Law in Contemporary Society
In this topic, I have refactored the ClothesMaketheLawyer talk.

2L interviews are looming near and I believe the points and issues raised in this talk will prove helpful to us in the next few months. I have refactored it in order to make the information therein more organized and accessible. Please feel free to add or change anything.

-- MinaNasseri - 25 May 2008

Dress as a Marker for Class

  • In American society, dress is used primarily to mark class.
  • Opposing View: Clothing cannot be relevant to class because most people are not knowledgeable about the make, quality, or style of the clothes they wear.
    • How can fashion reinforce class distinctions if most people do not realize that their outfit signifies their class?

Dressing the Part

  • We dress ourselves for the occasion, in a way that will help us accomplish the task at hand.
    • The right outfit can give the impression of power or can help command an audience.

The “Proper” Interview Attire and Class

  • Law firm interview attire represents the semiotics of class distinction.
  • The appropriate interview attire, such as the color or cut of a suit, can depend on the job and, even further, on the particular company.

Suggested Dress Codes

  • What is considered appropriate interview attire may depend on the firm, the size of the firm, the nature of the firm’s work, etc.

  • For women:
    • A pant suit may be regarded as less formal.
    • The skirt suit is viewed as a more professional option for women in the workplace.

  • For men:
    • The collar of the shirt and the choice of tie are the two things that really matter.
      • Most male law students do not, however, know what the “right” collar and tie are.
    • Tie:
      • Four-in-hand knot.
      • Solid, dark saturated color or light pastel, possibly with a conservative repeating pattern, or regimental stripe.
      • No wool or knit ties; tie bars, pins, etc. are not suggested.
      • Half-Windsor knots mostly appear in non-US offices or on relatively young associates.
    • Shirt:
      • White, pressed broadcloth with 2.5" or 3" point collar and traditional spread.
      • Avoid anything with a wide spread, rounded tips, or buttons.

Why Clothes Matter

Identifying Outsiders

  • Those who are already members of the class—and know what to wear—can identify outsiders or newcomers through improper attire.

Clothes as a Bar to Joining a Class

  • Improper attire is not a bar to initially becoming a member of a particular class because we are not expected to know what to wear before becoming a member of that class – only after.

Clothes as a Proxy

  • Law firms make instant judgments about potential employees through clothes.
  • Clothes serve as a convenient proxy for class and other intangible characteristics employers seek in the hiring process.
  • Fashion signals impending cultural change because it is constantly undergoing alteration.

Whether to Follow the Rules

Success Through Conformity

  • Clothes are only a means to a greater, more important, end.
  • Abiding by the fashion preferences of a particular class is a necessary concession if you want to be as successful as possible within that class.
  • Abide by all the rules so as to minimize any reason that may stand in the way of success.
  • If you do not regard your fashion decisions as an extension of your autonomy, it may be a harmless sacrifice to abide by the formalities of dress; pick your battles elsewhere.

Fashion Formalities Threaten Autonomy

  • An individual’s autonomy is harmed greatly when the smallest detail of their attire (style of buttons, collar) is regulated.
  • It should not matter what the proper attire is and whether one is abiding by the standard for proper attire.
  • People can be successful even if they do not adhere to fashion norms.
  • It may be worth it to break the rules and risk being ejected from the class in order to preserve one’s autonomy.
  • Any employer who would hire based the nuances of an interviewee’s attire is not worth working for in the first place.


Everyone agrees that clothes and class are strongly related. Confusion sets in, however, when addressing whether clothes play an important role in joining a particular class. Some believe that class insiders will use clothes as a proxy for the intangible characteristics of would-be members. Others believe that clothes do not matter until one is actually a member of a particular class. Another contentious issue is whether it is “worth it” to follow a class’s rules on proper attire. Some find this to be a harmless, yet necessary, concession; others argue that fashion choices are closely linked to autonomy and regulation of such choices, therefore, infringes upon autonomy.

Contributors: Eben Moglen, Claire O'Sullivan, Julian Baez, Adam Carlis, Michael Berkovits, Kate Vershov, JuliaS? , Thalia Julme, Barb Pitman, Jesse Creed, Mia White, Jennifer Burke.


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r3 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:13:42 - IanSullivan
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