The persistence of this sartorial custom beyond its natural lifespan—and in the American justice system of all places—is not merely a quirk of history but testament to the deep and tenaciously clubbish culture that still afflicts the highest levels and most intransigently closed circles of power.Tradition, it's an affliction.
Williams tells the story — "perhaps apocryphal" — of a female deputy solicitor who wore a "'dove-brown' or 'doe-beige' business suit" when she argued a case in the Supreme Court:
According to a friend who, to this day, fears being identified, Chief Justice Rehnquist "went berserk." He chastised her for inappropriate attire, and followed it up with a scathing letter to the Solicitor General himself, requesting that this not occur again. Brown textiles! The scandal!...So, then, the answer is easy: Kagan will wear a nice black skirted suit. Yes, it might have tails, but in my view that would seem oddly costume-y in the absence of an established tradition. Dressing like a man is not a tradition. It's sort of kinky.
In response, the Solicitor General’s office thenceforth recommended that women wear what is popularly known as a "feminized" version of morning attire, and/or a plain black suit.
IN THE COMMENTS: Sean writes:
There hasn't been a female solicitor general before, but women from the solicitor general's office have argued before the Supreme Court, and they wore business suits.
In fact, my [Appellate Advocacy]professor told us that there was some discussion, when there first started being women in the solicitor general's office, of what was the female analogue of a morning coat. Several answers suggest themselves, based on the situations where morning coats are encountered: bridesmaids' dresses (men still wear morning coats if they are in a wedding party); women's church clothes of the 1950s, featuring knee length dresses and white gloves (men used to wear morning coats at upper class churches into the 1950s); or upper class female street clothes of the Edwardian era, perhaps featuring a bustle (this was the last time that men wore morning coats on a regular basis). None of these female attires seems quite suitable for a lawyer.
Theo Boehm says: "Forget Dietrich. If that era is any guide to style, the new Solicitor General should try the Louise Brooks look":