What Not to Wear, Chicago Bar Style

We’re getting a lot of questions from readers about this article at Above the Law.   For example, from one reader:

I am a 2L at law school and about to start as a summer associate at a law firm in Washington, D.C.  There was an article on Above the Law about an event in Chicago on Fashion Do’s and Don’ts.  After reading this, I have absolutely no idea what is ok to wear.  It seems like every professional clothing item I own now needs to be thrown out.  I was just curious about your thoughts on this….is this the reality of what to wear in a law firm?  Thanks so much!

We didn’t attend the event, obviously, but we do have a few thoughts on some of the “rules” that they cite.

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  • Their General “Rule” Espoused:  Do not look sexy.
  • Our “Rule”:  Do not dress in a way that makes people think you are looking for a husband or a date at the office.
  • The Caveats:  However — this does not mean that you cannot wear heels, wear fitted clothing, or wear makeup.  It does mean that you might want to rethink your life if your Saturday night makeup is the same as your Monday morning makeup, or if one top can do double duty for both of those situations.  As we’ve mentioned before, heels that are too high should perhaps be avoided at the office.  (We would say that the absolute, maximum borderline is 3.5″ or 4″ — keep in mind that most of our office shoes are more like 2″.)  You may want to leave your push-up bra at home.
  • The “Rule”:  Always wear pantyhose.
  • Our “Rule”: If it is your first week to a new job or professional situation, or if it’s your first time meeting a new client or appearing before that judge, then wear hose.
  • The Caveats:  Whether or not you have to keep wearing hose is a case-by-case determination.  When you are attempting to determine whether you need to keep wearing hose, look to the older women there, not your fellow newbies or the people only slightly more superior than you.  If you haven’t seen someone else go bare-legged, then keep wearing hose or risk running afoul of that office’s culture.
  • Other applications:  Open-toe shoes, peep toe shoes, boots, sleeveless dresses, colored nail polish (and certainly dark nail polish)
  • The “Rule”:  Do not wear red pumps, ever.
  • Our “Rule”:  We have red pumps, and red flats (patent, no less).  We would never wear them on an interview, but we might wear them to the office with a regular skirt.  Factors to keep in mind:  Red high heels should not also be shiny — a very matte leather is what you want.  Color matters:  A darker red can seem downright conservative.  Furthermore, be wary of what kind of shoes they are — for example, if the shoes  already have a vintage sexy-secretary vibe to them, buy them in a matte black, not a red.
  • The Caveats:  Know your office.
  • The “Rule”:  Do not wear a ponytail, and for God’s sake don’t wear a side ponytail.
  • Our “Rule”:  Meh.  We’re not really sure we have a rule here, aside from this:  Pigtails are never going to be a professional look.
  • The Caveats:  We’ve talked before about whether a high ponytail can look professional, or whether one can wear a ponytail too often to the office, or what kinds of hair accessories you can wear.  It varies based on your hair style, your office culture, and how neatly you look when your hair is back.  In general, this author’s personal rule is that I try to wear my hair down during the day (or at least when walking the halls or going to a meeting) but then pull it back when it’s later in the evening or when I’m alone in the office working — but then that’s primarily based on the reason that I don’t generally look good in a ponytail.

Other things, we somewhat agree with — do not wear clothing that shows your lower-back tattoo; do not wear clothing that tells people something about your underwear.  We would also caution that just because one judge says pants suits are fine for him does not mean that he is speaking for the entire judiciary — we’ve heard from at least one reader who notes that a local judge has openly expressed his preference for skirt suits.  Readers, what are your thoughts on the “rules” as we’ve pulled them out?  Any other thoughts on the “advice” from the event?

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  1. the way I read it, the ATL post was intended to be very snarky & sarcastic – the rules Kat pulled out are good ones, but anyone reading the whole post should be aware that the bloggers meant to make fun of how ridiculous the entire thing was.

    • Only one of them, I think. The other one seemed to buy it all hook, line and sinker.

      • yeah – one of them is being sarcastic, one of them completely drinks the kool-aid. i only figured out that the one was being sarcastic when I got to the part about not wearing pink. I’m a little dense :)

        • Haha, I still missed that. I was like “seriously??? I’m one of only 4 female litigators at my firm (out of about 30 total) and 3 of us wear pink on a regular enough basis.” Glad to know I just missed the sarcasm boat! Another good lesson in how text doesn’t always translate the same way it does in person.

        • I will give up my pink Chanel jacket when hell freezes over.

  2. I disagree on the red patent leather heels – I have a pair that I wear (rarely) with pants. They aren’t super high and they aren’t FM shoes. They are cute and patent and when my toes peek out of my pants, they look cute.

    Overall, I hated this article. Of course one shouldn’t display underwear, etc. But I think that worrying too much about what a man might think is the opposite of what women need to do in the workplace. Women have failed in the past because they tried to be men. Btw, I dress very professionally, but I do have my own style (and that style includes bracelets and necklaces I’ve bought in Africa on my many trips — I figure nothing intimidates me in a meeting if I can go camping somewhere some of these men are afraid to venture — and my African jewelry reminds me that I can be a bad ass when I want to be).

    • I definitely agree on the red shoes. I have two pairs–one deep red patent and the other a mary jane with red patent and leopard print horsehair. Both are 3″. And I get lots of compliments from both men and women at work because the shoes are fierce.

      If if it is just a normal day at the office (no client meetings, etc), I say “why not?” :-) Yes, it depends on your office, but for mine, it works.

      • I wear a pair of super conservative wine-red pumps to work & they are the best!

      • Are your red-patent/leopared print ones the Kate Spade ones from 2 years ago?? I was coveting those shoes, waited too long to buy them and then couldn’t find them anywhere. I am jealous!

    • Robin, I totally agree with you! Hard-and-fast rules don’t usually work, since every office is different. As long as we aren’t looking like we work part-time at the local strip joint, and otherwise look professional, women should be able to wear what they want! I was talking to an older, respected litigator at my county’s Women Attorneys group, and she was talking about buying new pieces for her spring wardrode. She kept saying, “I want more color”! When I asked her how she felt in court if she was wearing a bright pop of color, she said “screw those men, I’ll get up and make a better argument than all of them, and if they’re looking at my bright blue blouse, they won’t be for long!” I thought that was a really funny way of saying that we women shouldn’t feel pressured to be what men think we should be. We are all adults, and capable of knowing what is work-appropriate and what is not.

      • I love it. I believe that to really be a leader, you can’t be afraid of distinguishing yourself from the masses. Its funny — I’m super liberal, travel to “scary” places, run a non-profit in my “spare” time, and am a vegetarian — and I find that my most conservative and old-fashioned clients are some of my most loyal clients. They make no apologies for who they are, so why should I?

  3. Off topic question–has anyone ever ordered from yoox.com? I read some reviews online that weren’t so great, but C’s feed about the 90% off has rekindled interest in the site. Any thoughts?

    • Yoox final sales are great IF you know the designer and the fit of the clothes since there are no returns on the sale items. I have had great experiences buying from this site, and if clothes are not on sale, returns are fairly easy.

  4. The bloggers quoted, particularly legallyfab, were clearly having some fun. That said, even I have a pair of red shoes that I wear. They aren’t fire engine red, they aren’t patent, they aren’t even 3 inches high. But they are red. And they are just fine, most days.

  5. I’m not an attorney, but it still just boggles my mind that some judges “prefer” skirt suits.

    • I KNOW! Who is a judge to be telling you if you should be wearing pants or skirt? I would hardly classify myself as a feminist but even the suggestion of someone (especially a man) telling me I should be wearing a skirt suit makes my blood boil. That is just not right. SO inappropriate on so many levels.

      • It sucks, and I agree with all these sentiments, but if you fight back you just anger the judge and ultimately hurt your client, which is the first big “no-no” of being a lawyer. There aren’t really good options for attorneys in this situation.

      • It’s a surefire way to make me buy a dozen pant suits and shove any skirtsuits I might own in the back of my closet… I imagine that most people have an idea of what is/isn’t appropriate (white before or after easter, 3 inch heels or 1 inch heels, etc.), but to have the nerve to actually tell someone what to wear —- makes my blood pressure go up and I’m just typing about it!

      • Interestingly, in my jurisdiction the judge that is most known for expecting women in skirt suits in court is a woman.

    • Meh. It didn’t make sense to me until someone asked me whether I would wear pants to a “formal” dinner or wedding. I said of course not. She replied that court is formal too. Skirts are more formal than pants.

      At any rate, pantyhose are more comfortable than neckties IMO, so I am not going to complain too much about wearing skirt suits.

      • I disagree with the analogy. If you’re going to court, you’re going to work, not a dinner date or a wedding. You wouldn’t wear a ballgown to court or wear your hair in ringlets (well, one would hope not many would do that at a wedding) to court so why require a skirt? Suits with pants (I hate calling them pantsuits b/c that implies that they are different from regular suits) are incredibly formal as long as the fit is right. In NYC courts, most women wear pants to court.

