Dress Codes: Been There, Done That

I completely cracked up at the Jan. 31 WSJ article on how unprofessionally Millenial lawyers dress. Seems the Boomers are up in arms over Ugg boots and an appalling lack of suits. The usual wringing of hands over those clueless youngsters.

Ah, dress codes. Many lawyers just love ‘em. Because dress codes are yet another rule lawyers can wrangle over and flaunt about their superior knowledge, I suppose.

I particularly enjoyed these two sentences, deeply contradictory once you dig below the surface. Compare:

Many experienced lawyers see their wardrobe as a tool to win the trust of clients, juries and judges. Legal associates who aren’t sartorially prepared may not be invited along to a new-client pitch or to take a leading role in court, regardless of the office’s stated “business casual” dress code.


Ms. Neels [a consultant of some ilk] notes that business-school grads share law associates’ casual sartorial attitude, and she tries to connect the dots between what they wear and how they come across. When she was coaching M.B.A. graduates at Harvard last weekend, she says only about half came in a suit. One young man showed up in cargo pants . . .

Here’s a newsflash, crusty Boomers: Law has been through the dress code convulsions before. It’s why you get to come to the office in khakis instead of a suit and tie every single day, and why women could finally give up wearing pantyhose in 95-degree weather. I was there, and I remember the endless memos about exactly what was and was not sartorially acceptable, first for the earth-shattering Casual Friday, Only In the Summer, and eventually for the all-casual, all-the-time office many, many law firms have adopted. (One particularly hilarious memo outlined that while khakis were kinda sorta OK, it was highly preferable that they be creased; and let us not forget how titillating toe cleavage used to be.)

What is conveniently forgotten is why law firms and the curmudgeons who run them felt forced to change: the dot-com revolution. The Gen-X geniuses who were starting up all these companies were wearing  jeans (the horror) to law firm dog-and-pony shows  and failing to hire starchy-shirted lawyers for their ventures, because the suit set gave them the heebies. And at the time, these ventures had cash . . .

So now we have Boomers, who all along mistrusted this sartorial sloppiness that they were forced to accept, and who have gleefully pulled back on what they let computer-chained associates wear, v. Millenials, who all dress like their MBA peers, cargo pants, flip-flops, camis and iPods.

Quick, who can predict what is going to happen to suits and ties in law offices in the next several years? Here’s a hint: Those MBAs will get promoted, and will want to hire people who make them feel comfortable . . .

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