Fashion don'ts

Last week the Chicago Bar Association held a What Not To Wear Fashion Show [PDF]. The announcement for the event essentially promised a Project Runway for law students, with “guest judges and fashion industry experts” to critique law students selections for “professional attire.”

We imagined 1L women teetering down the walkway in Victoria’s Secret skirt suits and hooker heels, and 2L men sporting scruff and pinstripes, and the judges snarkily lecturing them on proper Esquire attire.

So we rounded up two legal bloggers in the Chicago area and asked them to attend and report back. We sent Legally Fabulous — a 3L who “often dies a little on the inside at the things she sees her classmates wearing for interviews” — and Attractive Nuisance, a Chicago associate who writes for ExitStrategy.

Attractive Nuisance called the event “How To Dress Like A Lawyer As Told By Some Women Haters, Old Men And Random Law Students.” Legally Fabulous was most impressed by the advice from Professor Maureen Collins of John Marshall Law School:

[She] had some of the best quotes of the night, including:

  • “The interview world is no place for a cheap, ugly tie.”
  • “I shouldn’t know anything about your underwear… bra straps are meant to be hidden”
  • “Khakis were invented for men who can’t match clothes”
  • “Maybe you bought your suit at Express or somewhere… and you bent over to get a Danish and I can see your tramp stamp.”

It’s hard for us to imagine a law professor uttering the words tramp stamp — a derogatory term for a tattoo on a woman’s mid-lower back. But after hearing Clarence Thomas say “TTT,” we suppose anything is possible.

After high school, one should throw out all clothes purchased at Express. Other tips for the fashion clueless, after the jump.

LEGALLY FABULOUS: This was such a great event and is something that I honestly think should be required as a part of 1L orientation for every law student. I cannot even tell you some of the HORRIFIC things I constantly see during on campus interview season. (I’m talking about you girl who wore a super tight skirt 6 inches above the knee “suit” with red patent pumps and matching red hoop earrings. Barf.).

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: The panelists included the Honorable Benjamin Goldgar of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois (a fan of this sort of panel – see his comments at a Seventh Circuit Bar Association panel ), several older ladies (among them a law professor, image consultant, partner and recruiter) and two law students (among them a former menswear buyer turned law student/female Simon Cowell). Although the presentation was intended to educate both men and women, the walls of the banquet hall were adorned with black and brown high-necked frumpy dresses from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Collection suggesting that this would be a lesson focusing on the ladies. And indeed it was.

The show consisted of law students wearing selected legal fashion faux-pas walking down a runway to the beat of Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack and Shakira’s She-Wolf. Then, the panel would criticize the improper attire and suggest dos and donts for appropriate formal and business casual dress for men and women.

LEGALLY FABULOUS: It was much better to have actual people modeling actual outfits instead of someone from career services standing up at OCI orientation saying “wear pantyhose and make sure you get your suit dry cleaned” (by the way – seriously, WEAR PANTYHOSE AND GET YOUR SUIT DRY CLEANED).

Appropriate Formal Dress For Men

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: If you are going to court, to meet a client or for a job interview, wear a dark suit that fits properly. Do not wear a colorful tie and if it is lavender, you should be disbarred. Make sure your suit is clean and pressed. According to Simon Cowell, most suit jackets are too tight, most pants are too long, and the combination of suit and pants on most men is generally hideous. Ironically, or not, she gave this diatribe to the beat of She-Wolf.

LEGALLY FABULOUS: For an interview, court, client meeting, etc.:

  • Wear a suit. No questions.
  • Get your suit tailored. There is nothing worse than pants or jackets that are too long/short.
  • Polish your shoes
  • Microsuede is never okay (the fact that this had to be said makes me shudder)
  • If you’re wearing a dark suit, don’t wear a dark shirt. Pick a nice tie. Your shirt and tie shouldn’t compete, they should compliment. If you can’t figure this out – ask a salesperson for help!

Appropriate Business Casual Dress For Men

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: If you work at a business casual law office, wear slacks and a sweater or a button down shirt. You should shave. And, consider khaki whenever possible because, according to Professor Maureen Collins of John Marshall Law School, it is sharp and “it was invented for men who cannot match clothes.”

Appropriate Formal Dress For Women

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: If you are going to court, to meet a client or for a job interview, wear a dark suit that fits properly. Rest assured ladies, Honorable Benjamin Goldgar said we can wear pant suits!!

LEGALLY FABULOUS: If you’re wearing a skirt, you have to wear tights or pantyhose. Get over it. I’m still of the old, conservative school of thought that women should be in skirt suits. The Honorable A. Benjamin Goldgar, a judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Illinois disagreed. He said he doesn’t even notice if women are in skirts or pants in court. I’d say for an interview – stick with a skirt. I also happened to notice when I was in court this morning that the Public Defender, Public Guardian, and State’s Attorney (all women) were all wearing pants. So I suppose pants are in. But same as men – get your suit tailored! There are few things worse than women whose pants are too long and fray at the bottom. Gross.