        All that said, if a judge had a preference, I’d wear a skirt because I wouldn’t want the judge to take it out on my client. Sucks but that’s life.

        • A wedding is formal, and formal dress attire is a dress. A courtroom is formal, and formal business attire is a skirt suit. That’s the analogy.

          • Still not buying it, but then, I’d wear pants to a wedding.

          • I have to disagree that there is really any difference. I wore a formal pants outfit to a wedding several years ago and was certainly not the only woman there in pants. IIRC, I think a friend and her husband’s coworker were also wearing pants.

          • Yeah, back in the 1980’s perhaps. It’s so outdated today. If our Secretary of State can wear pantsuits in the context of representing our country, it’s ridiculous to suggest that a professional woman can’t wear pantsuits any place in the business world. These judges who “can’t abide” pantsuits shouldn’t be indulged. They are so out of step with the times.

          • Anonymous :

            If Elena Kagan can represent the United States in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in a pantsuit–which she did her first appearance as Solicitor General–then a pantsuit is formal business attire.


      • There are plenty of really dressy pants (silk palazzo and the like) that would be appropriate for a formal event or wedding.

  6. I agree…the ATL post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, especially all of the talk about “tempting the males” in the office. The reason Corporette exists is that there are all sorts of no-no’s and fine lines that a woman can cross when dressing for work. Look, if you think that you appear too sassy for work, you probably do. But if you are wearing a dress or something fitted and you look CLASSY, not trashy, then you are probably doing something right. The advice to dress like the women above you, not the women at or below your level, will almost never fail (unless, of course, the women above you are frumps!).

    Other things I agreed with:
    * No cleavage, ever
    * No short skirts, ever (but an inch or two above the knee is fine, if you are tall; yet, beware the Ally McBeal skirt suit trends this season–they will lead you astray!).

    And I disagreed with the red shoes thing–they can be done tastefully to jazz up an otherwise plain outfit…key is tasteful!

    • i am 5’2″. would a skirt 2 inches above my knee be too short? was just wondering about your “if you are tall” caveat.

      • in my opinion (and i am an envelope-pusher w/r/t hemlines and workwear in general), 2″ is pushing it. I’m 5’6″, and I think 2″ would be my absolute limit, and in that event I wear dark hose and flats and would probably be tugging down my skirt all day. Anything more looks childish if you’re short or too revealing if you’re tall.

        • Anonymous :

          I disagree. I’m 5’3″ and I feel like I look childish in really long skirts. In fact, I kind of struggle to find things that are short enough because most “normal” skirt lengths are long on me. That said, I don’t go more than 2-3 inches above the knee. But I feel self-conscience when my skirts are below my knee.

      • I think petite women should generally stick with the top of the kneecap as a general guideline, middle of the kneecap at the longest. But, as with all general rules, you’ll want to experiment to see what works for you.

        Wear the skirt with a blouse and pair of shoes you will wear with it to your tailor/seamstress and have her pin the skirt to various lengths to see what works best for you. Take some time to walk around, bend, sit, etc. for modesty checks and maybe even bring a friend with you to get a second opinion.

        • Seconded! I’m 5’2″ and wear my skirts so they just touch the top of my knee. Anything shorter and I start to get super uncomfortable and fidget with the skirt.

          • I wasn’t trying to make more petite ladies feel bad; this is based on personal experience. I have ridiculoulsy long legs, and even when I wear a skirt below the knee they are ridiculously long–36″ inseam. Thus, I see little difference if I wear a skirt an inch or two above the knee (with not-to-sassy footwear) because either way, 1) a lot of leg is gonna show and 2) everything is completely covered. Just a personal thing–I have worked in VERYVERYVERY conservative white-shoe law firms in NYC and London, and never had any inappropriate comments. Sad fact is, I am tall and leggy no matter where my hemline falls. And I can still be professional an inch or two above the knee.

            I agree (based on my many petite friends’) that having too-long skirts when you are petite makes you seem even tinier.

            But don’t mistake this season’s skirts as work appropriate–a lot of them are an inch below miniskirt, and look ridiculous when paired with a jacket. Just don’t go there!

      • 2 inches above the knee is where my skirts fall (I’m 5’2″ as well) – otherwise my already short legs look even shorter, which just makes me look frumpy and frumpy does not equal professional or forward thinking!

    • I actually think it’s the opposite – petite women can wear shorter skirts because we are showing less skin overall, and longer skirts tend to make us look completely stumpy. I am 5’4″ but with unusually short legs and I always wear above-the-knee skirts.

      • Anonymous :

        I get that some judges may think that skirts are more formal, but I find myself in a bind…I don’t show my legs for religious reasons and have never seen a real suit with an ankle-length skirt (if any one has and it doesn’t look horrid, please share). Does that mean I can’t be a lawyer who appears in court? I should hope not.

        • Anonymous :

          Ooops, replied in the wrong place–meant to be in response to Eponine above @ 6.02pm.

        • I can’t imagine a judge asking you to wear a skirt instead of pants any more than I can imagine a judge asking you to take off your hijab scarf (I’m assuming you’re Muslim, because if you were an Orthodox Jew you wouldn’t wear pants but you would wear tights with a knee-length skirt). Having said that, I know a few Muslim and Jewish lawyers who manage to find nice, mid-calf or ankle length skirt suits. Unfortunately I don’t know where they get them.

        • Same situation. Never seen an acceptable suit with a long skirt. That won’t keep me out of a courtroom — I am a litigator and have been in court numerous times in suits with pants. (I don’t think the judges requiring skirts are *that* common.) But I have started to worry about how I would respond if a judge did ask. I have been thinking about the possibility of opaque tights with a suit. Don’t know if that’s doable for you? I worry that I would still be uncomfortable and it would look unprofessional anyway. Not to mention inappropriate in the summer.

          • The judge I worked for required skirts and hose even in chambers, and I can guarantee you that if you said that you preferred to cover your legs for religious reasons he would have had no objection to your wearing pants. Judges who require skirts tend to be conservative, and therefore respectful of people’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

          • I would probably look for a good tailor and have one or two suits made with long skirts. That way you’ll feel comfortable and great about your outfit and be able to focus on the task at hand! No sense in trying to cobble together a look that you won’t really feel comfortable in, it will just distract you.

        • Thanks for the thoughts y’all.
          -Anon-I totally have several yards of navy and black wool suiting fabric sitting in my closet waiting for me to find a good pattern and good tailor.
          -MM-I don’t think I could do the tights thing; but then, if the judge doesn’t have a problem with my hijab, then pants should be ok too (though sometimes I think that connection between covering hair and covering arms and legs isn’t always made).
          -Eponine: It’s not the judges who would say something that I worry about, because then I would (presumably) have a chance to explain; it’s the judges who would say nothing and then hold it against my client that concern me. Anyway, if you do happen to find out where your friends find long skirt suits, please do share–I’m in the DC area and think you are too.

          • Yeah, I don’t personally like the tights idea, though some Muslimas I know say they are okay with it. My question more generally: do you ever wear dresses or skirts of any type to work? I have never found anything long that I think looks professional enough. I think that people would be understanding if your long dress/skirt is a bit “off” of expectations when they see the headscarf (so they understand the reason), I don’t wear hijab, so I think I’ll just look unprofessional and really out of date.

          • I am in DC, but sadly my friends are in the midwest. Still, if I think of it, I will ask if they get them at a national store.

            On a side note, and please don’t answer if the question makes you uncomfortable – do you argue in front of a judge or jury wearing hijab? I usually don’t wear any religious items (normally I wear a small religious necklace or ring) if I think it could possibly prejudice a client or case, and I just wondered if you’ve ever gotten, or suspected, a negative reaction. Obviously taking off hijab isn’t an option like taking off a necklace is.

          • Anonymous :

            MM-I do occasionally wear long skirts to work, but my offices have mostly been business casual and not particularly fashion forward. I agree with your point about hijab and expectations; I feel like I can, in a sense, get away with wearing things like long skirts or longer tops with pants that may look a bit unusual/”off expectations” without people thinking that I have no sense of style. As for finding professional skirts, I have most of mine made, though I do have a nice lined, wool, slightly A-line black one from JC Penney of all places!

            Eponine-This whole discussion is, at present, hypothetical for me because I’m still a 3L (and I really should be studying rather than reading Corporette). The point you’ve raised has been a concern of mine through law school. I’ve (kind of) specialized in an litigation heavy field, so (assuming I find a job) I expect to be before judges/juries on a regular basis. And beyond being the most kick-butt lawyer I can be so that folks forget whatever notions they might have about my appearance/religion, I don’t know how to deal with it.

          • The real-world advice in the comments on this blog will go far in educating you about your career, so don’t feel guilty. If you’re not already, make use of your Muslim Law Students Association (or contact the National MLSA) to get in touch with some women already in the work force, who can give you excellent advice about how to navigate the issue.

      • With skirts/hemlines, I’d say it’s all about how high they ride up when you sit. I’ve seen women tug hemlines when they’re seated in meetings – just don’t be that girl!

