. Holder dissent (starting page 32), Justice Sotomayor's Schuette dissent (starting page 51), and Justice Sotomayor's Trinity Lutheran dissent (starting page 27). Also, as she notes in her memoir, Justice Sotomayor once reported a law firm when an attorney, during a recruiting dinner, said that she could only have gotten into Yale because of affirmative action. Assuming law school then was anything like law school now, that's a highly scary thing to do. My role models "rock the boat" when needed. My point here is solely about conduct within the narrow confines of the workplace, in contexts where it is necessary to get things done.*

I've noticed that one thing unites those I admire most in the legal profession. It isn't something all of them would voice in these exact words, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts it best in her "Advice on Living":
When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade. . . . Collegiality is crucial to the success of [the Supreme Court's] mission
The same, in my experience, goes for legal work, particularly in litigation, and interactions with colleagues and opposing counsel. Justice Sonia Sotomayor's excellent memoir (one of the books that has made the strongest impact on me) doesn't say this as such. but it's strongly implied. In particular, she casts no stones about not getting a full-time offer from her summer firm, blaming only herself. Given how long it took the industry's doors to open to women (see, e.g., the section on the 1970s in this academic article and this piece on more recent trends), it's not a huge stretch to speculate that prejudices about race, gender, and the combination thereof may have played a role. 

These role models are people who treat every person, even those voicing views sharply in contrast with their own, with the utmost respect and civility. The most vivid and well-know example is probably the famously close friendship between Justice Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia (his Romer v. Evans dissent may be instructive as to why this may be a shock, i.e. in paragraph two). They are people who rise above the slings and arrows directed their way in order to be the best attorney they can be. 

In Justice Ginsburg's case, she encountered particularly overt sexism, given the timeline of when she attended law school and began her career. You'll rarely hear her speak of it. I had to search hard for a readily accessible online citation for how things were: "Upon graduation from Columbia Law School with top honors in 1959, she received no job offer from any law firm in New York City, presumably because white shoe law firms were aghast that a woman, a mother and a Jew would dare think she was qualified for the job." She has also written that, back then, law firms simply "would engage no women" as a matter of absolute policy.

There is a difficult balance to be struck between exhibiting the collegiality, civility, and grace that the best attorneys embody while still taking a stand for what is right. It has sometimes been so, so hard to rise above. It's entirely likely that, in the next few months or years, I'll sometimes write about some of the challenges in this profession that make it difficult to face down everything with the ideal amount of collegiality. But that's a story for another day.

P.S. This piece from a former Justice Ginsburg clerk regarding his decision to stay home with his daughter for a time is entirely unrelated, but also a good read.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shoes of Summer

I'm now in year three of wearing my trusty, if not terribly attractive, Fitflop Skinny fit flops (worn in photos linked here) as my primary summer shoe. They've had a good run, accompanying me through many a summer thunderstorm and to a few beaches, but they're starting to show their wear, with worn-down heels and a slightly stretched-out uppers. They're still much more comfortable to walk and stand in than ballet flats or sandals with less arch support, but my feet and legs are starting to ache the way they do when I wear running shoes that are over the hill, and have had their inner cushioning worn down by excessive wear. In short, it either is almost time or is already time for a new pair of summer shoes. 

I've had the hardest time deciding whether to make a purchase now at all, much less decide on what to get. It probably makes the most sense to get another pair of Fitflops, either the Skinny or the Skinny Crisscross Slide. I could maybe also consider a pair of Birkenstocks (probably the Arizona or the Gizeh), which is what I had been thinking of before picking the Fitflops instead, though I remember that I thought they looked a bit clunky on my feet. I imagine the Birkenstocks would be hardier than Fitflops, though.


