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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.