06 May 2005

Courtroom Fashion Tips

Blonde Justice continues her queries (in the comments) as to the fashion does and don't's of legal practice in Virginia:
Do you find that, in general, (or at least, in court), the women are dressed more casually than men? In the court I practice in, the men are always in a suit (with jacket, even in the summer), but women get away with a lot less - slacks and a sweater, for example. I'm wondering if it's like this everywhere...
Pants suits seem to be the order of the day here for women. They are more casual for those people who practice in court on a daily basis. You can always tell female civil lawyers because they have the severe black or dark blue pants suits (you know, the ones which make even the most attractive woman look like a male). However, I've seen slacks and a sweater plenty of times and nobody bats an eye.

On the other hand, guys are not supposed to depart from the accepted uniform. I started wearing sweater-vests over the Winter. A judge in juvenile court commented that I was dressing "fancy" but allowed as he guessed it was the time of year when a sweater could be allowed. Another lawyer I know wore a sweater-vest to circuit court and the judge made him pull out his tie because it couldn't be seen under the sweater.

The furthest we're allowed to dress down is khakis and a blazer. That's known as dressing like a country lawyer. You can also wear seersucker, always remembering to be conscious of the season, but that marks you as a well to do country lawyer.

Male dress is also somewhat of a peer pressure matter. If you practice in "the city" your colleagues are going to comment if you come in wearing a blazer or seersucker. If you wear a blazer to circuit court anywhere you will hear comments. If you don't wear white or blue shirts you will hear comments; sure, it will be tolerated (with shaking heads) for those young guys starting out but solid, upstanding lawyers don't wear black or maroon shirts. If your hair cut gets a little too long or strange (ie a shaved head) you will hear comments. If you persist in your foibles the razzing will get worse. If you still persist the razzing will tone down some but people will still comment to you and others about it. You have to ask yourself whether your personal sense of fashion in wearing beat up old boots is worth the hassle it brings from clerks, other lawyers, and quite possibly (eventually) the 100+ year old (male) judge who thinks anything more modern than the robes and powdered wigs his great-grandfather Lorde Smyth used to require in his courtroom back in England is progressive and disrespectful.

I've not seen the same thing on the female side. Of course, I assume I'm not privy to those conversations if they take place. Still, if somebody refuses to conform on the male side it eventually spreads around the courthouse grapevine and everybody knows. I've not encountered that with any female attorney.


Anonymous said...

My first capital trial (in southern Pennsylvania--I was the law clerk) both the prosecutor and the PD (lead attorneys were both women, as was the PD's second) wore a mix of pant suits and skirted suits through the whole trial, but notably, it was the only time I ever saw that particular prosecutor in heels. For the sentencing phase (defendant got life), she wore strange laceless tennis shoes with her pant suits.

Here in Chicago, both sides tend to wear full suits.

Mister DA said...

Up here we have the most amazing mix of men's styles you could ever want. The classic suit, mostly two but some three-piece, is always seen in large numbers, but lots of lots of sport coat/blazer and slacks combos as well. The colors tend to be Navy and dark grey with the occaional brown or glenplaid for the suits. For the jacket and slacks combo, the sky's the limit as long as the color can at least arguably be found in nature. Sweters under sport coats are fine, even if without a tie, as long as it's motion day or some other, less serious occasion.

Women, as always, have much more lattitude. Skirted and slacks suits tend to dominate on any given day, but skirt and sweater and slacks and sweater sets are popular, too. Some older ladies wear dresses, sometimes with a jacket. One older woman seems to be stuck in those godawful 70s era men's-suits-tailored-for-women, complete with a man's tie, bow or long, as the case may be.