October 21, 2007

On blog dress and lawprof dress.

When did Stephen Bainbridge's blog start looking so devoid of Bainbridginess? Last Friday, I was going to blog about his post on dress codes for law professors, but I was too busy to get to it. This morning, I saw a link on the subject at Memeorandum — which is a great place to see what's getting blogged about — and I clicked a link to a post on the same subject. Reading it, I was all hey, someone stole Bainbridge's writing. There are, as you may know, blogs that just lift writing from other blogs. (It's been done to me.)

Click on the first link up there. Can you tell who wrote it? It's a blog with the nondescript name BusinessAssociationsBlog.com, and you won't see Bainbridge's name anywhere unless you happen to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and see the copyright notice. I only saw his name — and I looked — when I did a "find on page" search for it, which I wouldn't have done unless I'd recognized it as the writing I'd read the other day when I knew it was Bainbridge's. [UPDATE: My post prompted Steve to put his name in the upper part of the sidebar.]

I think what's happened here is that Bainbridge was so keen on the idea of segregating his business law writing from his other writing — on "wine & food" and "punditry" — that he unwittingly drained it of all personality. He gave it the blandest possible name — BusinessAssociationsBlog — perhaps reflecting a belief about business that it needs to be all business. It's very serious. No funny business. Wear a suit and tie. It had better be a gray or dark blue suit. Don't go jazzing it up with anything flashy like — God forbid — black. In a world where it works to call a business Google or Yahoo, can't we have a little more fun? In any case, you need to have some identity. You can't want your trade dress to be as generic as a gray business suit.

But what should we law professors wear? We've opted out of the practice of law, so we get to claim the perk of wearing whatever we want. True?

Bainbridge is exercised over this article by Case Western lawprof Erik M. Jensen, "Law School Attire: A Call for a Uniform Uniform Code."

Although I don't like anyone — ever — telling me what to do, I found Jensen's article highly amusing. He has my favorite quote about professorial dress, from Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons":
[H]e had worn a plaid cotton shirt and pants -- nothing remarkable about that. The shirt had had long sleeves, and the pants had been long pants. But this morning he had on a short-sleeved shirt that showed too much of his skinny, hairy arms, and denim shorts that showed too much of this gnarly, hairy legs. He looked for all the world like a seven-year-old who at the touch of a wand had become old, tall, bald on top, and hairy everywhere else, an ossified seven-year-old...
I quoted this back in 2006, as part of my ongoing fight against men dressing like children.

Jensen's in good humor, and it's not a real code:
Faculty members at accredited law schools shall, when on law school grounds or on law school business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to the possibility of embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case the faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.
There's plenty of fine writing here with tasty references, and it starts a conversation, which is something I love.

But what do I think about how lawprofs should dress? I'll tell you in a minute. First, let's drag Stephen Bainbridge back out here. He begins with: "Fuck that. And the horse it came in on." (Maybe Jensen can write an article about what language law professors should use.)

Bainbridge goes on to say that his clothes style of choice is "grunge," and he insists on feeling comfortable (unless the school pays him extra to dress up). But he does wear a collared shirt and khakis — the usual "business casual" for a man — not sweatpants. It seems he's mainly upset about the idea of wearing a tie. (Did you know, according to the NYT, young guys these days are wearing ties not because they have to but "as an informal thing" and that they even assert that "It just felt comfortable"?)

So what do I think? I think if you're a law professor, you have many wonderful benefits, and one is that you can go with your own personal style. There's so much more self-expression here than in law practice (or judging).

Most valuable is that you can speak the way you like. You can even say things like "Fuck that. And the horse it came in on." You can't say that in court. Personally, I don't want to say that. The worst language I've ever used in class is "screw," and only in the sense of "screwed up." But you can put things in your own way, make offbeat observations, digress, get a laugh. It's quite cool. The main rule, to me, is that you have to give value to the students. You can't be just amusing and indulging yourself. That would be unethical.

As for clothes, of course, you should feel comfortable. It's possible to be comfortable in a suit — at least a man's suit.

(A tie is nothing compared to nylons. I challenge all you men who bitch about ties to wear pantyhose under your trousers for a day at work and report back. In fact, why don't all you guys do that tomorrow? Then blog about it or comment here, because I'd like your opinion — and maybe you'd like my permission to conduct this experiment. If your wife or girlfriend questions you about it, just say that it's a blog meme you got from Althouse. She'll understand.)

So, yes, #1, you should feel comfortable, but there is plenty of room to look reasonably good and to show some personal expression as you dress for the law professing game. It would be sad if everyone resorted to business dress, because it's boring and predictable. Just as your verbal presentation should be varied and engaging for the students, your visual presentation can serve them well too. Be specific, not generic. The students are going to look at you for an hour. A hat, unusual glasses, purple shoes — just about anything can provide a little amusement and a break in the monotony.

