Monday, December 14, 2015

Wear to Work: Following the Rules (or Not)

* Photos from a Wall Street Journal feature that discussed fashion (for men and women) at the New York office of one prominent biglaw firm. Both women are partners, which puts them at the top of the law firm hierarchy. 

I was reading a Racked article about one woman's experience with stringent dress code rules for women attorneys, and while I didn't agree with most of what she was saying, it did give me some food for thought. There are certainly settings in which there are extremely restrictive rules about what one should wear, for both men and women, but I'm not sure that your average NYC professional, even in the more conservative industries, is unreasonably constrained in their day-to-day clothing choices. 

First things first, I don't believe that it's the social norm here for women at large companies to be "afraid" of their male colleagues' judgment regarding their sartorial choices, unless it's a toxic workplace or there are a few toxic individuals. I also don't think that choosing to dress conservatively, in business formal, means that one is dressing "like a man."

I speak from experience: By now, I am extremely familiar with many of the professional settings that are of particular relevance to NYC-based attorneys, including networking receptions, courthouses, and large law firms. I've described the dress code at the office where I will start work this fall, and I'm reasonably confident that it is more or less what prevails at a majority of large finance, consulting, and law-firm type workplaces in NYC. I'm also extremely sensitive to behavior suggesting sexism and racism, and would also be among the first to raise my voice to argue that things are still very bad for women and minorities in my field.

At the same time, although I am a major proponent of pushing the business casual dress code envelope often by incorporating bright colors, loud prints, and statement jewelry, the very mention of "wearing an Alexis Bittar statement necklace" in the same paragraph as a reference to judges and courtrooms makes me cringe. I strongly dislike many elements of the conservative business formal "uniform" (both suits and heels) and avoid wearing them whenever possible, but certain settings demand conformity to all the rules of conservative business dress. There's no room for argument. It's nonnegotiable. I don't know if it makes me closed-minded, but I would question the judgment of any attorney who wore a noticeable or flashy "statement piece" to court or another formal setting to advocate on my behalf. This goes for both men and women, though I'm much less in-tune to what constitutes a  "statement piece" on a man.

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