Employees are dressing more casually for work these days, and it can be uncomfortable for supervisors to publicly criticize it -- particularly when those workers are women, and the supervisor is a man. That's been the case for one Tennessee judge, who sparked a controversy by writing a memo urging female attorneys to keep their clothing court-appropriate.
Dress standards have been slipping in the courtrooms of Murfreesboro, Tenn. for quite some time, according to locals. One legal assistant (who asked to remain anonymous) said he's seen a woman in flip flops. A couple attorneys mentioned the same rumor about a woman in sweatpants, although no one had seen it with their own eyes. The subject finally erupted at a recent Bench/Bar Committee meeting, prompting Circuit Judge Royce Taylor to pen a notice about it. He wrote:
The unanimous opinion was that the women attorneys were not being held to the same standard as the men. It was requested that the judges require all attorneys to dress professionally.
I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent.
The Rutherford County Bar newsletter hasn't yet published the memo, but that didn't stop Taylor's words from creating a buzz in town, even sparking false rumors that the judge was going to start making women wear pantyhose.
Nashville-based attorney Karla Miller, who does some work in Rutherford, told USA Today that she was "slightly offended," by the judge's action, but admitted that "some ladies are dressing in a manner that should be bothersome to other lady lawyers who strive to be professional."
While the issue has been brewing for years, Taylor, who's been a judge since 1998, told AOL Jobs that he'd been reluctant to approach it. "Being an older white male judge I realized I'm at a disadvantage to try to talk about this subject. I'm certainly not a fashion guru," he explained.
Taylor wasn't surprised by the reaction, at all. "I think our role as judges is to promote professionalism, which is why we haven't addressed the issue -- because we were concerned how we were going to be perceived, as older male white judges who were out of touch."
"I think this has been an ongoing problem for a considerable period of time," says David Scott, the president of the local bar association, and it became a heated topic of discussion at the most recent Bench and Bar Committee meeting.
Many in the local legal community agree with Taylor's points, including Scott, the president of the local bar association. "There are no casual days in court," he explains. "Our clients pay us money that does not come easy to them, and I think we owe them to look our best when we're up there representing them."
"It took a long time for courts to even allow women in the courts with pantsuits on," says the anonymous legal assistant, who's been working in the local legal profession for 40 years. "Miniskirts are not appropriate. Spaghetti straps are not appropriate."
But Taylor never anticipated that he'd make the national news. "I'm glad it's sparking conversation. It probably was needed," he says. And he insists that he's not picking on women, and never suggested a pantyhose rule.
"I don't think I could defend that in any way," says Scott, about the pantyhose rumor. "Even as an attorney, I don't think I could even find the gray area for that one."
Check out the slideshow, "What Not To Wear To The Office This Summer."
What Not To Wear At Work This Summer
Male Judge Sets Dress Code For Female Lawyers And Sparks Uproar
You can buy some pretty boutique flip-flops these days (like this pair for $18,000, which helps save the rainforest). But most flip-flops are as basic as the thong footwear of our most ancient ancestors, and as inappropriate for the office as the loincloth they were often paired with. Well, definitely not as inappropriate as a loincloth, but same idea.
You bought it with your buddies on a beach vacation you hazily remember, and still think it's hilarious. "One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor," "FBI Female Body Inspector," "If You See Da Police, Warn A Brother." Who comes up with that stuff? Let's hope they're paid gobs. And while the T-shirt's witty slogan might make you feel like a boss as you stroll down the sidewalk, your actual boss will think you look like a silly man.
There might be some occasions where a giant glittery D&G is appropriate, but there's no need to copyedit a report in a sweater that screams, "I cost $1,200."
Of course, certain heritage logos in certain places are completely fine; few people are scandalized by a Chanel quilted bag.
Knickerbockers were classic clothing through the 19th and early 20th century -- for little boys. And shorts have never totally shaken that stigma. While Tom Ford may still contend that shorts are only for the beach or the tennis court, men can now feel the breeze against their calves in most places without getting strange looks. The office, however, is the final frontier.
You're a busy man/woman, and don't have time to dry every strand of hair before hustling out the door. And the "wet look" is a thing, right? Unfortunately, wet hair can also give the impression that you just tumbled out of bed, and don't give an enough of a doodle about your day job to groom to completion. Best to stay safe and dry.
Policing cleavage makes sense; it's the edge of an erogenous zone. Policing thigh exposure makes sense; it's inching very close to a very serious erogenous zone. But the taboo around stomach display is a little less logical. Perhaps it's because decolletage and the above-the-knee area have been on-show, to various degrees, for centuries. Seeing a lady's stomach, on the other hand, was something usually reserved for intimate encounters.
Society hasn't fully adapted yet to a hint of stomach outside of the beach, athletic contests, and night clubs. And despite the gleaming on-display abs of the 1990s, midriff-baring clothes haven't yet made it as appropriate workplace wear.
It peeks out from the side of your dress strap, a titillating clue to what lies beneath, a glimmer of your more intimate, sensual undergarment-wearing self. That is what a visible bra strap signals, and that is not a signal that you want to project in the workplace. And you know an interesting thing about "nude" bra straps? Humans can still see them. Nude is not, in fact, a color with a light-reflecting frequency outside the visible spectrum.
From the front, you are an all-professional woman, well-groomed and put-together, conservative, perhaps even severe. And then you turn around and BAM! That's a girl ready for a night on the town! You can see at least 28 of your 33 vertebrae! Backs are not sexualized terrain like cleavage, or thighs, or even stomachs. But still, a plunging neckline on either side of your person is probably best saved for after-hours.
"Barefoot" shoes have a lot of disciples, who claim the thin souls and toe-divisions leverage the body's natural biomechanics, reduce the risk of running injuries, and improve posture, balance and agility. But the barefoot revolution hasn't hit the office yet. And it's probably wise to avoid any piece of clothing that 50 percent of the population finds creepy-looking.
Rips and tears have strutted plenty of catwalks, with their "screw society," anti-authority chic. But most workplaces want you to like society and authority. So rips and tears, even carefully crafted by Parisian designers, are best left for your weekends of sticking it to the man.