Perhaps unwisely, given that I should only really be in the market for a pair of comfortable sandals to replace the Fitflops, I had also thought about getting a pair of cute, embroidered Soludos espadrilles (maybe with lemons, or oranges!). That's an impulse that I really should not indulge in, however, as espadrilles seem to not be the most durable of shoes (likely to last only one season?) and that they could easily be damaged if they got wet, so they're not suitable for NYC's unpredictable, sometimes thunderstorm-prone summer weather. Also, I assume that I wouldn't want to be wearing socks with them in summer, which means they'd get gross and sweaty, and probably smelly, way too easily.

What are your go-to summer shoes? Are espadrilles actually more practical than they seem on paper? 

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Shopping Reflections

I had another busy month: My interview season continues to run a fair bit longer than expected. I also moved apartments, but only in the same building, which was significantly easier than previous moves. This didn't leave much time for shopping, and well, I always find summer very uninspiring because on the fashion front, because of my extreme distaste for heat and humidity. 

The only thing I want to wear, now that summer weather has finally set in, is breezy and relaxed-fit linen. This month's purchases fall into that category, and I've also been window-shopping for linen items from more ethical sources like the handmade offerings of Etsy stores such as LinenHandmadeStudio and notPerfectLinen (note: notPerfectLinen sometimes closes on weekends, but reopens on weekdays). Presently, I've just been struck, after reviewing the linked inspiration photos here, by a sudden passionate desire for a pair of blue linen ankle pants, something with a shape like these H&M Premium Quality linen joggers, but maybe not joggers. My heart's desire may be a pair of more formal linen trousers of that general shape, maybe with a paperbag waist and tie belt. I've not seen anything that fits the bill, just joggers (Joie) and more joggers (Athleta). Alas, I may be hoping for something that doesn't exist this year.

I am getting closer to being on track for my yearly budget limit. I am now "over budget" by $168.18 (($150 x 6) - $555.98 - $154.21 - $94.79 - $35.93 - $128.80 - $98.47 = $168.18). By now, I think it's looking somewhat clear that last year's $170/month, rather than this year's $150/month, was a better monthly target for me, but we'll see how the rest of the year goes.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $98.47)
  • J.Crew Factory Embroidered Floral Dress - $49.50* - The bright blue, the giant embroidered flowers, and the "boob tent"-effect (for lack of better phrasing) prone shape all make this something that should not be my thing, but somehow, this dress works for me. Like other relaxed-fit J.Crew Factory dresses, it runs a little large, such that a XS might work for me, though I kept the S, which still fits largely as expected, based on the model photo. (I'd normally expect to be an M or S in similar dresses from other mall brands.) With my chest size and the design, there is a slight tent-y effect that's not seen on the model. I did find, with the rest of my order, that J.Crew Factory's fitted, number-sizing dresses, especially this Origami Sheath, run very small to me because they're cut for someone with significantly less curve in both the chest and hips (I don't have particularly full hips either - I'm closer to an inverted triangle than a true hourglass). I prefer belting this dress, leading to this month's other purchases.
  • H&M Premium Quality Leather Belt - $17.99 - Before this, I didn't have any belts in my closet. I shopped around for secondhand belts, but felt very unsure of what I'd be getting, so I opted for H&M. (It doesn't align perfectly with my minimalism-ish to shop there, though as with anything I buy, I intend to cherish for its entire natural lifespan. With a leather belt, I'm not expecting it to wear out anytime soon.) 
  • H&M Premium Quality Braided Leather Belt - $12.99 - Same as above. I wanted both a skinny braided belt and a thicker belt. 
  • H&M Premium Quality V-Neck Linen Tee - $17.99 - (similar gray v-neck in S) This  came partially out of my recent obsession with linen, and partially out of a need to reach the free shipping quantity. The temptation of "just add one more item for free shipping" is typically a thing to assiduously avoid, but I was so close (and truly in need of more linen tees to add to that Everlane scoop neck linen tee I picked up last year) that it seemed alright. H&M's size chart is pretty wonky, so while I should be an M, the M is actually little too big on me, though not enough to want an exchange in this fairly relaxed-fit design.
*Includes return shipping cost on the rest of my order, which did not pan out.

Anyone else inordinately fond of linen for summer?