        I’m 5″4 but with muscular legs & calves – just below kneecap (paired with 2.5-3″ pumps) works best as my knee joint is never going to get slender enough for me to risk at/above knee length.

  7. Having worked fashion retail all through undergrad and law school, it makes me nauseated to think about dressing like a man for work everyday. *Unless that one judge likes the ladies in skirts… I’m gonna leave that one alone entirely :/
    Reading these types of articles about What Not To Wear, that seems to be practically the only solution to avoiding agonizing daily decisions regarding every aspect of an outfit. And, that solution makes my clothing completely devoid of personality. Soooo excited to be an attorney.

  8. Red is a tricky color. It took me one semester’s worth of procrastinating to find a red shoe that was subdued enough to wear as a summer associate. They have been my go-to shoes when I need a splash of color, but sadly they are now a little worn and in need of retirement. I wish that I had the foresight to buy multiples because now I don’t have the time to invest in finding a replacement.

    As a further note on shoes, make sure that your heels are comfortable to walk outside in. We often walked several blocks to lunch and it is hard to impress the partner you are speaking with when you fall flat on your face because your heel got stuck in the crack of the side walk. It is even more embarrassing/annoying to have your footwear brought up and the story re-told by your other (all male) summers when your hosts are deciding where to go for lunch and whether or not to drive. A wide heel is best.

  9. I have red, patent stiletto heels. I wear them with wide leg navy pants. I always get compliments. And know who I got the idea from? A successful partner at Patton Boggs in DC!

    • I dressed like a frumpy man for the first few years of my practice, until I started working for a couple of badass women partners who wore what they wanted and looked absolutely fabulous while doing a bang-up job. Thank goodness for them. There aren’t enough feminine, stylish, confident, powerful woman role models out there.

  10. Recalling a recent discussion here about dressing more like a law clerk than like a lawyer, I think it’s interesting that clothing from Express was mentioned in the ATL article/at the event. I, like many other readers here, did not know Express had work-appropriate clothing, which from what I understand they don’t, though some people seem to think that this clothing is appropriate for work.

    I didn’t realize how many people have trouble with these things, except when I actually thought about it, I have a much younger sister (age 22) that loves fashion and clothing, but she couldn’t dress appropriately for court/deposition/client meeting, etc. if her life depended on it. It’s not the same as the fashion you see in magazines or even on law-type TV shows. She’s always saying I should buy this top or that jacket, and she doesn’t understand why I say I can’t wear it to work. For people like her, the bottom line rule is to dress plain and boring because what’s “boring” to her is actually probably over-accessorized or just on the line of appropriate.

    But I will confess, I also have red shoes (dark red flats), I sometimes wear a pink shirt with my dark suit, and today I’m wearing a skirt suit without pantyhose (don’t worry, I was not in court!).

    • I think pink is fine. It adds some color to certain suits.

      as for Express, I generally agree except for their Editor pants, which, in certain cuts, can be work appropriate: http://www.express.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=20052&parentCategoryId=2&categoryId=28&subCategoryId=606&Mcat=606&Mcatp=cat_28&Mppg=0&Mpos=0&Mcatn=Pants&Mcatpn=category&Mpg=SEARCH%2BNAV&Mpper=3&user_att_name=Interest&user_att_value=Email&Mrsaa=*&Mrsavf=*&Mcatg=cat_2

    • I recall this blog recommended Express, among other stores, for affordable suits for summer associates with a limited budget:


      A lot of the clothes there are clubby, tacky, and loud, but couldn’t a few well-chosen, well-fitting pieces from the store find a place in a summer associates’ work wardrobe?

      • I think part of the issue with a store like Express is that if you don’t know what’s appropriate for work, you won’t know what pieces to buy there. And if you’re just starting out working, you probably don’t know what’s OK and should steer clear. If you’re unsure about what constitutes business casual, it’s much better to go to BR, J Crew or AT, where most things will be fine, than to Express, where you really have to know what works. If you’re confident in your ability to find appropriate clothes, then stores like Express (or even cheap stores like H&M) is a fine place to go.

      • I, for one, love my Express Editor pants. Granted, I purchased them a few years ago when the store was a little more conservative, but they have held up wonderfully and are the most comfortable pants I own. Personally, I think that as long as you abide by the general rule — not too tight or too low– they are totally acceptable to wear to work.

        As a side note, I also own full suits from Express (pants, skirts, jackets), and while I am not crazy about the one-button style jacket style anymore, the suits still look professional. If you can’t spend a lot of money, I would buy my suits from Express rather than say, Macy’s.

        • skirt-hating lady, esquire :

          Express Editor pants fit me more perfectly than any pants I’ve ever tried on, and they’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands (off my cold, dead butt?) I’m even thinking of taking them to a tailor to get replicated in a nicer fabric – few years ago Express wes making them in more interesting and varied fabrics, but recently they seem to be stuck in a rut.

    • I don’t really get why Express is such a big deal as in “don’t shop there!”

      I think Express suits are perfectly professional. I only several. I also don’t think Express is exactly budget-friendly if you buy suits full price, but they’re not super expensive and for someone on the small side (like me) the suits actually fit appropriately rather than hanging off of me.

      I realize that Express also has lots of glittery, sequined going-out clothes, but so what? There are also suits and blouses that are perfectly work appropriate, usually all grouped together. When shopping for work, buy suits, not going-out clothes. Seems pretty easy and obvious. J. Crew and Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft all have flowery dresses and summer shorts in the stores. If you’re shopping for work clothes, buy suits and blouses, regardless of where you shop. Do not buy summer dresses and shorts (from J. Crew or BR or ATL) or glittery club clothes (from Express). Seems easy enough.

      • It’s not just a matter of Express clothing being glittery. Their suits are cut to be sexy. For example, the skirts have are about 21 inches long while most suits are 23 inches long. They’re designed to be way above the knee. Obviously this is not a problem with pants since they’re hemmed.

  11. I recently served as a panelist for a similar event at a nearby law school, and I was horrified at the things I heard myself say about dressing for interviews and summer clerkships. “Err on the side of conservative; this is not the time to show your personality through the way you dress; if you’re remembered for what you wore to the interview, you’ve made a mistake; if you question whether something’s appropriate, then it’s probably not; remember that you’re dressing for the old-school partners who are making the hiring decisions, etc.” I felt like I was officially welcoming all of these beautiful young law students to the most boring profession on earth. But, really, I stand by this advice, and I think Kat’s rules are good ones. Now that I’ve practiced for years and know my office, I wear bright colors, prints, scoop necks, boots, etc. But not in court, never in court.

  12. Frustrated Academic :

    After reading the article (while wearing a black and white polka dot skirt, black flats, black shirt, and 3/4 length denim jacket–a smite worthy outfit according to this bunch), all I can focus on is:

    “Looking sexy in a law firm is disrespectful” – Mary Nicolau. Absolutely. No one should be able to see your cleavage and your skirt or dress should be knee-length and not too tight. The partner you’re working for is someone’s husband/father/boyfriend. Show some respect.

    Really? From that statement we learn (1) all partners are male, (2) all male partners are randy goats that cannot be trusted around an attractive woman, and (3) it rests with women to control their sexuality\body\means of dress so as not to tempt men (see number 2).

    Argh! I can’t tell if the commenter at the panel said that or if it is a blogger’s tongue-in-cheek take–either way, it makes me want to punch someone. Wrong on SO many levels!

    • That part really annoyed me also. IMHO, if all men are so easily distracted when a woman dresses in a way that shows her form, then: student readers, I think you know what to wear for your finals.

      (Joking, joking.)

      • Totally agree. I had a (female) partner tell me not to wear shirts that buttoned because all men would think about is unbuttoning them! Please. If that is true, its not my job to wear sacks so they don’t think about unbuttoning my shirt. I happen to have more faith in the fact that most men don’t notice what I wear most days.

        • So men wear button-fronts to work daily. Am I to infer that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and think only about unbuttoning them? What sexist crap!

        • That is the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read.

    • While I will admit that my overall style is sarcastic, everything I wrote was said by one of the panelists, not made up to be humorous. And, the subtext to the whole discussion was that women should dress in a certain way to make men feel more comfortable letting them be in the profession (despite the fact that it is 2010). And YES Mary Nicolau made that comment and she seemed rather earnest in her message that if you are a woman, you better button up so as not to distract your male superiors. Bottom line, I agree with many of the rules in this article and I agree that is important for both women AND men to dress professionally. However, I think these discussions tend to focus disproportionately on women and reinforce antiquated gender stereotypes.

      • Its a disservice to both men and women to say to women “dress to hide that you’re a woman because men might get turned on if you don’t”. Women have been doing that for a long time and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. I don’t show cleavage in the office (and I have substantial cleavage which isn’t always easy to hide), but no one I work with mistakes me for a man. And I haven’t had any problems with that. I’m not saying its easy, but women are not going to get ahead in any profession if we pretend to be mini-men. We’ll only get ahead if we show our value as women.

