I’m not usually the one to give sartorial advice around here. My blogging attire can be exclusively purchased from MLB Shop if I so desire. I need a suit or two for television and then, whatever, it doesn’t matter and I don’t care.
But back when I was in Biglaw and I had to be presentable, I appreciated some basic advice from the people who cared about how I looked way more than I did. Don’t confuse the issue with your WASP-y tales of Seersucker Saturdays. Just tell me the bare minimum I have to do to fit into your shallow little club, and I’ll do it. I really can’t stand people who are all like, “Well Jasper, did you see that chap wearing white after Labor Day? How gauche.” But if that’s going to be a rule that affects my professional advancement, just tell me and I’ll follow it. Biglaw pays enough for people to invest in their wardrobe in whatever arcane ways are required.
So, in a way, one can appreciate this list put together by an office managing partner of a national law firm about the business casual dress code for men. Sure, it comes from an annoying place of conformity that values style over substance. Sure, it’s a document dripping with low-grade sexism that contemplates a time when men were men and somebody else did their laundry.
But we’re talking about guys who work at law firms, we’re not talking about rebels; nobody should be trying to be a hero. Everybody should just wear what they’re told…
Our tipster prefaces this email with “I hate baby boomers.” And I certainly share that emotion. But another person who received it explained: “First, while I’m sure the content is going to piss a lot of people off, it’s pretty entertaining. Second, fashionably speaking, most of this spot-on.”
The email from this undisclosed partner at a “national” firm does have a light touch. You can read it in full on the next page. The opening suggests some reluctance in having to send around the instructions in the first place.
But let’s jump right to the dress code, which is written in a very lawyerly fashion:
1. If you cannot dry clean it, don’t wear it.
2. If it hasn’t been dry-cleaned or you don’t have a spouse/significant other who is exceptionally talented with an iron (since it is clear that no male lawyer here knows how to iron), don’t wear it.
3. If it has an advertisement/business logo, don’t wear it.
4. If it doesn’t have a collar, don’t wear it.
5. Polo- type shirts which look like they have been crumpled in the back corner floor of your closet do not count as acceptable business casual. This true even when you attempt to smooth them out for 15 seconds before you put them on in the morning. While you may not notice your shirt looks like you slept in it, others will. See also Rule No. 2.
6. Socks are required in a business environment no matter what Esquire says.
7. Shoes need polish….like weekly. Ask your father if you are so lucky to have him living what civilized people use to say you could tell about a fella based on his shoes.
8. There are actually unofficial rules about appropriate combinations of brown/black shoes, brown/black socks belts, and brown/black belts based on the color of your clothes and the color of the belt/sock/shoe you are wearing. Typically, they should be the same color. This is a little complicated for some. If in doubt, wear the same color. Or, ask your spouse/significant other or purchase a book.
9. Slacks should be pressed and have a crease. See also Number 2.
10. Khaki pants or reasonable facsimiles thereof that have been treated the same as the shirts in Rule Number 5 above have the same appearance to others as the aforementioned shirts. See also Rule Number 2.
11. Most days you should wear a sport coat with the rest of what constitutes your “casual dress.” This is still a law office and coats are generally a part of the kind of casual business dress we allow/tolerate/reluctantly permit.
12. All of the above rules also apply to times when you wear a suit. Simply because you actually put on a coat and tie simultaneously does not mean that wrinkles and stains and lord knows what else we see are acceptable dress.
13. Shirts with ties that don’t have button downs or collar stays make you look like the guy in the Three Stooges (or worse).
Most of these rules are pretty standard. Personally, I could never conform to number 7. I’d shine my shoes occasionally, for big events, but I’ve never once had another man shine my shoes. And when I walk past (like in the train station) one man sitting like a freaking Lord while another man or boy bends and scrapes and shines his shoes, it just makes me sick. I think the very last thing I’d like to do is ask this guy’s father what happened to the boy who used to shine his oh-so-important goddamn shoes.
I think I’d feel somewhat similar about this fictitious “exceptionally talented” spouse who spends hours attached to the iron like she’s in a 1950s sitcom.
And what’s with the Three Stooges reference? Jesus, how old is this guy? It’s one thing to say “wear socks to work,” but does it have to be larded up with all these anachronistic callbacks to a man’s world that no longer exists? You know, back in the day, if you did sleep in your clothes, your secretary would go to your house and pick up your dry cleaning. Is that still the expectation here at this national law firm, or did that not make the list because they don’t want to invite a lawsuit?
Anyway, notwithstanding the decline of shoeshine boys and doormen who will actually accept your dry cleaning while you are at work, the basic advice here is fair. Don’t wear wrinkled clothes. Khakis are not slacks. Polos are not “collared shirts.”
And, if I may tangentially talk about race for two seconds, let me say that I think this advice is even more important if you are a racial minority. Just because the white guy in the office next to you can get away with wearing whatever he wants without “looking like he doesn’t belong” doesn’t mean you can. I always tried to look the part (except for the shoe thing occasionally) because putting on a sports coat was something I could control, as opposed to my “non-traditional” color. Again, if a person is shallow enough to judge you based on whether or not you are wearing a blazer, I tend to think that person is shallow enough to judge you for all sorts of other things that only go skin deep… but my theory was why give him the opportunity to judge me on the blazer issue?
You can read the full email on the next page. Given the way the partner gets into these rules, you’d think this firm was beset by attorneys showing up to work looking like I do now instead of the way I did when I was trying to fit in.