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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  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

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