        • Frustrated Academic :

          OMG! Well, A.N., I guess now we know why law firms are so slow to change, those on the inside are perpetuating the boys’ club mythos. Dress like a nun so that the male hierarchy does not realize you are a woman, get wigged out, and, what, push you onto the Mommy track?

          Did anyone bring up the point that maybe when firms recognize that an associate is more than a boxy navy suit, there can be some actual change in this profession and how it treats people?

          All I can say is that I am glad my path did not lead me to law firm life ;-)

  13. If a judge has a problem with me wearing a pantsuit rather than a skirt suit, and penalizes me because of it, that’s against his or her professionalism, not mine.

    • Actually, it is against your client.

      I think it is cr*p that some judges feel so strongly about pants vs skirts. When I rule the universe, it won’t matter. But for now, if I know my judge has a problem with pants, you are darn right I’ll be arguing in a skirt.

      • You and me both. I can make my political points on my own dime, with my own risk – not my client’s dime and my client’s risk.

        • It’s just terribly dated. Between the judges-not-liking-pant-suits-on-women (a look that became mainstream years ago!) and the let’s-have-a-drinky-poo-after-work, it’s like walking into a time warp. Thank goodness for corporate America, which has pretty much abandoned traditional business dress! My clients all dress casually and it helps with work/life balance — gone are the days when women wore skirted suits and then had to change to do anything with their families later on that evening.

          • No argument, but my job is still to do the best I can in representing my client. With a (thankfully increasing) minority of judges, that means I show up in a skirt suit. I made the blunder once as a young associate 3rd-chair in the case, and the (female) judge was openly hostile to me and my argument. Her hostility was, long story short, very detrimental to our client. She has since retired, so one less to worry about!

    • Yeah, it sucks that judges sometimes run their courtrooms like their private little fiefdoms, but as long as our clients are going to be the ones who suffer from rulebreaking . . .

      • It’s really a problem because as long as there’s one or two judges and partners out there like this everyone has to follow the rule to avoid damage. There’s no way to fight it because the fight on your own behalf hurts someone else, not just you. Furthermore, since it’s not an official rule in the local rules or something you can’t just campaign to have the rule changed- you are trying to change one individual, powerful person’s personal opinions. It’s not even a written rule, so you can’t just check before you go, you have to err on the side of caution even with judges who might not care either way. Arrrgh!

      • What about complaining (and petitions) to the state’s Judiciary Committee? Would that be effective?

        Additionally, Supreme Court precedent has established pantsuits as appropriate courtroom attire for women attorneys. If a judge won’t follow Supreme Court precedent in court attire, what does that say about that judge’s attitude towards following Supreme Court (or State Supreme Court, for that matter) precedent in other matters?

        • skirt-hating lady, esquire :

          Absolutely, I would complain to the state bar association if a judge made a comment about my pants. (As my user name suggests, I am radical on this point.) That’s because I see the skirt requirement as pure sexism. Ultimately, I don’t think “what’s best for the client” means that women attorneys have to capitulate to sexist or otherwise descriminatory demands. I mean, what if the judge demanded sexual favors? (Admittedly a very extreme example). Or in the example upthread, what if the judge was hostile to religious garb, does that mean a Muslim lawyer should take off her head covering? What if the judge just greatly preferred male lawyers, would that mean we would have to bow out and let a male associate get to argue the motion? Capitulating to discriminatory demands is not part of being a good lawyer, and it’s not part of our ethical duties towards our clients.

  14. I agree that a high ponytail is not the best idea for an office, but think that a low ponytail is totally acceptable. The same goes for a low bun. Also, both can be worn with accessories that add a pop of color or interest, such as a headband or hair clip/barette. These styles, if done neatly, are just as professional as wearing your hair down. I end up with a ponytail probably twice a week because (to me) it is a welcome alternative to waking up at 6 AM to do a blow-out.

    • Agreed. My hair, when down, is either ropy and hippie-ish looking (natural texture) or (if blown-out) kinda Friday-night looking. I look most professional with my hair back in a low ponytail or a up in a twist. It’s not even a question for me, despite all the times it’s raised in the blogosphere.

      • I have the same experience. I try to avoid the ponytails only because unless I blow dry straight, my hair is too wavy to look “professional” but a bun is generally my go to. If I wore it down, it would not at all work!

        • This kind of thinking just makes me want to scream. Your natural hair texture is just that–your natural texture.

          I am African American and I wear my hair in it’s natural kinky, coily, spirally texture and if any one tries to tell me that wearing my hair the way it grows out of my head is “unprofessional”, we are going to have some problems.

          Why are women forced to be so neurotic about their hair?

          • I totally understand the gripe, but I have hair almost down to my waist. And this is the length I choose to have. That would look problematic if I had pin straight hair. The fact that I have wavy, “messy” hair naturally looks even more problematic. I get being proud of one’s natural texture; but my natural texture + my chosen length = total bedroom hair , which is, sadly, problematic for my office.

    • Agreed that low ponytail can be acceptable. As a woman with super-curly hair, my hair gets bigger and bigger as the day goes on, regardless how much product is in it. I refuse to get it straightened just to be more ‘professional’. Often a low ponytail or a bun (high or low) is a much better option for work than a ginormous head of frizz.

    • I had a female coworker nail a girl for wearing a ponytail in an interview which I thought was interesting because both coworker and I have kind of crazy curly hair which can be distracting on its own. When mine was longer, I often pulled it into a low ponytail for interviews, moot court, etc. so it wasn’t a distraction and I didn’t need to spend time brushing it back behind my ears. I agree that a medium or high ponytail might not be a professional look for a lot of people but if the alternative is your hair being a distraction, put it in a low ponytail or bun and call it a day.

  15. Jill, I agree w/ everything you just said as well as Kat’s rules. I loved the ATL post – it was a welcome break from reading a boring deposition! Sometimes, the youngsters don’t use common sense (flip-flops at work? NO!) But the main rule is to know what’s acceptable in your office/city. and just so you don’t think I’m a total bore, I wore my pointy-toed red sling-backs w/ a kitten heel to work just yesterday!:)

  16. artemisia :

    The Corporette guidelines make sense to me, overall. Work isn’t the right place to be display legs, cleavage, tramp stamp.

    But “a local judge has openly expressed his preference for skirt suits”? Really? We should be mocking him, not catering to his stone-aged attitudes. The taxpayers are paying him to worry about the particulars of the case, not the fashion decisions of counsel. Likewise, companies aren’t paying lawyers to fuss about nail polish colors or whether they can see someone’s toes.

    “Overall, I hated this article. Of course one shouldn’t display underwear, etc. But I think that worrying too much about what a man might think is the opposite of what women need to do in the workplace.” I agree with Robin.

  17. BigLaw Associate :

    What this shows is that there are two completely styles of dress. One for interviews/court/first week on the job and another for regular office wear. In an interview or in court you want the focus to be on your brain/your client’s case, not on your clothes. Wear boring conservative and well-tailored clothes. But the office is totally different. In the office you want to wear the uniform, but also be yourself.

    In my office (I work in a large law firm in NYC) it is completely appropriate to wear bright colors, and even bright shoes (I’m looking at the patent red pumps under my desk right now) so long as the overall outfit is put together and professional. Likewise, it is fine to have some personality with your jewelry (though I think it’s better to play with necklaces than earrings that are dangly). Obviously you don’t want to have clothing be too tight (though not because it might tempt those partners, but because it’s not professional) but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look female or try to cover up your figure. There is absolutely no point in not dressing like yourself and showing some personality at work.

    As for hem lines, I’m very conservative. I have heard people talk negatively about a woman in my class who regularly wears dresses and skirts two inches above the top of her knees. It might just be because that is combined with no pantyhose and tall heels, but you don’t even want to get near there. At the knee (top or middle) looks good on everyone, so why push it higher than that for work? Besides, when it is higher than the top of the knee it gets really high when you sit down.

    So my advice is 1) know your office – look at senior and mid-level associates since partners have more leeway in how they dress and 2) don’t aim for high fashion for an interview or in court.

  18. I agree with the know your office rule – go for the most conservative approach first and then modify based on more senior women around you. That being said, my office is on the more casual end of business casual (for NYC) and I own patent red leather open toe heels with a peep toe. They pretty much break all of the rules but like another commenter above, I generally wear them with wide-leg navy pants which tones the shoes down considerably.
    As for the ponytail thing – please. Most of my day is spent sitting at my desk staring at a computer or hunched over documents. I grew my hair out again so that I can wear a ponytail to keep my hair out of my face. As long as it is neat, I don’t see the problem. And honestly, in both my current firm and my prior very white shoe conservative firm, nearly every associate who had hair long enough, pulls it back into a pony tail at some point. And I know a few partners who do so as well.

  19. I find it hard to believe the midwest is more conservative than the east coast in courtroom dress (male and female). Some of the “rules” espoused have never been followed in the state courtrooms I preside over. I have never, ever heard a male judge make a negative remark about a woman in a pants suit, in fact that is all I and my female colleagues wear. Federal Court tends to be more formal than state court but I still can’t see the ban on pantsuits.

