You may have noticed that people working in Big Law are more pissed off than usual lately. And I can’t say that I blame them. The threat of associate layoffs still looms large. A six-figure salary barely keeps you off food stamps. White shoe firms are crawling with bed bugs. And herpes. But it looks like there’s a new kid on the block — a pair of kids, actually — gaining traction as the latest target for Big Law acrimony, at least if the state of affairs in and around my firm is any indication: Boobs. Or more to the point, how front and center they should be when it comes to dressing for work.
Now, arguments over appropriate sartorial choices for the workplace, breast-related or otherwise, are nothing new. Panels have been convened over them. Entire websites have been launched about them. Lawsuits have been waged because of them. But when the argument focuses on the degree of exposure — or lack thereof — of female breasts in the workplace, especially in a legal workplace, that’s when tempers really start to get out of control.
I can tell you’re already starting to get a little hot under the collar, aren’t you? OK, look, let’s all just calm down, take a deep breath, and take a tour of some photographic evidence….
First, let’s start with my law school friend, Ray — or more specifically, Ray’s Facebook page. Ray, a married, good-natured father of three, works in Big Law out in the Midwest and tends to limit his personal Facebook “updates” to a picture of his kids or an occasional comment about football. So, I admit that I was a little taken aback when Ray posted a link to Fox News’ recent interview with Ines Sainz, the curvaceous Mexican news anchor who has been embroiled in an NFL locker room sexual harassment scandal in the past couple of weeks. The link included a picture of Ines in a low-cut, revealing blouse and Ray had noted above it, “Maybe if you looked down at your chest you’d see why you’re in this situation. Dress professionally and people will treat you that way.” In other words, “You were asking for it, slut.”
Within a matter of hours, after a slew of vehement comments on his post — some agreeing with him, most disagreeing — and no doubt a phone call from his wife, Ray deleted the entire post and has been silent ever since. But even though his original comment is gone, its impact is still there. And his opinion is hardly unique. Like Ray — an intelligent, thoughtful Big Law attorney — men across America looked at images of the same gorgeous woman wearing a low-cut blouse to her job and agreed that her neckline was so wildly, hideously, horrifyingly inappropriate, that she basically deserved to be treated anything other than “professionally.”
Incidentally, the picture that started it all:
So, do you agree with Ray? Is Ines’s neckline so absurdly inappropriate for her job that it fully, necessarily precludes anyone from treating her “professionally”? And what if she was an attorney rather than a TV anchor? Would that make her neckline choice even more inappropriate — and to what end? To being harassed? Being fired? Bottom line: Where’s the line? At what point do you cross the (neck)line from “working woman” to “working girl”?
And does the analysis change if you’re a lawyer? Does it matter if you’re working at a firm? It’s not uncommon for defenders of business-formal law firm dress codes to cite the argument that if a client is paying a lawyer $1,000 an hour, they want that person to “dress like a lawyer.” But if you’re a lawyer with breasts, especially large ones, what does “dressing like a lawyer” actually mean? Cover ’em up at all costs? Don nothing but high-button blouses and crew neck sweaters? And if you insist on clinging to this argument, let me ask you: When was the last time you had any face-to-face contact with your clients, regardless of what you were wearing? (I’m talking to you, $1,000-an-hour Big Law types.) As any Big Law drone knows, there aren’t exactly roving hordes of clients storming the halls on any given day. So, if you’re sitting in a 10×10 office for 20 hours a day with little to no other human, much less client, contact, why should it matter how plunging your neckline is? Hell, why shouldn’t you sit in your office topless if you’re alone and it makes you feel comfortable? As long as you’re hitting your billables, who cares?
Well, quite a few people, apparently. I’d like to dismiss the obsession with workplace cleavage as the harmless infatuation of a few lonely, terrified, insecure men, but that couldn’t be further from reality. Remember our Facebook friend, Ray? Most of the she-was-asking-for-it comments were actually left by women, most of them lawyers. In other words, if only two things are crystal clear from Ray’s comment war and the latest breast-focused media circus that inspired it, it’s that everyone has an opinion about how your breasts should look at work — but no one has an actual answer.
So, what’s a female lawyer with breasts and a closet full of plunging necklines to do? Well, let’s take this to the next level and start figuring out which of our lady lawyer peers — or more specifically, which of their necklines — cross the line from seemly to scandalous. Yes, it’s time for a poll.
Check out and vote on a few (safe for work) pictures of famous lady lawyer necklines — and get a look at Legal Tease’s own…attire over at Sweet Hot Justice.