So, Steve, maybe a paisley ascot. And sign your blog posts!

32 comments:

vet66 said...

My dress code is to exercise my wardrobe to lend dignity and respect to the subject matter at hand. Education is primarily a study in humility and homage to one's ability to continue the lifelong learning process.

At the very least, teachers and instructors should be easily identifiable as such and set the tone for the presentation. Dressing in a disrespectful manner cheapens and diminishes the class.

Randal Rogers (I. Ronin) said...

As a frequent reader of Bainbridge since before Althouse, I've followed his blog changes with interest. While it sounded and looked promising once finished, it seemed to me at the time that the long hiatus involved in creating the original "magazine" format did great damage to his readership. Comments certainly dried up. (I was reminded of successful restaurants that try to go up- or down-market after their success only to discover they lost their clientele.)

After this latest change, I've only read the political blog and, although I found it less "inviting," I was unaware how devoid of personality the legal blog had turned out. I still enjoy reading him, however.

vet66 said...

As for panty hose, it was my understanding that many women wear them when they stand up for long periods. Support hose helps control varicose veins and associated leg discomfort. It also provides a "firewall" modesty panel to obstruct unauthorized scrutiny of the nether regions accidentally, or otherwise, exhibited.

Men wear long underwear for similar reasons.

Ron said...

When I directed a Shakespeare production in high school (with no money) I convinced a friend that wearing black pantyhose over his tighty whitey shorts would be "Elizabethean." Breugel himself could not have constructed a better de facto codpiece...

Ron said...

I dunno...pantyhose might snag on my garter clips...

AllenS said...

"ongoing fight against men dressing like children."

AHA! This is the reason you don't like to see men wearing shorts. Correct?

By the way, pantyhose clash with my loincloth.

Ann Althouse said...

"Dressing in a disrespectful manner cheapens and diminishes the class."

Does that mean I can't wear my purple shoes?

Hey said...

Suits are amazingly comfortable, if they are well made and well cut. It also helps to be a mite more athletic than Prof. Bainbridge. The major problem is that too many men buy cheap suits and go in for the "sack suit" look that is traditionally American.

A slim cut Italian suit feels perfect, especially in a high count wool or cashmere. Pal Zileri and Ermenegildo Zegna can provide a full wardrobe that feels brilliantly comfortable. Both firms sell everything from formal wear to casual weekend wear (think Brad Pitt in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, we are talking about cool weather country club wear here).

It certainly helps to have a 16 inch neck, 42 inch shoulders, and a 32 inch waist, but the firms will fit nearly all men impeccably and comfortably. Then there are the bespoke houses in London, Paris, and Milan if you've got a body that's harder to work with or want the ultimate in fit.

An ill-fitting suit made out of low end wool or synthetic is never going to feel right. It will also look horrible. Spending serious money on a few good pieces gives you much better value, you'll enjoy your money, you'll look better, and after a while you'll have a full wardrobe that is amazing.

Ron said...

Purple shoes are disrespectful? Since when did 'not boring' become disrespectful?

Ron said...

Jeez, what about those of us who look more like Ernest Borgnine in Marty than Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith?

Simon said...

vet66 said...
"Men wear long underwear for similar reasons."

That was going to be my response to the pantyhose challenge. Something that I realized not long into my first winter in Indiana was that any man who tries to get through winter in colder climes without wearing longjohns has to be something of a loon.

Randal Rogers (I. Ronin) said...

Purple shoes are fine. Purple hats, however, are not generally recommended.

vet66 said...

Purple is regal! I almost spelled Reagen by mistake!

Maxine Weiss said...

http://content.shopmay.com/images/ltgifts/product/detail/462/21702501_D1.jpg

http://img.costumecraze.com/images/vendors/disguise/14192-14-main.jpg

http://www.comparestoreprices.co.uk/images/wo/wolford-lace-power-tights.jpg

amba said...

So funny! I just had lunch with Ruth Anne and she was talking about your sartorial style as a young law professor, which she apparently once recognizably parodied in some sort of revue.

JackDRipper said...

Shorty in shorts. Getting cozy with Sarkosy. We now know who wears the pants in that relationship

http://www.hfxnews.ca/photos/TheDailyNews/stories
/Sarkozy12.jpg

Kev said...

I was also confused about Bainbridge's blog at first; I knew somehow that it was him, but I didn't think it said so. It turns out that, at the very top of the browser, it does read "Law & Business / Professor Bainbridge."

The worst language I've ever used in class is "screw," and only in the sense of "screwed up.""

That's pretty much me in a nutshell, with one exception: The time that I had to explain one of my college ensembles that we'd have to stop rehearsal early the following week because "The Vagina Monologues" was being run in the classroom next door that doubled as a "little theatre." I never thought in a million years that I would use the V-word in a classroom setting.

