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Dress Codes for Law Firms

Attorneys Appearing in Court

Back in the day, formal dress codes were pretty much universally accepted at white-collar jobs; the dress code is, in fact, the origin of the term, as workers in these careers would wear white-collared dress shirts. There’s been a dramatic shift since the mad man days of the 60s and the economic post-war boom; today, dress codes haven fallen out of favour. There are a few reasons that this might be the case; we’ll explore them, and try to determine what role dress codes should have in your law firm.

One of the reasons that dress codes have fallen out of favour is the rise of Silicon Valley. Tech companies, arguably the biggest players in our economy, were often started by young graduates or drop-outs, who weren’t particularly interested in dress codes themselves. As these companies expanded, they wanted to appeal to other young creatives who felt suits were too stuffy; the result was an extremely lax dress code, where even t-shirts were acceptable. In order to attract bright young minds, other companies, including those on Wall Street, have begun to relax their dress codel.

Our new conception of gender equality is another reason we’ve seen dress codes rapidly shift. There’s always been two sets of dress codes: one for men and the other for women. As society begins to reconsider gender in a myriad of ways, we see more women who aren’t interested in the “dress and high heels” look, and more people who don’t identify as either men or women. A desire for gender equality means that companies are more reluctant to impose stringent dress codes on any gender, lest they be accused of playing favoritism, or giving more preference to a particular type of gender expression.

When getting into the weeds about a topic like dress codes, it’s worth evaluating why they were implemented in the first place. Though it’s impossible to reliably trace the origin of dress codes, it’s fair to say that they’ve been used in order to create a kind of corporate identity, and to reinforce a brand. When clients walk into your law firm, what do you want them to think of you? The answer is probably different for you than it is for a tech company; rather than an air of casual creativity, you might want to present self-assured, respectable competence. Formality, then, can be quite useful for a client facing firm.

What to do about dress codes, then? Talk to the members of your firm, and tell them you want a formal look; not necessarily suits and ties for men and dresses and heels for ladies, but a look of quiet confidence and sophistication. The idea of vague guidelines can be a bit daunting, but problems can be solved with a simple conversation with your associates and employees; if you feel what they are wearing doesn’t match up with how you want to present your firm, tell them.

Here at Attorneys on Demand, we don’t just provide quasi-philosophical advice about the nature of dress codes; we provide local counsel services for firms who need representation at courthouses they’re unfamiliar with.