    • just curious…why do you find it hard to believe that the midwest is more conservative than the east coast?

      • Having worked in both midwestern states (including Chicago) and DC, I can say the midwest is definitely more casual. I think that’s what HAW meant by conservative.

        • I agree that Chicago is more casual than DC in terms of office attire and even in terms of attire in many of the courtrooms in state court (state court attire can be a little hit-or-miss). But federal court in Chicago is likely where the skirt-suit rules originate–I had an experience 10 years ago where I saw a female litigator in the case preceding mine questioned as to whether she didn’t know she needed to appear in court that day because she was wearing a suit with pants.

          • I clerked in the southwest and had to wear pantyhose and a skirt even in chambers. The judge was originally from the midwest, though, as am I.

          • That rule’s gone the way of the dodo, even for arguing in front of the Seventh Circuit.

            Funny thing is, I was under the impression that the judges fixated on skirt suits were mostly in the south.

    • From what I’ve seen, most midwest firms are still “suits only,” while a lot of D.C. and NY firms have gone to business casual, and a lot of California firms are pretty much anything goes.

      • Just because the firms have gone casual, doesn’t mean the courts have, especially south of DC. I’m on the east coast and I can wear fun shoes (red patent leather, even :)), bright tops, and funky jewelry (of course not all at the same time) to the office but you better believe I would get a talking to from the partners if I wore that to court because they know some local judges expect skirt suits.

  20. Common Sense :

    We, as female professionals, have a duty to disabuse ourselves and others of the notion that we are dressing for an audience.

    No, we do not need to dress conservatively to “show respect” for male partners, associates, judges or any other individual unable to keep their thoughts out of the gutter.

    We should feel inclined to dress conservatively to show respect for ourselves and our careers.

    • “We should feel inclined to dress conservatively to show respect for ourselves and our careers.”

      Well put!!

  21. Anonymous :

    I think the most important part of Kat’s advice is to know your office. As is discussed in the comments on pretty much every post, some things are appropriate for some offices and not for others. Every office I’ve worked in has had a different culture and a different notion of “appropriate” dress:
    -pre-law school non-profit: technically business casual, but anything except jeans would fly;
    -federal court internship: jacket everyday, but pants, bare legs, colored shoes, prints, statement jewelry all ok (esp. if you weren’t expected to be in the courtroom);
    -federal executive agency internship: business casual, jeans ok on Friday;
    -Congressional agency internship: jacket everyday but Friday, no hose, but somewhat conservative on color and jewelry;
    -small plaintiff’s firm: anything (including jeans), unless in court/deposition/client meeting.

    • Anonymous :

      that should say that no hose was ok at the Congressional agency.

    • You are 100% on point.

      I’d also add that there can be slight geographical variations. A judge in NYC might not blink at a female attorney in a pink shirt with her hair down. I’m not sure, but I used to appear before Southern judges who seemed a little more formal. I usually opted for a dark skirt suit/hair bun/white collared shirt/minimal makeup on those occasions.

  22. Those rules work well when you’re interfacing with courts and the public, but they break down in many offices. It would be a bad idea to follow all those rules, then end up consistently overdressing or outdressing your colleagues. Careful observance of interoffice culture is key.

    For example:

    A young attorney landed a federal job after several (stellar) years in private practice. The first day, he wore a suit and tie to show respect for himself and the job. Even though he observed fellow attorneys sticking to “casual” or “business casual” all week long, he decided to keep wearing the tie.

    By Friday, the most tactful supervisor in the office was dispatched with a simple but firm message: Sorry, but your ties are making everyone uncomfortable.

    When it comes to day-to-day office fashion, here’s a strategy that hasn’t tanked my career yet:

    1) Identify a senior female colleague on an admirable career trajectory;
    2) Observe her unspoken dress code;
    3) Try to imagine what she might have been wearing at your age; and
    4) Shop and outfit yourself accordingly.

    • North Shore :

      That happened to my husband, and I think it’s a shame. He’s not young — he’s in his 40s, and he just prefers to wear a suit. It’s a professionalism thing, plus he has a military officer background and is just more comfortable in a uniform or suit. He landed at a federal agency where casual is the norm, and was receiving derogatory comments about his wearing a suit. He now wears jeans and sweatshirts and looks like a messenger rather than a federal attorney, and he hates it, but the casual culture enforcers are happy.

      • Sorry about your husband’s new look. The guy in my story is also a former military officer. Federal attorneys can lose some face over the enforced casual style.

        After work, the inattentive cashier at my local (inner-city) supermarket typically sees my suit-less state and asks, out of habit, if I’ll be paying with food stamps.

        One day, I flexed out for an appointment with my elderly doctor. He asked if jeans were the norm for mid-week in my office. I tried to explain that our Mondays are basically the same as our Fridays. His eyebrow raised, probably involuntarily, before changing the subject.


      • Can’t he wear slacks and a button down and call it a happy medium?

        I would hate working in a casual workplace. I really hate feeling sloppy, and I don’t like jeans.

        • oh my god i have to COMPLETELY disagree. I worked in a casual workplace for 6 months and every day I wore jeans and sneakers and it was amazing. Now I have all these nice jeans that I look wistfully at as I’m assembling my dress, cardigan and heels every morning.

    • This happened at my clerkship. I knew that chambers was a jeans and t-shirt sort of place and so I didn’t wear a suit my first day, but I did wear skirts or dresses until Wednesday when I was told to stop it because I was making everyone else look bad. :)

      • I work in a software company with a bunch of sloppy programmers. I dressed down for work (jeans and not-so-nice top) for 2 years before I finally felt like I was in a position to dress the way I want. I now wear skirts and dresses a few times a week, never shorter than 1-2 inches above the knee, and while I don’t feel like it’s endangering my career, it certainly does attract a lot of unwanted attention. Grrr, I wish I could have a job like the rest of you where fitting in doesn’t involve dressing like a slob!

        • I’ve been told before to dress down because I was making other people look bad. Screw them. If my wearing grey slacks and a button down with kitten heels makes you jeans wearing ass-hanging out barefoot ass uncomfortable, so be it.

          • Go you – the women here dress so badly – think kmart catalog looks. I’m happiest wearing dresses and that’s what I’ll wear. I’ll never forget the heads turning when people heard me walking in heels – got the other women to start wearing heels too =).

  23. I save my crazy shoes for pants – that way they peek out a little, but aren’t too in-your-face. Like C and so many others have said, though, all of this is about your particular office – what worked in my old firm wouldn’t work in the firm I’m at now, and vice versa.

  24. I was at that event. It was interesting and informative. What I mainly learned is not to trust anything that “image advisors” say, ever. I don’t think those 2 bloggers are giving their own personal opinions, but rather they’re paraphrasing what was said at the event. One was being straightforward, while the other was quite tongue-in-cheek.

    In general, what the panel advised in terms of fit was pretty accurate. On all the other topics, I would only follow their advise for interview, b/c they basically said “safe, conservative and boring.”

    For court, one thing that was not mentioned is the culture of the court. Just like business formal and business casual can vary drastically from one workplace to another, even in the same geographic area, so can appropriate court attire vary from court to court in the same area. What’s appropriate in federal court, or state court law division, or state court criminal division or federal administrative court or state administrative court can vary drastically, even in the same city. Observing your environment and matching your overall look to what you see in court is very important. Following those fashion “rules” that career services office give you, not so important.

    I see a wide variety of attire on women attorneys and judges from one court to another. Men vary too, though not as drastically. My two cents: be confident in what you wear. Once you’ve decided to leave the house in a particular outfit, take pride in your choice and own it.

  25. To understand these “rules”, you have to understand Chicago, and the way women dress in Chicago, which is very different from the way women dress in, say, Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, to name a few. Chicago women dress plain and a little bit drab. Maybe that’s because in Chicago there is always enough excitement to go around without adding to it through clothing. I think these rules are probably just great for Chicago, but definitely not so good for Tampa, San Diego, or either of the Portlands!

    • No offense, but I am not sure how there being enough excitement in Chicago translates to drab clothing. There’s plenty of excitement in NYC, and we don’t tend to go for drab or plain around here :)

    • divaliscious11 :

      I certainly don’t dress drab, and I know lots of attorney’s in Chicago who manage not to look drab eithter…

      • Frustrated Academic :

        As a Chicago-gal, I have to respectfully disagree.

        While we layer out of self-preservation for many months of the year, between May and September we are seriously fierce.

    • Having seen the way women dress in both Philadelphia and Chicago, there are differences but I don’t think they have anything to do with dressing plain or drab. In any event, in Chicago, there are months at a time when every woman you see on the street may look plain and drab because all you can see is overcoat, hat, scarf, gloves, etc. But look out for late spring and summer–after months of weather that can certainly be described as drab, you will see lots of women looking anything but plain walking around the Loop.

