Disclaimer: Not all law firms are like this. Not everyone in the legal field believes this advice. Some things may be taken out of context. This is a piece of creative writing (and possibly written to be a performance piece, but it's been so long since I a) wrote a performance piece and b) performed it that I'm not sure anymore) inspired by discussions of gender and clothing "rules" and feminism and does not reflect the views of any of the people, places, or groups with which I am associated.
Mostly, I am clothing ambivalent. For nearly thirty years, this has gotten me through life without a problem, but as my sister told me before I went to law school, I was growing up and needed to set aside surfer-girl chic and dress like an adult. (She is my younger sister, which makes it kind of hilarious. I do rely heavily on her fashion sense. When I shop for clothes, I take her and her best friend along as my consultants. They are awesome.)
Now that I'm done with law school and heading into the legal world, I am thinking a lot about clothes and what they say about the person wearing them and what I want my clothes to say about me and how much both those statements are censored by the worlds in which I participate. (Not just the legal field, either. I plan to write a later piece about how the other worlds in which I participate censor expression, intentionally and not.)
This is inspired by a lot of dressing for legal success I've heard during my time at law school and recent specific fashion advice put out by a bar association.
Some choice quotes:
"We imagined 1L women teetering down the walkway in Victoria's Secret skirt suits and hooker heels, and 2L men sporting scruff and pinstripes, and the judges snarkily lecturing them on proper Esquire attire."
"How To Dress Like A Lawyer As Told By Some Women Haters, Old Men And Random Law Students."
"Maybe you bought your suit at Express or somewhere . . . and you bent over to get a Danish and I can see your tramp stamp."
"[I]f you are a male lawyer, invest in a well-fitting suit (and be grateful). If you are a female lawyer, invest in a well-fitting male suit and a male who will wear said suit and speak for you, Cyrano style."
Here is some of the advice I've heard over the years, with my annotations. I have taken great liberties with some of it, but other pieces are reproduced verbatim.
Wear a dark suit. Men wear dark suits. We fear color. Only girly girls and gay men love color. They have no place in this world. Be like a man.
Women should wear skirt suits. Women can't wear pant suits. Women can wear pant suits. Women can't just wear suits, because suits are for men. Women must label their suits with different terms because women aren't men. Women must wear skirt suits. Women must cover their legs with pantyhose when they wear skirt suits. Women must not wear open-toed shoes or peep-toed shoes. The faintest glimmer of bare skin below the throat will send men into paroxysms of lust. Even the tip of a toe is too much. We must protect the men.
Chorus: Make sure your suit is not too fitted. Make sure your suit is not too loose. Do not wear your hair in a ponytail. Do not wear your hair down in a distracting way. Do not tempt men with your lustrous locks.
Bind your feet. Bind your legs. Bind your breasts. Bind your hair.
Don't look too much like a woman. Don't disrespect men by wearing pants. Wear a skirt. Beg the judge for admission to his courtroom with legs encased in pantyhose. You in the pants, you anger the judge, you are banished. Wear your skirt and grovel for a place at the table. Be silent. Let the men speak.
Don't wear a lot of makeup. Don't wear dark makeup. Don't wear a lot of jewelry. Don't wear too little jewelry. Women look naked without face paint, delicate earrings, and a gold necklace around a slender throat. Don't wear bare skin or you'll distract the men on the jury. Don't wear a large engagement ring because you will make your female interviewer jealous and angry. Because all women want to be married. Because all women want a large diamond and the blood on their hands. All we women do is compete for the attention of men.
Do not look rich. Do not carry a brand-name handbag. Do not look poor. Buy expensive suits and tailor your suits and throw out cheap clothes. Wear pearls and diamonds.
Do not present yourself as feminine. Do not wear jewelry. Do not wear low-cut shirts. Do not wear bright colors. Do not wear patterns. Do not wear ruffles.
Chorus: Do not dare to be different. You must stand in a line and you must all look alike and you must all look conservative and masculine and white.
These are cardinal sins. Be perfectly penitent and contrite. These are deadly sins and we are immoral and we are fallen. Forgive me, couturier, for I have sinned. Forgive me for being fat and for being a woman.
Do not wear boots. Do not bare your arms. Do not wear pink. Pink is for girls. We want to be as like men. Do not wear clothes that show your shape. Do not reveal your tramp stamp. Because women do not have decorative body art. Women only have stamps that reveal their evil sexuality.
Hide the curve of your breasts, the roundness of your waist, the bend of your hips. Beg forgiveness if a shadow passes across your cleavage. Respect that the partner supervising you is someone's husband, someone's father, someone's boyfriend. Women are never partners. Men cannot resist the urge to look. All men are straight. All men want women. We must hide ourselves to protect them from their own desires.
Chorus: Ladies, have some respect for yourselves. There are a lot of married men at law firms and you do not want to tempt them.
Because just our existence is temptation. Because Eve took up an apple and parted its flesh with her teeth and we have been sin and fallen women ever since, our flesh so firm, our bodies bursting like overripe fruit.
Hide yourselves, women, do not dare to distract and tempt.
Chorus: This is not the time for self-expression, flamboyance, or eccentricity.
Being a woman is flamboyant and eccentric. Dress like a man. Do not be fat. Do not wear jewelry. You may pierce your ears but nothing else. Do not decorate your skin with ink. Hide your flaws, anything that makes you different, that makes you woman. Hide yourself and be grateful you are allowed to call yourself lawyer. You are lucky to be allowed into venerable law schools and big name law firms and into the court room and you must never be different. You must be rich and white and dull and slender. You must be desexed.
Remember always, women, you must be as much like a man as you can but you will never be enough.