Fashion Stylists Say Female Lawyers Lack Pizazz

DSC00507 (2)It was a beautiful day in Vancouver, hot and sunny, and with a little time to spare that day I decided to attend the swearing in ceremony of a newly appointed Court of Appeal judge, taking place at the Courthouse across the street from my office.

As I approached the courtroom I observed a sea of black-suited lawyers and slipped into one of the last remaining seats. As we waited for the proceedings to commence I noticed how many women lawyers were in attendance, more than usual, since the new judge was a well-respected female lower court judge.

Looking around I suddenly felt so out of place. I was wearing a mauve leather swing skirt, a very feminine pink and mauve blouse, and mauve three inch stiletto heels, in stark contrast to my female colleagues who were outfitted in boring black suits, mostly made of polyester, and sensible shoes that resembled oxfords.

After the ceremony an invitation was extended to join the Chief Justice for refreshments. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to join the fun, but that day I declined, not wanting to “stand out” in the crowd. (That statement may be hard to believe, but true!)

That brings me to a controversial article in a California legal newsletter, The Marin Lawyer, written by fashion stylists Jill Sperber, also a lawyer, and Susan Pereczek, directed at lawyers in Marin County, an affluent area north of San Francisco that boasts the fifth highest income per capita in the United States at over $90,000 per annum.

In their article titled “Beyond Black: Revising the Lawyer Dress Code for Women” the stylists opine that “female lawyers in Marin are not winning their cases in the Style Department”, a statement that has elicited critical cries of blatant sexism.

As part of their investigation Ms. Sperber and Ms. Pereczek spent two mornings at the Marin County Courthouse where in their roles as “fashion police” they saw:

“mostly non-descript black pants (we counted a few skirts) with button downs or blouses in white or muted tones. Some didn’t bother with jackets. Few wore accessories.”

On the list of fashion faux pas they identified a lawyer wearing a burgundy velvet blazer on a spring day, and another in a tight knit striped miniskirt with a mismatched stripe blazer over a neon blouse, and teetering mules. It’s not a pretty picture!

Among their fashion “dos and don’ts” they suggest is a move away from black suits to a more colourful palette. They also urge female lawyers to use accessories to brighten up and polish their professional look.

A light-hearted article with good advice…what’s wrong with that?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

3 thoughts on “Fashion Stylists Say Female Lawyers Lack Pizazz

  1. There is a vast difference between “dressing stylishly” and “dressing inappropriately”. Law is a traditionally-conservative profession, and it implicitly imposes wardrobe constraints on men and women alike. If the article (which I admittedly haven’t read) advocates adding accessories to what are otherwise staid black suits for women, then that’s good advice for those who find the “uniform” of the legal profession to be a bit confined in its options for creativity and self-expression.

    But the Blog author writes:
    “Looking around I suddenly felt so out of place. I was wearing a mauve leather swing skirt, a very feminine pink and mauve blouse, and mauve three inch stiletto heels”.
    Arguably, “three-inch stiletto heels” are considered of questionable taste in ANY conservative profession, much less the law. The author felt “out of place” … because she was.

    1. I agree with SoPredictable. Fashionable and appropriate vs fashionable and inappropriate. I don’t know why SO many female lawyers still trounce into court looking like they’re heading for a night out. I particularly love being accused of “slut shaming” younger female lawyers, when I suggest that their skirts and heels are too high, and their shirts too low for the courtroom. Once, in Provincial Court, a young female lawyer was dressed in a biege skirt that came no less than 3 inches above her knee, open-toed stilletto slingbacks, and sleeveless top (had fat shoulder straps) with no jacket. I told her the judge would have a problem with how she was dressed. She didn’t think so, and told me to mind my business because she felt as if I was trying to shame her. When she began giving her submissions, the judge said he “couldn’t hear her” so, predictably, she began speaking louder. I touched her on her arm, and told her what he meant, and that it was based on the way she was dressed. Her reaction? Out loud and on the record? “Do you know how much this outfit cost me???” Truth.

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