  26. Slight hijack. I need to get a sensible, bright gal a high school graduation gift. It’s been far too many decades for me to know what’s useful, appropriate, and will last her past college. I am sure she will be graduate school, but it’s college entry time for her now. No jewelry is worn, she’s not “girly” nor into fashion, and the obligatory “pen” isn’t a great idea for her. Something special, personal, and practical? Help all you law students and recent grads! FWIW I still have boxes of unused cross pens (many monogrammed) from BA and PhD gifts of my own … and was was also now decades ago. Something better, please? Thanks!

    • A watch? I know a lot of people just go by cell phones now, but I still think a watch is a classic, timeless & useful gift (as well as the kind of “jewelry” that a non-jewelry wearing girl might wear).

    • I’ve always wanted a nice passport/travel wallet or a nice business card holder, but think about it so rarely that I don’t feel like spending the money on something like that. I think those are more practical than the pen and she would use them. But she probably wouldn’t buy them for herself.

    • It may not be special or personal, but in my broke college days I really appreciated cold, hard cash the best.

    • I like the watch idea, but I know that personally if my watch wasn’t a really nice one (I wear a Tag Heuer), I probably wouldn’t wear it on a daily basis even though it was a gift from my fiance (who sees me every day and would notice). Sounds like the recipient is too young for a business card holder, but travel wallet might be good depending on her interests.

      When I graduated from high school, most of the gifts that I received were dorm related–sheets, towels, blankets, espresso machine. If you are looking for something nice but not super-expensive, and still personal, consider monogrammed bath towels. For some reason, I was jealous of the girls with monogrammed towels, even in law school when you would have thought I would have gotten over that.

      • Just remembered – a close relative who was somewhere in between my mom and me in age (i.e., someone who my 17-self thought of as “cooler” than my mom) took me shopping for dorm comforter/sheets/etc. as a graduation present. It was a great gift, and rather than imposing your style on her you can have the fun of selecting the items together as well. Throw in a nice lunch, and its a great present as well as a fun day out for both of you!

    • I agree with the watch suggestion. Also, two gifts that seemed rather random that I got for highschool graduation that I still use 7 years later are a travel clothes steamer (which I didn’t fully appreciate until law school when I started interviewing) and one of the really nice tempur-pedic pillows (they’re like $150, which is more than I would ever spend on a pillow, but it is truly one of the best pillows ever, and therefore turned out to be a really great gift, even though it’s not something that screams “graduation present”).

      • thought of two more: I got a monogrammed letter opener that is still useful. It has saved me from many a paper cut when opening letters (thought it seems that the only mail I get in letter form these days are bills or rejection letters, so maybe not as useful in the age of email). I also got a number of monogrammed laundry bags, which are great if you live in a dorm and are still useful to me now since I don’t have a washer/dryer in my actual apartment (the ones with straps that you can wear like a backpack are the easiest to carry).

        • Great ideas, everyone please keep them coming! I know her very well, and will soon know where she will be for college (Notre Dame vs Boston College). I also know she will be cold all of the time…thoughts?

          KZ, where does one find those laundry bags that have straps AND monogramming? All I find are plain drawstrings…sounds very helpful, especially as she and I share a first initial and actually have the same initials although not related to each other. I’ve known her since she was 8 years old!

          Sadly she does not wear a watch at all…just her blackberry and has travelled the world as a competitive athlete. Although I’ll keep those ideas for others. :)

          Thanks … ideas are great!

          • Wallet. Stock it with gift cards (Starbucks, Borders, Target) some quarters in the change purse (for laundry) and a crisp $20 labeled “Mad Money” (to remind her to always have a way to get home.)

          • newassociate :

            I love 3L’s idea. I’d also include a giftcard to and the grocery store (Safeway, TJ’s). I was so careful with my grocery money that a giftcard which allowed a splurge on something like fresh fish would be amazing. And maybe a laminated card with important phone numbers like the campus police, the non-emergency number for the local police, taxi companies, the student health clinic, Planned Parenthood, and this last one might sound totally crazy- a lawyer. If she or a friend finds herself in a difficult spot, it might be nice to not have to ‘fess up to the family and/or find an attorney in the yellow pages. Of course, of course, you’d hope she would talk to the family, but just in case…

          • Here are some suggestions specifically if she chooses ND-

            -No laundry bag. It’s likely she’ll use the laundry service (the coin laundries are expensive these days) and will have to use the bags from there.

            -The Shirt for 2010. You can order this from the ND bookstore starting next week. Almost every student buys one and wears it to the first football game, so it will be nice for her to have ahead of time.

            -A good ID holder. It’s very easy to be cashless there since even the vending machines now take IDs. Undergrads don’t venture off campus all that often. There is a Starbucks on campus along with some of the typical fast food outlets.

          • I completely agree with anon. I am currently a student at Notre Dame, and the ID card holder would’ve been a great gift when I graduated from high school! Vera Bradley wristlets are especially popular here.

          • For high school graduation, I would go sweatshirt and cash. I know it doesnt seem like a big enough present, but I would save the watch/letter opener/etc for college graduation. There is just such a good chance that a present like that gets lost in the 4 moves or so one makes in college.

          • I say go with either a gift certificate to her favorite store or cash and as a goofy yet practical gift a Snuggie (the gift that keeps on giving).

          • I think the laundry bag was bought at somewhere like bed,bath, and beyond or the container store (something like this–http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?order_num=-1&SKU=14088806) and then a local store that will monogram basically anything did the monogramming, rather than picking out one of the bags that the monogram store had in stock (I got several of those, as well, and they were just all the drawstring. Apparently laundry bags were a very popular gift the year I graduated from high school)

          • Frustrated Academic :

            Not as sexy as some of the other suggestions, but if she goes to ND, maybe a really nice (warm) winter coat–South Bend winters are COLD and windy.

            Also maybe enroll her in monthly club of some sort–fruit, candy, whatever. Getting mail\treats that first year away from home is always awesome!

          • I got a Vera Bradley “Mini Zip” wallet for a gift while I was in college and I used it so much I had to replace it 4 times. It’s just the right size for cash, student ID, a credit card, cell phone, and chap-stick. I took it with me wherever I went, and often saved me from the “bring a purse or not bring a purse” debate. All of my friends had something similar.

          • goirishkj :

            ND alum here–I still have nightmares of those winters and I grew up in the midwest and was used to winter! Several of the dorms are older and have radiators for heat (mine did). Maybe a nice warm soft blanket, preferably washable. I loved my flannel sheets and down comforter back in those days! Also, don’t laugh, but I actually really used my long underwear. My college pants all had to be big enough to allow for layers. Maybe get her high end silk long underwear?

            Someone else suggested it, but the Shirt is a great gift. I was a first generation Domer and didn’t realize how important the Shirt was, didn’t buy it freshman year and they sold out. I didn’t understand that even though it only came in XL at the time (now it comes in ALL sizes!) that I would still want it.

            One of my favorite HS graduation gifts was a Tiffany’s key ring. It was my first Tiffany’s gift and came from a very glamourous cousin who I really looked up to (and still do look up to!)

            And if she ends up at BC, I can’t really help. Nobody’s perfect, I suppose.

    • Do you know where she will be going to college? Can you find out? How about a gift package to a spa/hairdresser in the town where she will be. I remember struggling to find a few bucks to get my hair cut and would have loved to go to one of the really trendy salons when I was in grad school in Chicago.

      • Agree with this – I barely had money to get a haircut all through college!

    • Another vote for cash. You can earmark it for books or pizza in the nice personal note you write, right after you tell her how proud you are.

      If you don’t know this young woman well enough for a gift to immediately come to mind, cash is a fine and welcome gift.

    • My mom gave me a nice leather backpack (hobo) for my high school graduation and I still use it 12 years later. It’s not huge and has a handle at the top, so you can even carry it like a briefcase. Great gift.

      • I second this idea (or something close to it). I personally would recommend either a nice, classic leather purse or travel bag. I have a leather duffel bag that my grandparents gave me when I was younger (long before my HS graduation), now at 25, it’s still my go-to travel bag.

        • I had a friend who gave his daughter a new set of luggage. I thought it was sort of a boring gift, but when I thought about it, it’s very useful for travelling home on breaks, and it’s also something probably too expensive for her to purchase for herself.

          Go for something classic and she can use it for all those business trips post college – I know I had to borrow luggage from my dad for those.

          • I absolutely agree with the luggage idea. A good family friend gave me a nice roller board carry-on for my high school graduation gift. 10 years later I still use it constantly. I travel between Chicago and New York weekly for work and silently thank her every time I pack.

      • Along this line…I got a largish high quality duffel that converted to a backpack from my mother’s best friend when I graduated from highschool. It was EagleCreek, something like this:


        though it was (yikes!) 14 years ago, so not as nice. I still use it today. Used it to travel up and down the East Coast, could carry-on a plane, carry on my back to get on the train, throw in the back of a friend’s car, etc. Found it very helpful as I did not have a car in college. Very useful

    • I got a fantastic leather travel container for my jewelry that I still use 9 years later. Difficult to describe. I know you said she doesn’t wear jewelry, but something travel related might be a good idea, especially if she will be going back and forth between home and school on weekends. Maybe a nice toiletry bag or carry on bag would work. The travel wallet suggestion is great as well. These are definitely things I wouldn’t normally purchase for myself but are excellent additions to life away from home.