Suits are amazingly comfortable, if they are well made and well cut.

Like the anti-shorts idea often expressed in these pages, I think this varies wildly by region. Here in Texas, if it's 110 degrees outside, a suit is not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination.

And I love the celebrity quotes about formal dress that Bainbridge used in his post. Great stuff.

Ann Althouse said...

Kev: He added that after reading my post.

Hey said...

Kev: You just need to wear the right suit. Their are excellent tropical suits, especially linen, taht will hold up fine in the heat of Texas or Florida summers. Plus in those locations you're almost always in an air-conditioned environment, so your geographic location matters little.

hdhouse said...

little testie today aren't we sweetie?

JackDRipper said...

Two words: Bavarian Lederhosen!!

It's fun, it's comfortable and it never goes out of style or loses it's Germanic authority.

http://i11.ebayimg.com/02/i/04/ce/ae/c7_1_sbl.JPG

Plus, it's unisex. That way if you're a guy you can arouse women sexually and make them envy your wardrobe.

And if you're a woman you can....ah, well you can ward off any unwanted male sexual interest.

http://i15.ebayimg.com/02/i/04/cf/3b/9a_1_sbl.JPG

Trooper York said...

You can keep your purple shoes, but beware, Maxine is after your ruby red slippers.

Ralph said...

You've just shown us what to wear when discussing the Second Amendment. For everyday classroom attire, I would go with late 70's Elton John. Bored students can watch the feathers and fur fly off when you move.

We had to wear ties in high school--that changes everything. I don't mind wearing a suit or a tie for special occasions, but I've never had a job where it was required everyday.

A half polyester shirt makes me swampy--don't know how women can stand nylons, say no more. I travel with an all cotton sheet so I can get to sleep.

Christy said...

Unlike long johns, panty hose are worn when it is hot and humid. There's the rub.

There is a blogging tailor out of Lonodon who sweeps down the East Coast regularly to meet clients. Around $3500 for a suit.

Had a physics professor who wore the same yellow sweater every day.

Bruce Hayden said...

I can't get too overly upset about professorial attire. Maybe at a private school where too much undress might be seen as disrespect to the students and the high tuition they are spending there. But that would not apply at state schools.

I spent years in a suit and in slacks, starched shirt and tie, and have happily left that behind, except for dealing with clients. Just the pain of having to make sure that your pants, jacket, and shirt are ironed is enough to keep me from that. Besides, good mens clothes are expensive. Of course, I can't remember when I last saw a law school prof wearing what I consider good dress clothes of the type discussed above (now, business school was different - many of the profs dressed well).

Trooper York said...

Don't most professors at Brooklyn Law sport the beanie with the propeller on top? I definitely saw them wearing them when they have faculty gatherings at O’Keefe’s Irish Coffee on Court Street.

Ralph said...

Someone should rib Bainbridge for wearing a coat & tie for the photo on his blog. Hypocrite.

JackDRipper said...

The rule of thumb should be that lawyers and law professors should dress in the same outfit it would be appropriate to be buried in.

Open casket attire only.

former law student said...

Nobody has to wear pantyhose under their trousers, not even women. Women can wear knee-highs or sockettes or, assuming they wanted to wear a skirt, even old fashioned hose with a garter belt.

Which reminds me: I remember life before pantyhose. Pantyhose became popular because it was convenient compared to a panty girdle and hose. Don't trot your pantyhose past me, when men have had to wear neckties ever since the savage Horvat cavalry rode by with cloths knotted about their necks. Further, if modern Western men have to wear cavalry gear to work, why not jackboots and swords? I also wonder what did the Cossacks wear, and when will we have to rotate it into our wardrobes.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Women inflict a certain amount of things on themselves, including panythose.

So why should men try them on to gain insight? Women, just stop wearing them. You all wear pants at the office anyway.

As for ties, they serve as a shorthand signal of reliability, intelligence or competence, so we bitch, but know their occasional worth: getting the job, impressing the client, attracting the woman, pretending to be a Fed.

On the other hand women can abandon nylons, and likely clothing altogether, with nary a peep from anyone (except other women).

Kirk said...

Ann,

"I challenge all you men who bitch about ties to wear pantyhose under your trousers for a day at work and report back"

Well, I'm not really one who complains about ties, but I do wonder--for your challenge to be meaningful, wouldn't I have to shave my legs first? That certainly makes it a non-starter!

BLS2L said...

You'd be surprised how closely we as students pay attention to dress in the classroom. I personally advocate for casual dress in the classroom, on both sides of the podium. When a student walks into class in a suit, it becomes an unnecessary focal point. Was she at an interview? Why is she dressed that way?

A young professor last semester only got dressed up when he had something important to do, like a presentation in front of faculty. He got the same ribbing as students and it made us more comfortable with him as a person to know that he was annoyed by business dress as much as we were.