Dressing Your Female Lawyer for Courtroom Scenes

Over the years, I’ve wanted to write about dressing the woman lawyers on your pages. Yeah, yeah, everyone who knows me, stop laughing now. I may be a jeans and boots fiend now, but in my city lawyer days, I had a Nordstrom’s card and I knew how to use it. But I am too far removed from daily urban practice — and Nordy’s — to give sound, up-to-date advice.

So now, Michael Heatherly, editor of NW Lawyer, the journal of the Washington State Bar Association, has stepped into that void. More accurately, he wrote a piece for men on dressing professionally in the June issue, and invited readers to submit an article for women. Seattle lawyer Lisa DuFour took the challenge. Here’s her piece.

A few comments: Remember that the articles advise on courtroom attire, not office wear. The editor titled it “Fashion Tips for Gals,” no doubt to parallel the original piece, “Fashion Tips for Guys.” The word “gal” is more accepted out west than in other parts of the country, but still, in that context, I would not have used it in a headline — although as a novelist, I may occasionally use it in dialogue.

Regional differences apply to fashion as well as language. While Seattle certainly has its urban and high-fashion streaks, it’s also a laid-back city under the influence of REI, Eddie Bauer, North Face, and other outdoor performance wear manufacturers. Hence some of the comments about shoes — the black strapped sandals with the open toes in the “don’t” picture might well be acceptable in other cities. Similarly, bare legs with suits or professional dresses are acceptable in the west, but not elsewhere. (One of the criticisms leveled at Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe, one that fashion advisers across the country recognized as a regional difference rather than a lapse of judgment.)

Finally, I thought it hilarious that the very next issue showcased the new state bar president, a man in his mid 40s, in a cobalt blue suit that probably violates all Heatherly’s advice for “guys” — but that’s the difference between magazine cover and courtroom protocol!