By Yes, Virginia • May 22, 2008•Other Issues
The Wall Street Journal has joined the hoary conversation on women’s professional apparel with a trifeca of articles/blog posts: first, with a profile of Lehman Brother’s CFO Erin Callan; next, with a follow-up post on The Juggle blog that specifically commented on Callan’s choice of shoes in the photo accompanying the profile; and now on the Law Blog, which picked up on comments that split on whether female lawyers indeed need to wear uncomfortable professional outfits in the courtroom.
And as regular Ms. JD readers know, this is indeed something that consumes a great deal of time and mental anxiety for female lawyers and law students (I’ve posted in the forum about it here; sintecho has written about long v. short hair here; and a paralegal has written about her sartorial quandaries here).
All of this leads to one simple conclusion: a lot of people have strong opinions on whether appearances matter, particularly for women. Past that, good luck finding any consensus. I’m not going to hide the ball on my position, since I have always thought that (1) appearances matter a lot; (2) there are absolutely wrong choices to make; and (3) finding the right balance between what is appropriate, comfortable, and something you like is one of those juggling skills that only come with a lot of practice, some keen observations, and a good sense of self. As a huge fan of Go Fug Yourself and Jezebel’s Snap Judgments and the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, I’m not afraid to stick with the notion that the message you send with your clothes and appearance will often precede you, and may even ensure that what comes out of your mouth (or from your briefs) can both be discounted or augmented by your appearance.
Personally, and (I think) in light of my relative youth, background, and brand new J.D. (a whole other post!), I go conservative. By which I mean an almost exclusively Brooks Brothers professional wardrobe, right down to pearls (a frequent choice) and starched
Beyond these particulars, I have come strongly to the conclusion that you do not want your clothes to speak more strongly than your words. I also tend to agree with those who think that lawyers ought to skew towards the formal, viewing suits as our professional uniform, mostly because I think it sends the message that you take what you are doing seriously. Superficial? Perhaps. But I’d rather be remembered because of a legal point that I made than because of what outfit I happened to have on.But those are my thoughts. I know some out there disagree with me, and I’d be interested in hearing from you.