Biglaw, Fashion, Fashion Is Fun, Fashion Victims Unit, Minority Issues

Business Casual Basics For Slovenly Men


As a result of several complaints and multiple rolling of the eyes by unnamed partners, I am reluctantly sending this email.

I should emphasize at the outset that this missive is intended only for benefit of our male attorneys in [specific office]. Since we don’t have an “all poorly dressed men” choice in the email directory, and we are too big and I am too tired to sort through the directory, non-male and non-[specific office] attorneys will receive it, though they can stop at this point and delete.

Some years ago, when we first went to casual business dress, [Fashionable Senior Partner] remarked that it was signal sign of the decline of Western Civilization. I have reluctantly concluded, as often is the case, he may have been correct.

Around the same time as [Fashionable Senior Partner’s] astute observation, [Partner], a partner at [other firm], penned a legendary satire on the inaugural “casual Friday” at that firm. The gist was how ridiculous 100 middle aged men looked in polo shirts and khaki pants….essentially their bodies were not made for casual anything. I think that column single-handedly made 100 middle aged men at [other firm] wear blue blazers over their polos the next week which led to another excellent column on the “Stepford look” at [firm] as 100 middle aged men in khaki pants, white polos and blue blazers all paraded around the office.

At the risk of causing “conformity,” which I know is the worse plague any employer can inflict on workers, I can only conclude we should be so lucky as to have a legion of decently attired male lawyers most days, even if they all look alike.

Some may think this is really not a problem….I have heard some say that it really doesn’t matter what they wear since “no one sees them.” This ignores that though you may directly interact with few clients, the collective number who visit us combined with the many business people who see our lawyers in the elevators while coming and going from the building, means many people form some opinion of our firm based on the shallow notion of how we dress.

I begin the substance of this email by acknowledging that defining appropriate casual dress is about as easy as defining obscenity (interesting similarity, don’t you think?). To mix a phase, however, it is easy to know obscene casual dress when you see it.

Thus, we’ll try here to help those fashionably challenged with a few simple rules to follow:

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).

There is more to say, but I trust I have adequately communicated the concern shared too often by too many with me. I do not want to be in the position of monitoring male dress. While [Fashionable Senior Partner] will gladly handle it, unless you want to wear suits daily, I suggest you pay some attention to the issue and invest some of your hard-earned money not yet taxed by our friends in the federal government (who are probably monitoring this email) on improved casual business dress or making your local, hardworking dry cleaner more prosperous.


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