Does what women wear to work matter? Of course it does, especially in a profession where looks are valued almost as highly as other qualities expected of a good lawyer, like exemplary analytical and interpersonal skills.
When we say “looks” here, we mean a lawyer’s ability to dress appropriately given the circumstances, but being attractive certainly doesn’t hurt. Men are basically given a free pass. So long as they don’t show up to court looking like they just rolled out of a dumpster, they’ll be given the respect they’re due.
Women, on the other hand, don’t have a uniform that they can wear to court like their male colleagues, and that’s where the trouble begins. Women lawyers have been told countless times to resist the urge to dress like harlots, with style suggestions ranging from the incredibly obvious (be wary of skirts too short and necklines too low) to the incredibly absurd (“think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe”).
The sick thing is that most of these style advisories have come from other women. Don’t follow trends? You look too frumpy. Follow too many trends? You look too skanky. A federal judge recently called attention to this perverse gender bias, but perhaps he could’ve used some more delicate language.
Calling all “ignorant sluts”…
We’ve written in praise of Judge Richard Kopf (D. Neb.) several times before. His blog, Hercules and the Umpire, is full of inspiring commentary about what it’s like to be a member of the federal judiciary. Unfortunately, one of his latest entries was less than inspiring. Judge Kopf, who refers to himself as a “dirty old man,” entered the debate about the way young women lawyers dress with this tale (emphasis added):
Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.
So Judge Kopf is a dirty old man. So what? What he goes on to write about the behavior of female law clerks in his courthouse is what’s more stunning. He writes that this “fine young lawyer” made a recent appearance that prompted every female law clerk in the courthouse to catch a glimpse of what she was wearing. Although everyone conceded that she was “really good,” they were “uniformly critical.” The term “unprofessional” was tossed around like it was going out of style.
Forgive us, ladies, but did you ever stop to think that it might be you who is being unprofessional? To sneer at a woman who is unprofessionally dressed by your standards is one thing, but to make an example out of her and gossip about her as a group is hypocritical and tactless. If you want women to truly succeed in the legal profession, perhaps you should end your ceaseless critiques about what they wear, and focus instead on what they do and how well they do it.
Judge Kopf suggests that women think about the female law clerks when considering what to wear to court: “If they are likely to label you . . . an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.” While this definitely could have been stated more eloquently — our friends over at Jezebel think “[i]t’s embarrassing that this guy is a f**king federal judge” — the man does have a (rather unfortunately phrased) point.
If you think what you’re wearing is going to inspire high-school-style gossip from your colleagues, maybe you should choose another ensemble. Then again, if you’re a woman who doesn’t care what other people say, more power to you. We wish there were more of you on this earth and working in this profession.
What we could use less of are women who are willing to degrade and devalue their colleagues based simply on what they’re wearing.
P.S. Thank God Judge Kopf wears a robe. Is that a gavel, Your Honor, or are you just happy to see a “very pretty female lawyer”?
On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress [Hercules and the Umpire]
Federal judge offers fashion advice to female lawyers [KETV 7]
Federal Judge Enjoys Ogling Lawyers Who Dress Like ‘Ignorant Sluts’ [Jezebel]