    • I got a Swiss Army Knife for high school graduation, and though I didn’t appreciate it right away, it turned out to be the most useful gift I got. Bottle opener, can opener, little scissors… and you never realize how often you use a knife until you don’t have one…

    • Skip the pen, etc. Depending on the route you want to go, I’d say something dorm room related or even, though she’s not girly, a nice watch or pendant on a chain type thing. Even non-girly girls dress up occassionally and a nice piece of jewelry makes you feel that you’ve really grown-up.

    • this girl sounds like me when I graduated from HS – bright, but not girly. I think the one thing I would have appreciated would be a nice leather cross-body handbag, from a trendy-ish young designer, like botkier or kooba or marc by marc jacobs. I don’t know what your budget is, but I think as a non-girly 17 year old I would have appreciated something like this:


      it’s available in other colors if you look around.

    • I came across a book called by Jordan Christy called “How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class, and Grace.” The description is “Christy offers a new look at seemingly ‘old fashioned’ advice. She covers diet, speech, work ethic, friends, relationships, manners, makeup and fashionable yet modest clothing, showing modern ladies how they can be beautiful, intelligent and fun while retaining values and morals.” It seems the perfect gift for a young, intelligent woman headed to college, who may be exposed to pressure to compromise her principles (see “campusgossip.com”).

  27. I think these rules are a lot better than others I’ve seen, especially because they deal with the reality that going to work does not mean you have to lose your personality! But the big caveat for all the rules really is KNOW YOUR OFFICE!!!

  28. I think it is so creepy the obsession male lawyers have lately with the way female lawyers dress. I was shocked to find all this in a profession I thought was educated. It makes me feel like I’m a child again in the evangelical church I grew up in where all the women wore skirts and a man complained when I wore a tank top and pencil skirt to church when I was 13. Really, I’ve never seen such an obsession with women’s clothes outside of the fundamental evangelical community. It really makes me uncomfortable, to be honest.

  29. I have worn pink to every single court appearance, in DC, VA, and MD (VA and MD at least in some very conservative courts). Never worn pants, however.

    My pink Brooks Brothers button down under a charcoal suit, with just the collar and cuffs peeking out, a pink cashmere shell under a very well tailored cashmere black suit, or even a pink accessory. I love pink. I will also wipe the floor with opposing counsel.

    • divaliscious11 :

      Love it!
      Not a pink person per se, but love the confidence!

    • Plus 1 for the fierceness!

    • Anonymous :

      yay for wearing pink! i wear pink all the time–to the point where i’m afraid people think of me like elle woods. (esp. that scene in legally blonde 2 where she’s sitting in her (pink) bathroom and her fiance asks her what she thinks he thought when they first met and she responds “God, that woman wears a lot of pink!”)

      • Not blonde (not even right ethnicity to be blond, though my brothers tease me about my “blond roots”) but I loved Legally Blonde.

        And I’m okay with it :-)

        Ladies, work hard, know your stuff, and be yourselves. I’m young-ish (late 20s), and I’m happy being me – associate at big law firm, married, baby, and I get plenty of court time (it took awhile and I earned it). I wear clothes I love because I love me and I love the image I present. Me includes a bit of daily pink, and if someone has a problem with that, well, they would do best not to underestimate me.

  30. I, like others, hated that piece.

    Here’s what it comes down to, though: some of us can pull together a professional look out of Express & American Apparel clothes. Those who can’t, need to stick with the rules.

    So if you’re really insecure, or new, follow the rules until you get the sense of what works. If you never get comfortable, just follow the rules.

    I work at a firm where senior associates and partners regularly break every single one of the rules outlined above (with exception of skirt suit at court, that’s the First Commandment). So know your office, and your style. Or follow the rules.

  31. A judge is expressing a preference for skirt suits? Does that sound wrong to anyone else?

    • yes. it’s just as wrong as expressing a preference for a white attorney over a black attorney. both situations would hurt your client, but for some reason we only fight back against one?

      • delurking :

        Get a grip. Seriously.

      • I’m assuming you didn’t intend to be insensitive, but this is a fairly offensive analogy.

        • how so? I didn’t intend it to be insensitive, and I’m not saying that the two situations are equal, just comparable. (Maybe “just as wrong” was a poor choice of words.)

          In both situations, though, the judge is expressing a preference for something that does not relate to the attorney’s capabilities or the issue before the court, and both relate to something unique to a class of people (race or gender) that cannot be changed. (I realize that we can just wear skirt suits, but this problem only arises for women, not men, so it’s a targeted gender-based preference.) I’m seriously not equating racism with being asked to wear a skirt, but a male judge telling a female lawyer to wear a skirt is sexism, so I don’t think an analogy to racism isn’t too far off-base.

          In no way am I trying to minimize the difficulties that people of color have had in getting into the courtroom. In a way, though, this analogy and argument is like the one people make between racial discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination — some say it’s offensive to those who have suffered from racial discrimination but others say that it’s a good analogy. I doubt I can change anyone’s views here.

          • Yeah, the thing is, if you could really show a judge had a racial preference for one attorney over another, you might be able to get some legal recourse if your client was screwed over because of it. You’re unlikely to get that same recourse simply because a judge expressed a preference for skirt suits. Which may be a flaw in the law, but in the meantime, I’m not sure what choice lawyers have when practicing in that court.

          • delurking :

            Why not just apologize instead of half assed backtracking? Saying it was ‘just as wrong’ and then denying it was not a poor choice of words, it was a retraction, so own it.

            “I’m seriously not equating racism with being asked to wear a skirt”. Then DONT. No one is stupid and we understand that racial discrimination and gender based discrimination are both discrimination. Many people have made this point on this and many other threads without being offensive.

            Sorry to be so blunt but if you feel that you lack the vocabularly to speak with subtlely and respect on controversial issues, maybe you shouldn’t say anything?

          • I don’t think that the two situations are at all analogous.

            First, judges that have preferences for women wearing skirts, also tend to have strict preferences for men wearing white shirts only, conservative ties only, etc. (and certainly, no kilts).

            And the fact that you could just wear a skirt is huge. The argument that what one wears does not relate to capabilities can also easily go too far — the judge is trying to enforce decorum, however misguided that idea in his/her mind may be; it’s the idea that in his/her courtroom, you wear X. You would not wear jeans and a sweater to court, but, in reality, if you did that would also have nothing to do with your client’s case or your ability to do your job.

            Anyway, I am not defending the idea that women should have to wear skirt suits. It’s old fashioned, and I promise you all that it will very soon be unheard of. But it’s a far, FAR cry from racism.

            And, last, having clerked, I can tell you 99% of the time for 99% of judges, what you wear doesn’t matter — they rule on the merits, not on the wardrobe.

          • It’s more like a judge having a preference for a tie or that a man not wear a tan suit to court (and they do exist). It’s just an old-fashioned sense of what is “formal.” I work witha female partner who kicks butt and is certainly not even remotely sexist. She was dealing with being a woman in this profession in the 80s, so she gets to have an opinion. She believes that a skirt is more formal. She won’t even wear pants to the office. She and I joke about it because she knows that the rule is outdated, and she buys pants and just can’t make herself wear them. She’s not subverting women. She just has different rules about clothing formality.

      • It’s really not the same thing.

    • I personally have no problem with the judge’s preference for a skirt suit. I actually share his view and would never wear a pant suit to court. The way I see it, a skirt suit is more formal business wear than a pant suit. It is your job as an attorney go full-out formal in the courtroom; it’s a show of respect for the court, your client, and your role as a part of the judicial process. I’ve heard a judge comment that men should not wear brown shoes with a navy suit; he said it was a pet peeve of his. When someone asked why, he explained that black or cordovan are more formal, whereas brown shoes makes the navy more casual.

  32. That is so funny because the entire time that I was in law school I was always told to wear my hair back (ie a low ponytail) so that it was out of my face and I wouldn’t play with it during the interview. So conflicted now! Have I done it wrong all these years?

    • I think not playing with your hair trumps any casual ness that some people associate with a ponytail — I think that a ponytail – a sleek one that pulls the hair back from your face – looks very professional

    • No. I think the assumption behind that “rule” is that your hair is already “appropriately” short & “professional.” If you like having longer hair & haven’t given up on that (as I haven’t), then the hair back rule generally applies.

    • I think the ATL thread was mostly satire. No worries about pulling your hair back.

    • I was always told the same; that hair tied back in a low ponytail or bun was the most conservative and professional.

      I don’t really like how I look with my hair back, but I wore it that way to the interview for my current job, and probably haven’t tied it back since!

