Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dress To Impress?!

In my quest to get out more in the blogosphere, I read a recent post in the WSJ Law Blog about Women Litigators and their Courtroom Footwear Dilemma. The question posed – if a woman litigator “appeared before an 80-year-old male judge in something actually comfortable, not to mention a jury, would you be doing your clients a disservice?” As someone who makes my livelihood studying how jurors respond to lawyers (and also a shoe fan), the post and more than fifty subsequent comments struck a nerve. The conversation even held my interest. That is until two weeks ago when I walked into a federal courtroom and saw a woman who defied all conventional wisdom.

This was much more radical than a pantyhose or no pantyhose debate…let me paint the picture of what I saw.

The subject of this pondering was a smart as a whip, female attorney whose daily attire was a men’s dress shirt, men’s suit, men’s belt and men’s shoes. She was clearly wearing men’s clothing – this was not a case of a preference for men’s styling. Her clothes were men’s clothes tailored to fit her perfectly. (I know – I am an expert shopper.) She wore very small earrings and a large ring on her left hand that resembled a college class ring. Her hair was slicked back into a ponytail and appeared to wear no makeup. For more than two weeks, this attorney maintained the same unwavering image in front of a jury of housewives, accountants, bookkeepers and teachers.

So let’s open the discussion shall we? Let’s first assume this isn’t about sexual orientation at all – let’s take that completely off the table. The question for me is why someone would deliberately choose to depart from conventional expectations of dress. Expectation theory suggests straying from societal norms would be risky behavior and could damage her credibility with the audience. In trial, the stakes are high – a lawyer’s credibility and persuasiveness are of upmost importance and can be the difference between a victory and a loss.

So, my question to the group – have you seen this before in your workplace? If so, do you agree with the experts that a strategy this far from the “norm” is a burden you probably don’t want to bear?


Anonymous said...

Never seen it before and can't for the life of me figure out why someone would choose to stray so far from the norm. I think this is very risky maneuver and if I were the client would worry that her appearance would take away from my case. Wouldn't the jurors spend the whole time looking at her rather than listening to her?

nick morgan said...

Agree with the first comment. Unusual, out-of-the norm dress draws attention to itself. That much is obvious. But what happens after the first look? The burden of proof is on the weird dresser -- he/she will have to prove competence. Dressing oddly raises a communications barrier everyone will have to get past, and to do that the odd dresser will have to be better than everyone else. It's a very risky gamble.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Risky gamble at best. So my questions still stands. Why do it?

Steven.Clough said...

Was she with other male lawyers that she was 'matching'? Does seem a little odd...but it would have been a lot odder if it was a male lawyer wearing a dress.

Kristin said...

While your question is a good one Theresa, I see absolutely no reason to do it. Distracts from the message, sets her apart from others (not in a good way) and could make some conservative jurors completely uncomfortable.

MeLady said...

I think it's a risky proposition as many professions have their expected attire. Not conforming could impact effective communication. So what do you do if you are a woman in banking, corporate management, real estate and law and have to wear heels. That's what I was reading about on the WSJ blog where I found your invitation to your blog. Theresa, I would like to invite you and your readers to help me test a new product that makes heels comfortable. I am actually looking for 1,000 women in heels all day to help me test. They can sign up at http://www.highheelshurt.com/testersignup.html.
Thank you for approving my message.
Sincerely, MeLady.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend (quite a beautiful woman)who was a server in a high end restaurant. Although she didn't go so far as to wear men's clothing, she wore pants, tailored shirt, vest, man's tie and hair pulled back. She really believed that she got better tips and people took her as more professional when she did this.