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Do Female Lawyers Have the Worst Dress Code?

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In what seems like a scene straight out of the television show Ally McBeal, a Tennessee circuit judge issued a memo about female lawyers adhering to the dress code after one female attorney appeared before him in a sleeveless blouse. Circuit Judge Royce Taylor wrote in the memo:

The unanimous opinion was that the women attorneys were not being held to the same standard as the men. I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent… Your personal appearance in court is a reflection upon the entire legal profession.

According to the local legal community, female lawyers have been pushing the lines a little bit by wearing blouses, miniskirts, and sweatpants in court. We have been talking a lot about dress codes this summer and this is a great example. The legal industry is one of the toughest when it comes to attire for women. There is no casual Friday. If you are in court you have to be dressed impeccably because if you aren’t, clearly people notice.

“A lawyer never wants his or her appearance to be the focus of the court’s or jury’s attention,” said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. She told The Pittsburgh Post about how once she fell on the ice before a court appearance, ripping two holes in her pantyhose. She could either take them off or go with the shredded look and she didn’t have much time to decide. She kept them on out of fear of baring her legs in court. The judge didn’t say a word. Okay so most of the time they notice or they realized the woman had no choice and decided to remain covered up for fear of being called a bare-legged hussy in the courtroom.

The real pressure to dress perfectly and respectably comes from the fact that these lawyers are in court and dealing with the law. It is extremely important and their attire needs to reflect and respect what they are doing. But in a world where casual has become the norm, it’s hard out there for a female lawyer. Her friends are considered fancy when they wear the slightly longer shorts instead of the jean cutoffs and this woman may actually be required to wear pantyhose when she is in court in July. Tennessee image consultant Mila Grigg told USA Today personal fashion choices clashing with professional decorum are especially pronounced with the millennial generation who, as she said, “have a different standard for what professional looks like.”

Kat Griffin, founder of, a site that advises professional women on how to dress told me, “Lawyers in particular have to adhere to conservative rules for clothes, primarily because they are very rarely speaking for themselves. If a judge or jury hates you, you want it to be because they heard and considered your client’s argument… not because your clothing conveyed a lack of respect, or offended them in some other manner.”

This all makes sense and I would be more comfortable with my lawyer in a great suit than jeggings but do women have it worse then men when it comes to courtroom attire? Law is still very much a boys’ club in some ways and so women are expected to not only prove themselves as lawyers but look as sharp as possible. At the Chicago law firm Stowell & Friedman, Linda Friedman and Mary Stowell make themselves put on pantyhose whenever they have to be in court. “It’s hard enough practicing law in federal court, which is still very much a boys’ club,” Friedman says. “We don’t feel it’s right to take a chance when it might hurt our clients.”

The rest of the workplace may be changing when it comes to attire but according to Taylor, that change stops in the courtroom. Good luck to any female lawyer who enters it!

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The pantyhose thing seems like such a problem in the summer. It's also pretty sad that people are scrutinizing female lawyers that much, even though I understand that all lawyers are supposed to dress as sharply as possible for the courtroom.

I do think it is important we dress respectably for whatever profession we are working in, regardless of gender, but I also think it is unfair that so many women are constantly scrutinized over what they wear instead of the work they do.

I think a woman in court should have to wear pantyhose. Men don't even have the option of wearing something cooler, like a skirt, and have to stick to a full on suit every day. Maybe we should look at the positives of having more variety in our wardrobe and use it to our advantage!

Great article--I'm currently working in a super-casual nonprofit environment, but I'm headed to law school soon, so this issue is good to keep in mind!

I loved quote from Kat Griffin, "lawyers... are very rarely speaking for themselves." I am a female attorney, and while wearing pantyhose in the summer in Texas is far from ideal, I would never want my apperance to get in the way of the message I was trying to convey on behalf of my client.

I'm in law school right now, and this has come up in classes with any type of speaking requirement. My professor put it this way "you want to be as nondescript as possible. They need to focus on what you say, not how cute and/or inappropriate your outfit is. The goal is to blend in." While this doesn't make for an exciting sartorial environment, it DOES make it much easier to get dressed in the morning. It's like a uniform.

I would argue that women chefs have it much worse. It is a career that is currently male dominated so anything to girly is frowned upon.

To even suggest that women have it worse than men in this area is absolutely absurd! I practice in Houston, Texas and you want to talk about hot? But we still have to wear suits every day! I've seen women lawyers however, who look like they just walked out of their damn living room! It's ridiculous. Y'all worked long & hard for this & now you want special treatment? Gimme a break! I gotta wear a suit, you gotta wear a suit. End of story.

This is a very well-written article. I am an intern and am the most formally dressed in my department ( I work for my state). I wear black dress pants or cropped trousers every day with a blouse and cardigan and feel very out of place! Everyone is in jeans or polos and the women often wear sundresses. I think there should be high standard of dress in an office because it shows how much respect you have for your profession. Thanks for sharing!

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