By Mikki Collier • August 10, 2010•Writers in Residence
Recently, a non-lawyer friend who works in education asked my advice on what to wear for an upcoming interview. She wanted to wear an outfit that was indicative of her professionalism and sincerity for the position, but she also wanted to showcase a bit of her personal style. We were going back and forth, tossing around ideas when she said the unthinkable “It’s too hot, I don’t want to wear a suit.” WHAT? Even in the blazing heat with the mercury nearing 150 degrees, lawyers must always, ALWAYS wear a suit to an interview. It’s not even an option. But I digress. She’s not a lawyer. Fine. So, keeping in mind her profession and not wanting to seem every bit the stereotypical stuffy lawyer (that I secretly am), I compromised and suggested she go with a sleeveless sheath and blazer that she can remove once the interview is over. Just when I began to feel the blood returning to my upper extremities, she wondered aloud: “should I wear my peep-toe pumps with that?” Okay. Lights out. Mind officially blown.
In the legal profession, not only is it a deal-breaker to wear peep-toe shoes on an interview, in some cases, peep-toes should not be worn at work at all. Or can they be? I’m in-house at a telecommunications company, so it is totally appropriate for me to expose a few well-manicured toes (well-manicured being of major importance here, ladies) when I please. Not so in other environments. Why not? Are open toe shoes viewed as unprofessional?
“If you have to question it, then it’s probably not” said one of my attorney friends when I asked the question. To be fair, my lawyer friend works at an uber conservative firm and I’m sure she’s probably required to wear skirts, pantyhose and round-toe pumps with square heels at all times. Still the question remains.
As I recently discovered, to peep or not to peep is a debate that is currently being argued all over the legal blogosphere. Much like my friend’s shoe pondering piqued my curiosity, a comment overheard in the ladies room prompted The Careerist’s Viva Chen to ask: Are peep –toe shoes acceptable attire for female attorneys? Writes Chen:
“Waiting in line in the ladies room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently, I heard this discussion: "In my day, I always wore pumps to court," said in a woman in her fifties.”Can you believe this associate went to court with open-toe shoes?" Her companion shook her head, and then asked: "How did she do?" The first woman replied, "Her work was good, but her shoes weren't right." On one side are lawyers who say it's always bad form to show your toes. "Toes and feet are either unattractive, or, in the rarer case, maybe sexy," says a lawyer who's worked at several high-powered firms. "I don't want to look at someone's toes in meetings or at work, and I also don't think it's appropriate to flash the sexy red-toe pedicure at work either." Another friend, who just picked up six pairs of Manolos at the summer sale last week, says that kind of conservative attitude is nonsense. "If it's fashionable and tasteful, why not?" she asks, as she looks down at her new strappy tan sandals.”
Chen posed the question to female attorneys all over the country, but they could not reach a verdict, beyond a reasonable doubt, on the appropriateness of peep-toe shoes. Former Cahill Gordon Associate Kat Griffin (founder of Corporette fashion blog), is quoted as saying "corporate culture "frowns" on peep toe shoes: "Peep toes are marginally better than flat-out open-toe shoes, but even then, a closed-toe shoe is the preference." Griffin offers this to Careerist: "Don't wear open-toe shoes unless you've seen a much more senior lawyer do it." Chen also uncovered an East Coast, West Coast divide. In the East, they say no to the peep-toe, while on the West, it's a peep-toe free for all.
So who's right?
I took the debate to Twitter to have my followers weigh in on peep-toe gate. One lawyer from Detroit, MI said "[peep-toes] MIGHT be okay with a suit (wide leg pants) or a pencil skirt." Another attorney from New York City opined "yes, as long as the toes/feet are well kept!" Finally, counsel from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida suggests "being that the legal profession is so conservative, it's best just to leave the peep-toe at home."
With all the opinions on the topic, not to mention all of the wonderful peep-toe styles that are coming out this season, it seems that this debate will remain unsettled for awhile. I offer the following- pay attention to what the senior attorneys are wearing in the office. Should you decide to expose your toes, keep your overall outfit tasteful and professional, and keep a spare pair of closed-toe shoes in your office. Should you get sideway glances while walking down the halls, at least you can run back to your office for a quick change!
What do you think?