It’s not often that one associates high fashion with female lawyers. And if such an association is to be made, it usually comes in the form of an Elle Woods / Legally Blonde joke. Instead, one is quick to conjure visions of boxy ’80s power suits with shoulder pads thick enough to warrant a cringe.
You’d think that with the sheer number of fashion sense for the workplace seminars, women would have stopped making the faux pas of dressing like they were anywhere but at a David E. Kelley-created law firm — but apparently, you’d be wrong.
So let us spell it out for all of our lovely lady lawyers, as the Wall Street Journal so eloquently did last night: “The power suit is over.” These days, power looks for women contain frills, ruffles, and even hints of (gasp!) pink.
While the power suit may be a fashion no-no, is it acceptable to wear these emerging trends to work?
Gone are the days of Working Girl-esque professional apparel, but in general, law firms tend to err on the conservative side of style. That being said, how are women supposed to follow the Wall Street Journal’s (sub. req.) tips to stay on trend this season?
The latest fashion collections reflect a new power look for women. The style, fueled by variety and feminine tailoring—peplums, pleats, darts, draping and shawl collars— makes room for soft colors, busy prints and details like embroidery and beading that were once deemed inappropriate for the office.
Career women have long added bold colors to gray or black suits. But it’s now common to see them wearing pink and other soft hues, and even mixing them together.
The new look carries a higher degree of difficulty and may be harder to pull off than a plain matched suit and white blouse. That is in part what gives it so much power: It is more sophisticated. It shows off a woman’s taste, her authority—and her access to high-fashion trends.
And we have the First Lady lawyer herself, Michelle Obama, to thank for all of this. Her “vivid prints, curvy shapes and fashion-forward designs” have inspired many to give up the ghost of the power suit and opt instead for an air of sophistication in their style of dress. But let’s not forget the very relevant fact that Mrs. O doesn’t work in a law firm — and she hasn’t for more than a decade (since she left Sidley).
To get some thoughts from a woman who’s more in tune with today’s fashion ideals for law firms, we reached out to Kat Griffin of Corporette, the fashion and lifestyle blog for career women. Here is what Kat (whom we previously profiled) had to say:
For old-school conservative cities, I don’t think these colorful suits and dresses are good for anything but a casual Friday. Color is great, but in moderation. The bank of credibility definitely relates to fashion risks in the workplace, and women often earn the right to wear what they want to. A woman who is just starting out does much better to adhere to established notions, at least for the first couple of weeks on the job.
On the whole, Kat’s advice seems to be spot on. In today’s Biglaw world, some firms have strict dress codes (e.g., Jones Day), while other firms only require that their lawyers wear shoes (e.g., Quinn Emanuel). On the small-firm track, lawyers often find themselves in between both worlds of fashion. But no matter where you work, there seems to be an ever-present controversy over the appropriateness of peep-toe pumps. People are still up in arms over a pair of freakin’ shoes.
How are women supposed to feel confident baring their shoulders or wearing pink ruffles when they’re liable to get professionally persecuted for toe cleavage? Take our poll, and let us know how you really feel, ladies:
Would your firm be comfortable with high-fashion style as suggested by the WSJ?
- Of course! I've seen a partner wearing peep-toes! (66%, 735 Votes)
- No way! It's like Mad Men up in here, only secretaries wear dresses! (34%, 378 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,113
The New Elements of Boss Style [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
A Lawyer First Lady Influences Women Executives to Lose the Power Suit [ABA Journal]