I’m self-conscious about my blog because of two things: a) I don’t have everything figured out and b) I know I don’t have everything figured out.
With this in mind, I submit to you today’s topic: dressing for work.
Several things have got me thinking about this topic lately. One is the recent publication of a dress code by the clerk of court of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court. What most strikes me is the level of attention devoted to the sartorial choices of women who enter the courthouse. Comparing myself to this code on the daily, it appears I often fall short.
When I go to court, I don’t go for suits. When I wear a suit, I always feel I am dressing up like someone else – that I’m wearing my parents’ clothes or, worse, a lawyer’s “uniform,” or clothes that lawyers think they are supposed to wear. I usually end up wearing black pants and some type of blazer or a dress and tights.
When meeting with clients, I take it down a notch. I try to look polished and professional, but I never wear a suit. If I am meeting with a client that I know fairly well, or who is my age, I often wear jeans. If I know a client very well and the client is my age, I most definitely wear jeans. And in the most casual circumstances, when there is no client present, I wear jeans 100 percent of the time — and about 90 percent of the time there are holes in them (the kind you pay for).
I find that dressing down takes less emotional energy, and sometimes emotional energy is in short supply. Who am I kidding: Emotional energy is usually in very short supply. Wearing jeans just makes me feel good.
When I had been practicing for only a few years, an attorney who was close to retirement told me, “I realized my bottom line is not affected by whether I wear jeans, so I choose to wear jeans.” That’s basically the attitude I have adopted.
But recently, as I noted in my previous blog post, I attended the ABA midyear conference. I showed up to the first session in jeans. Everyone else was wearing a suit. Was I self-conscious? Honestly, I was not. But I laughed at myself a bit because the idea of wearing a suit hadn’t even crossed my mind. Am I obtuse or what?
At lunch I talked to a retired woman judge who noted that, in her early days, she never would have dared dress casually. What she said, in not so many words, was that she had been trying to prove herself. Women of her generation had to dress a certain way to prove themselves and to be treated equally. I realized that wearing what you want is a luxury.
So tell me: Is wearing jeans disrespectful? Am I overthinking this? Tell me what you think.
Jessica Markham is the owner of Markham Law Firm, a family law firm in Bethesda.