  33. housecounsel :

    During my first year of practice ten years ago, I was explicitly advised by a female judge (a much older, glass-ceiling-shattering one I respected very much) that she did not believe pantsuits were appropriate on women in her courtroom (this was in state court in Chicago). Maybe I should have been offended, but I liked this judge a lot and didn’t want to offend her, and therefore I didn’t wear pantsuits in her courtroom. To this day, I would never wear pants in front of a jury, and I generally don’t wear them to federal court. I will wear them anywhere else.

    I am kind of offended by Chicago lawyers being dissed! I think many of us dress very well! After all, I get most of my suggestions right here!

  34. I am on the older end of the Corporette readership, and I have several younger women working for me. One piece of advice: sometimes you need to wear a larger size (sweater, blouse, skirt, slacks…) to work than you would wear out with friends. I am continually amazed by the tightness of the clothes I see on the 20-somethings in the office. Blouses that are so tight that they not only gap in front, but also ripple in the back. Skirts that constantly ride up, and pants that, well, I won’t even go there.

    End of rant.

    • I’m in my mid-20’s and I couldn’t agree more. Some of the suits my classmates wear look painted on. Our career services office has never given advice on selecting suits and I often wonder why not. My undergraduate school did, so maybe career services assumes these women have sense enough to know how to dress, but apparently not.

      • Unfortunately I think society puts a lot of pressure on women to wear the smallest size they can zip/button, not the size that actually fits/flatters the best. Just because you can fasten it doesn’t mean it is your proper size!

        • So true! A clothing line (either Jones New York or Liz Claiborne) tried vanity sizing a few years ago – labelling a size 8, 6, labelling size 10, 8, etc., based on that desire to see the smallest number possible on our clothing tags

        • I am not sure that in this particular instance it’s society or any desire to wear the smallest size possible.

          It’s more the fact that when you first start buying suits & have no experience doing so, you tend to think that suit pants should pretty much fit the way your skinny jeans do, and button downs should fit the way your clingy shirts do, etc. This is aided by the fact that on tv and in movies, ‘professional’ women tend to wear somewhat unprofessional, too tight clothing (e.g., Lisa Cuddy on House), so the idea young women get from all that (having not spent much time in the actual workplace) is that “tight” is how your clothes are supposed to fit. It’s not their fault, it’s just a matter of inexperience.

    • I think part of the problem is that some career offices/counselors tell you that button-up shirts are the most professional. However, that’s not a style that fits every woman all that well. I’ve tried so many brands and always have issues with gapping, so I don’t wear them anymore. It’s either they gap or they are so baggy they look ridiculous. Neither look is professional.

      • It is definitely hard to find a button-down that doesn’t gap or look boxy. After a long search, I found this button down from Banana Republic which looks flattering on my body type: http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=51166&vid=1&pid=719652&scid=719652032. Maybe this can be an option for other people too.

      • There is really nothing unprofessional about a nice silk knit shell. I’m large-busted and I’d never wear a button-front shirt because of the gapping and possibility of a button opening. Now *that* would be unprofessional.

  35. I’m in court every single day, all day. I tear pantyhose in record breaking time, I love cute shoes and I’m short so I like high heels. From the rules, it sounds like I’m a tramp. But really, I wear a well tailored suit with a skirt of respectable length, show no cleavage, and have fun with my shoes and bare legs (when it’s warm out). Is that so wrong?

  36. Liz (Europe) :

    During moot court my class was actually advised to wear ponytails. Figures.

  37. artjournal :

    The judge who prefers skirts will have to get a new job in the fashion industry. In my state, judges are sanctioned for such comments in the courtroom. Oh – wait – does he like them on women AND men? Then that’s ok! LOL!

  38. I wear a distinctive ruby ring and often receive comments on it. Should I leave it off during interviews?

    And I’m shocked about the ponytail issue. I always thought the way I wear my hair looks significantly more professional when pulled into a low ponytail (ends curled) than when I leave it down. I can’t get it into a bun for the life of me, and I refuse to get “helmet hair” (a popular style in the south.) So how should I wear my hair? (It’s BSL, layered, super-straight and thick.) I’m actually considering cutting it, so if a certain cut would be professional, please link me to pictures.

    • I just wouldn’t wear anything that will be distracting. The ring might be lovely and office-appropriate, but if you think you’ll be remembered as “the girl with the big ring” or something like that, then consider leaving it off. If it’s a fairly classic style, I don’t think it would be distracting.

      The ponytail thing is a joke, as far as I can tell. I certainly can’t imagine a neat ponytail being considered inappropriate in DC, where I work. As for styles, except for extremes like a shaved head, pigtails or waist-length hair, any style that looks neat is fine. I’d avoid looking like you just rolled out of bed and ran a brush through, but I personally find it offensive when people advise curly-haired or black women to straighten or relax their hair. I think that so long as one’s hair is styled and one’s hair accessories are nondescript, whatever your personal best hairstyle is is fine.

      • Completely agree re: hair. I have long, naturally curly hair. I wear it down most days, in a pony tail or bun maybe once a week or twice a week. I never straighten it. I’m sorry, but (1) I prefer my hair curly and (2) it would take me 1.5 hours a day to straighten it, and I’d rather spend that time doing things I enjoy than frying the heck out of my hair with a flat iron.

        A friend of a friend had her curly hair chemically straightened before OCI interviews during law school because she thought she wouldn’t be taken seriously with curly hair. This made me sad.

        I’m not saying women shouldn’t straighten their hair, or are wasting their time if they do. But no one should be expected to fight their natural texture, or penalized if they don’t. As long as there is clearly grooming and maintenance involved, it’s fine.

        • My hair and your hair sound the same. I spent the better part of my 20s mastering the perfect blow out, and suddenly in my 30s I’m over it. I have always gotten far more compliments on my hair when I leave it curly. Why do I torture myself trying to straighten it? I’m sad I didn’t have this epiphany earlier (I think it took kids to do it for me – I have 2 2-year-olds. I have better ways to spend my time!)

  39. I’m a D.C. attorney and see so many poorly dressed interns in the summer. I would add one rule: do not buy your “professional” clothing at stores like Express. It will invariably be too tight, too short and expose too much skin. There is nothing wrong with looking nice. Your clothes should fit properly and not be dowdy. They’re an expression of you and if you are dressed nicely you will also feel more confident. I have to take exception with one of the rules. I hate nylons and refuse to wear them even for jury trials. D.C. is stifling hot and humid in the summer and there is absolutely no reason to put yourself through that discomfort.

    • Too tight? Go up a size. Too short? Same advice, to a certain degree (some clothing is just meant to be short, obviously). If skin isn’t shown and the clothes do “fit properly” does it matter where they were purchased? You can look trashy in clothes from Macy’s just as easily if you pour yourself into the smallest size you can squeeze into. You cannot purchase your entire professional wardrobe at Express, but I respectfully disagree with the blanket statement. Sometimes it’s how you wear something, not necessarily what the label says.

  40. I cannot resist replying to this post. I am a Canadian trial judge. At trial, judges and counsel wear gowns and tabs so the skirt suit/pantsuit debate is not relevant. But for interlocutory applications (mostly pre-trial motions), we all wear ordinary clothes. I find it astonishing that it would be suggested a neat pantsuit would not be appropriate. What I dislike seeing in the women who appear before me is lots of cleavage. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

  41. Every person who has blogged about the Above the Law article has taken what was said at the fashion show completely out of context. The ponytail comment was in reference to a girl who already looked a bit on the younger side. The point the judge made was that if you already look young, maybe you should rethink the ponytail. No one wants to give someone who looks like a 15 year old a legal job. The judges gave advice for the attire they find the most appropriate, obviously there are situations where you do not need to be so concerned about wearing nylons or what kind of shoes you are wearing etc….but the points the judges were making were mostly what should be worn to an interview and in court, or when you are not sure. Maybe before you go picking and choosing things people said at an event you were not at, you should find out a little more than a few quotes that were posted on “above the law.”

  42. I can’t believe all the focus on skirt length and shoes! How about this rule: only wear something that looks good on you? If you look better in pants–wear them. If you look awesome in skirts–wear them. Of course you shouldn’t wear your stripper heels to work, but I think flats are the frumpiest, most unflattering things around, so I wouldn’t wear those either. Now, can we talk about the people who insist on wearing ponytails to work? ALWAYS inappropriate. They look they they are going to scrub the toilet. How about the people who wear flip flops? DISGUSTING! These are two things I see all the time. Make it stop!

  43. Thanks for the rescue!

  44. I work in a law firm in a non-attorney capacity, but I have to keep my clothing in line with what the lawyers wear. For me, that means nice conservative pantsuits. I think it is a very strong look for a woman to wear a nice charcoal pinstripe pant suit, it makes me feel very confident.

    I have scars on my legs and would never consider wearing a skirt without dark hose, so skirts are generally off the table for me. It makes me wonder how I would handle a skirt requirement if I had to make a court appearance. Could a judge require me to wear a skirt? Luckily I don’t have to deal with it, but it makes me wonder.