Dress Right or Sit Down and Shut Up? Women Lawyers and Court Room Clothing

Woman Lawyers ClothingDo Women Lawyers Still Have to Wear Skirts in Court Rooms?

On the Women in the Profession listserv of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, we had a lengthy discussion about women and what they wear in court. The discussion began because a judge wrote a blog post in which he commented on how women lawyers dress.    He suggested that some women dress too provocatively in court. He noted that there is a very intelligent and prepared female lawyer, “[who] wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.” So, apparently his honor prefers to focus on the lawyer’s looks as opposed to her abilities.   The judge’s post engendered quite a bit of comment, not only on our listserv, but around the web. Sites such as Above the Law and Fox, commented. My colleague, Gina Furia Rubel has started a series exploring this very issue.

Our Discussion

A number of women commented on their own experiences and what they had seen in court over the years.  Some discussed having been told to sit down for dressing “improperly.”  Improperly meant that they were wearing a pants suit instead of a skirt suit. Some people were upset we were even having the conversation. I didn’t quite understand that particular objection, since other people’s views about our clothing is an issue we have to deal with, regardless of whether it is fair.

My Experience

Everyone who knows me, knows I don’t like skirts, but when I was in Delaware, believe you me, I wore skirts in court. Women were expected to wear skirts and I didn’t want to get in trouble or cause trouble for my clients (victims of domestic violence) by drawing attention to myself for my clothing. Men were expected to wear blue or white shirts with conservative ties.  So I guess at least everyone had certain expectations.

What About Today?

Times are better now, but some judges apparently still expect women to wear skirts, at least from what I read on the listserv.  Of course, as lawyers, we need to dress professionally. But to me, professionally does not require a skirt suit.  It requires both men and women to choose clothing that shows respect for the court, their clients and themselves. Obviously, the judge and I agree on this point. But I think the judge stating that he especially appreciates the non-intellectual assets of a woman in his court is quite offensive. He could have made his point more respectfully and professionally. Something he expects women in his court to do with their clothing choices.

What Do You Think?

What do you think? Have you run into problems with your courtroom attire? Are women judged differently from men?

Comments

  1. “He suggested that some women dress too proactively in court.” Do you mean “provocatively”?

  2. Mary prevost says:

    There’ some law out there saying that dress is First Amendment protected (Cohen v. California – the Fuck the Draft – case). Court’s can, however, take limited measures to control their courtrooms. For example, if a woman wearing a bikini came into court, that would certainly upend the courtroom. We had one woman who used to NEVER wear panties and sit at counsel table with her legs open. SHE was finally told to quit that. But yes, men can wear crappy comb overs, poorly fitted suits, but they all get to comment on women. I finally had enough of one judge and reported him to the Anti Defamation League because he had a Hitler Comb over and a Hitler stache. He LOOKED like Hitler. They hated it, but could do nothing because it was his First Amendment right to dress like Hitler.

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