Dress for Success

October 30, 2013

Appropriate attire for female attorneys has, once again, raised its ugly head in the form of accusations of sexism. A few months ago, a judge got into trouble for sending out a memo telling female attorneys to keep their clothing court-appropriate. Now this.

A prestigious global law firm is being criticized for sending out a memo to its female attorneys about professional behavior. It made suggestions like don’t giggle, don’t take your purse up to the podium, and wear a suit, not a party dress.

If this has sexist undertones, take into consideration that most men do not giggle, nor do they take purses up to the podium or wear provocative clothing. Women, on the other hand, often do commit these professional faux pas.

It doesn’t seem to matter if a woman has just passed the bar or been in practice a dozen years, there are still many women who, consciously or unconsciously, dress for male attention or hope to make extra points with a male judge. And sometimes it works or they wouldn’t be doing it.

A man, on the other hand, can’t walk into a courtroom in his boxers or his jeans unzipped at half-mast, so he knows that if he wants to look professional, a suit and tie will give him the visual credibility he’s looking for.

Women have always had to work harder to be taken seriously, whether in the workplace or in the home, so it makes sense to give them the tools to help them achieve their objectives in both arenas. If this is sexism, so be it. To my way of thinking, it’s giving them an archetype for success.

When women first entered the workplace as professionals, many of them had to learn not to wear sweaters tied around their necks lest they be mistaken for being a secretary. It may sound trite now, but in the early days, that’s exactly how women dressed in the office.

We have gotten so sensitive about being politically correct and being afraid to give suggestions about professional behavior to women, even when it’s needed, that we don’t take into account the wide readership of self-help books that address this very topic.

To my way of thinking, no matter who is giving the advice or to whom the advice is given, if it applies, use it; if it doesn’t, discard it.

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