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!