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: The chorus of female attorneys added some caveats: make sure your suit is not too fitted, wear flats, wear minimal jewelry, wear minimal makeup, do not wear hair in a pony-tail, do not wear hair down in a distracting way, wear pantyhose, do not wear open-toe shoes (especially in front of a jury says Justice Goldgar), do not wear peep-toe shoes, and do not wear dark nail polish (avoid burgundy, cautioned Professor Collins). Wear a shirt under your suit that is not too tight, not low-cut, not bright colored, not patterned, not ruffle-y, and not too feminine. Finally, when going on a job interview, do not carry a recognizable brand-name handbag because you are trying to project the image that you need money. Oh, and do not wear your engagement ring if it is large because it may anger your women interviewers and cause jealousy (and perhaps rage).

LEGALLY FABULOUS: Jewelry: Keep it simple. Pearl or diamond studs are the best choice for earrings. Possibly a VERY SMALL hoop (although I personally hate hoops, I suppose a small hoop is okay. You know what they say – ‘the bigger the hoop, the bigger the ho’)

Appropriate Business Casual Dress For Women

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: If you work at a business casual office, do not commit any of the cardinal sins identified above. In addition, never wear boots, never show your arms, NEVER wear pink, never wear clothes that reveal your body shape, never wear clothes that reveal your tramp stamp, and never dress like a “sleazy girl” which apparently means wearing a fitted pencil skirt and side ponytail.

LEGALLY FABULOUS: “Looking sexy in a law firm is disrespectful” – Mary Nicolau. Absolutely. No one should be able to see your cleavage and your skirt or dress should be knee-length and not too tight. The partner you’re working for is someone’s husband/father/boyfriend. Show some respect.

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: This was truly an eye-opening experience for me because I believe I was formerly a sleazy girl. Indeed, I was told by the partners at my firm during my 2009 annual performance review that I sometimes dress like it is Saturday night (i.e. I do not wear hose and wear v-necks) and I twice wore red shoes. The most shrewish of the old broads on the panel taught me that I cannot wear red shoes, ever. Now I know. And, if I am ever unsure, I now have a rule of thumb thanks to the presentation.

Per The Shrew: “ladies, have some respect for yourselves. There are a lot of married men at law firms and you do not want to tempt them.” Or, as the Honorable Benjamin Goldgar said, do not reveal your form in court because male judges will be distracted and female judges will be resentful. And, finally, if I need to interview for a new job because I wore red shoes, a side pony, a scoop neck dress and no hose, then I will be sure to bring my belongings in a paper bag and ask for spare change on my way out of the interview. Thank you Chicago Bar Association for reforming a former sleazy girl lawyer.

LEGALLY FABULOUS: A great rule of thumb from the flyer passed out at the event: “This is not the time for self-expression, flamboyance, or eccentricity.”

ATTRACTIVE NUISANCE: In sum, if you are a male lawyer, invest in a well-fitting suit (and be grateful). If you are a female lawyer, invest in a well-fitting male suit and a male who will wear said suit and speak for you, Cyrano style.

Thank you, legal bloggers of Chicago. We’re throwing out our fishnets stat, and are thankful that we didn’t jump on the tramp stamp bandwagon in our early 20s.

Check out more from Attractive Nuisance under the Fat Spinsta at ExitStrategy.

Check out more from Legally Fabulous at her blog.


EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT

The Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section and The John Marshall Law School Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity–Lincoln Chapter present

What Not To Wear Fashion Show: How to Dress for Success in Chicago’s Legal Industry

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 • 5:00 p.m.
Chicago Bar Association • 321 S. Plymouth Court, 2nd Floor Complimentary Event • Appetizers and Beer/Wine/Soda Provided RSVP to yls@chicagobar.org • Space is limited to 100 persons

Have you ever felt unsure about your interview, court or office attire? The rules have changed as to what is considered casual, business casual and professional dress. Attend this fun, casual event to get the inside scoop on what not to wear (and what to wear) to the office, court and job interviews.

The Show will feature a runway walk with law students in professional attire selected from their own wardrobes. Guest judges and fashion industry experts will critique the student’s selections. Confirmed panelists include:

Hon. A. Benjamin Goldgar, United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Jasmin French, Image Consultant; Former Corporate Attorney at DLA Piper
Anne Schmidt, Fashion Buyer Turned Law Student
Alexis Reed, Attorney and Recruiter, Special Counsel
Mary Nicolau, Partner, Smith & Nicolau
Brendon Stark, Law Student; Regular Columnist for the Chicago Lawyer
Maureen Collins, Professor, The John Marshall Law School


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