The Miami Daily Business News has revived its “Rodent” column. In yesterday’s column (here — free registration required), the writer chastises female lawyers who don’t “dress the part.” What’s not ok? Stilettos, low-cut blouses, bare legs, frumpy looks, chipped nail polish, visible tattoos, gold strappy sandals:
You’ve come a long way, baby, but it may be the wrong way. Some women lawyers have gone from blue suits and white bow-tied blouses to dressing like hookers. It’s liberating to dress as you please, but is it liberation? * * *
Women who dress like Barbie dolls get treated like Barbie dolls. I know a lawyer who is in her mid-30s. She is stunning : tall, long blonde Lady Godiva hair and a body that would make a porn star jealous. This woman also happens to be a crackerjack lawyer. But she dresses to emphasize her looks, not her mind; as a result, her career seems to have stalled. Though she is an extremely bright woman, no one sees past the stilettos and low-cut blouses. * * *
Bare is never the right look when you are in lawyer mode. Don’t fall into the booby trap, which is so popular these days. I see cleavage everywhere I go : law students, associates and the occasional middle-age lawyer who really ought to know better. ***
Before you go to work in the morning, think of your mother saying,”You’re not leaving the house in that outfit.” If she wouldn’t approve of what you’re wearing, change your clothes. It will be good for your career, and she would be proud.
I myself am on record against visible toes in the office, so I am inclined to agree with the Rodent on this topic. But I certainly don’t think that dressing “seriously” requires dressing like men or like our mothers. I even admit the intuitive appeal of asserting a proverbial right to paint one’s fingernails in the boardroom (see, e.g., Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards, Manifesta, at 140, quoting Bust magazine founder Debbie Stoller). But I must know that if I paint my nails at the same time I’m presenting with Powerpoint, others will be distracted. Displays of exaggerated female sexuality (cleavage, heels, etc.) are tools that some women attempt to use to their benefit. Kathleen Bergin explains this in her article Sexualized Advocacy and the Ascendant Feminist Backlash Against Female Lawyers, 18 Yale J.L. & Feminism 191 (2006). The Rodent reminds us that the same tools can be used against women, too.