Cleary Gottlieb switched over from “summer casual” to all-year business casual between my summer and starting full-time, so I never experienced a mandatory business attire office. Some senior folks would kvetch about the falling standard of decorum, but I suspected those guys were really just annoyed that they’d built a truly impressive suit collection and sat idly by as their wife started letting the tailor needle her, and for what? Younger lawyers rejoiced because not having to blow out a suit collection amounted to a functional bonus. I never experienced the full-on business dress policy, but personally, I could never imagine wearing business attire every day if for no other reason than business attire isn’t really conducive to the 18-hour workday.
More than a decade into the business casual movement, there are still holdouts demanding a return to the formality of the good old days. The problem with all these irritated partners is it’s not really possible to preach business attire without looking like a tool….
This is Wayne Gross, formerly of Greenberg Traurig, and now of Greenberg Gross. He let the Orange County Business Journal take his picture in full regalia while he complained about lawyers who embrace business casual.
There’s something to be said for cultivating the ethos of a professional, and there is support for the theory that clothing choices actually impact the individual’s performance. But Gross doesn’t really sell those points. Lawyers already dress up when meeting with clients in a business casual setting, so the argument that business attire fills clients with confidence is moot. Once you get beyond that claim, there’s basically no argument for dressing up in this profile other than “look at how awesome I look,” which would be a better sell if the profile wasn’t totally goofy.
The grave face staring into the middle distance while clutching reading glasses? It’s just too funny. And that hilarious pocket square! I support the Don Draper white, flat pocket square… anything beyond that looks goofy in a professional setting. A bunch of points just makes me think of a personal injury lawyer appealing to clients who want someone wearing more of a “lawyer costume.” Indeed, people tend to trust people dressed like them, meaning certain clients, especially in media or technology, might actually prefer someone willing to dress down. Gross does not want to hear that noise. He likes how he dresses, and you should too.
The diatribe about watches is just comedy gold. I even like watches for business attire, but pretending that smartphones aren’t the modern pocket watch is just being a curmudgeon. Lawyers are always staring at their smartphones during every meeting anyway since it holds the lawyer’s calendar and all the emails he or she is getting every few seconds. There’s no reason not to use it as a timepiece as well.
Obviously lawyers are abusing the business casual system, and that’s why we need more memos like this one to explain that dressing casually does not mean dressing slovenly. However, this episode once again shows that the argument for returning to the dress code of yesteryear is more wrapped up in the preferred personal style of partners than any specific business objective.