Dress codes passé?

August 7, 2009
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From managing editor Elizabeth Brockett:

The topic of dress codes recently came up in our office again because of a notice we received about a conference to assist in creating and enforcing a dress code. One section touted “Solutions to your toughest appearance policy challenges” with questions such as: Must you allow men to have long hair if women can? Can the employer dictate styles of dress, hair, jewelry? Can you force a woman to wear a skirt or dress to work?

I used to think if people just used their common sense they’d be fine regardless of the situation. I’ve since learned that some people don’t have any common sense. I admit I’m a little old school … not because I believe there should be strict dress codes, which I do not, but because of my upbringing and my age. My grandmother used to talk about the formal dinners she’d attend with my grandfather, who was a U.S. Navy commander: Women wore beautiful dresses or gowns and gloves and the men in full uniform. But even when they’d entertain at home, the women wore dresses … even during cookouts! And my mom was in the Navy back when they taught them to be ladies first and foremost.

When I was in first and second grades, girls were not allowed to wear pants to our public school. I have never, ever understood the reasoning behind that; even as a child I thought the person who made that rule should try standing on the playground during winter in Northern Indiana in a dress or skirt with only knee socks or tights on your legs. It was literally painful.

Require women to wear dresses or skirts … and always with hosiery (another debate)? Only if men always keep their top button buttoned, their tie tight, and never remove their suit jacket, and they must wear sock garters so there are no slouchy socks. Then we’ll talk.

Lawyers usually do wear suits when meeting clients or appearing in court. Has that changed much, and should it? A partner at a large national firm was quoted earlier this year as saying high-powered lawyers always wear suits because people want their attorneys to look like high-powered lawyers. Really? I doubt the person at legal aid cares, although the multi-million-dollar corporation might. So, should the situation dictate the dress? Perhaps it does because I've read that lawyers -- employed or otherwise -- are dressing up more in recent months, wanting to look good for the boss or potential boss.

The only trend I’ve seen that bothers me is seeing women wearing suits with flip-flops. It’s one thing if you’re walking to your car or running an errand, but to look nice and polished … and then wear the plastic/rubber flip-flop sandals. It’s just a bad look. I’m not bothered by women not wearing hosiery (guys, try on a pair of hose and wear them when it’s 85 degrees), but flip-flops?

Dress codes can help guide people because different firms and corporations have different cultures. Dress for work also depends on the profession and even the region of the country or world, but I believe most people need to take their cues from their workplace superiors.

So, what is the state of law firm dress and how has it changed for the better or worse?
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  • I believe flip-flops should be totally forbidden in the workplace. They have NO place outside of the beach or slouching at home. I do believe that common sense has totally gone out the window, too. Very well written opinion and I wholeheartedly agree with you!

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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