May 25, 2010

"Years ago, I watched an array of law students lingering in a hotel lobby, waiting to be interviewed by visiting firms."

Writes Wendy Kaminer:
The men were completely, conventionally covered by their suits; the women seemed half naked by comparison, in fitted jackets, often showing a little cleavage, and above the knee, or shorter, skirts. Maybe they hoped to benefit from these reveals, but I suspect they were subtly disadvantaged by them. The men were free to focus on their interviews; at least some women were likely to be distracted (however, unconsciously) by concern about their looks and the need to sit and display themselves appropriately. How much skin is just enough? Stilettos, kitten heels, or flats? Hollywood or D.C? These are questions men never have to ask. Will they ever cease to matter to women?
Okay. My bullshit alarm went off. What year was this? In what city did this supposedly happen? I see law students dressed for interviews all the time, and as far as I can tell from my excellent perspective, this problem Kaminer would like us to fret about does not exist. Women law students know how to dress exactly appropriately for interviews.

I'm reacting to the ending of a piece titled "Kagan, Palin, and Lipstick Feminism," which is mainly riff on that Robin Givhan column about the way Elena Kagan dresses. Kaminer begins:
What do Elena Kagan and Sarah Palin have in common?  They each offer complementary cautionary tales about the continuing appeal of an ersatz, "Sex in the City" feminism that rewards beauty and punishes plainness with all the subtlety and compassion of a Playboy centerfold.  Kagan's appearance and fashion sense are mocked or savaged, especially but not exclusively by pundits on the right, following a familiar script.  Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings.  Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not. 
You know, the standards of male and female beauty are different. That isn't wrong. We talk about how everybody looks. And we poke fun at anybody who exercises power. It's not wrong. It's right. It's perfectly fine to talk about the glamorous or dowdy way some female politico dresses. We talk about men's clothes too, even though it's usually a more boring subject because professional men stay within a narrower range of options.
Men are armored by their unrevealing suits; women are expected to expose themselves, with various degrees of discretion. 
Oh, bullshit. Women aren't expected to expose themselves. We don't even have to wear skirts anymore. Hillary gets away with pantsuits and complete coverage. If she chooses to expose herself, we're going to notice, and we will talk about it. But it is true that men are "armored by their unrevealing suits." Here, I talk with Robin Givhan about exactly that (in 2007):


Fred4Pres said...

Is that BS I am detecting Business Style?

Dark Eden said...

"Kagan's appearance and fashion sense are mocked or savaged, especially but not exclusively by pundits on the right, following a familiar script. Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings. Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not."

Is she seriously trying to say that Palin got less crap for her appearance than Hillary and Napolitano? Are you SERIOUS? capslock is the only way to properly express my feelings about these liberals with their blinders on.

As to the rest of the article, this seems to be a problem that exists largely in Robin's mind. She has a lot of head scratching articles like this that lack truthiness.

Moose said...

Well, cleaveage certainly helps if you aren't that good a job prospect.

Just sayin'...

ironrailsironweights said...

You all know what my standard of female beauty is.


GMay said...

"Oh, bullshit. Women aren't expected to expose themselves."


If you're trying to manipulate professional opinion by enhancing your sex appeal, don't be surprised when men think of you more as a sex object than a potential colleague.

GMay said...

wv: dehab - what Lindsay Lohan enters after rehab.

Salamandyr said...

Evidently she doesn't know much about men's dress if she thinks men aren't judged on their clothes.

The clues are subtler, but they're all taken in, the cut of the suit, the material, if it's natural or synthetic, the quality and color, the type, and shine, of the shoes. The haircut...lord, the haircut.

Attire, especially quality attire, is as important for a man who wants to win a client, land a job, it is for a woman. And it's possibly even harder, simply because with men's clothing we're dealing so much with subtle differences, rather than overt choices.

Treacle said...

You must not remember the Ally McBeal era, Ann. My school's career counseling center sent an advisory note to students reminding them that while Ally McBeal might wear cooter-flashing skirts, it was not a good practice for a female associate looking for a summer job with a large, solid midwestern firm. I don't remember a problem with cleavage, but there was certainly an issue with skirts-up-to-there.

k*thy said...

It's also been my experience, at a med school, that the female applicants know exactly how to dress for interviews. Granted, there is more exposure (the skirt dominates - I've never seen a pantsuit), and would say the women, in general, are much more polished.

I have to say that guys have it much easier with the whole suit thing. I mean, how hard can that be? Women have more fashion options in any given situation. Yes, sometimes we miss the mark and because of this, probably hear more about it.

Big Mike said...

Okay. My bullshit alarm went off

Right up until that moment I was wondering how to find out where great masses of law students were interviewing.

You rotten bubble-breaker, you.

New "Hussein" Ham said...

Elena Kagan is an adult who cannot even manage to plan an appropriate diet and exercise regimen - much less squeeze her fat hamhocks into designer clothing.

Why is such a stupid person being considered for a place on the Supreme Court?

This person cannot even plan lunch and dinner correctly with a reasonable amount of exercise so as to avoid becoming obesely fat.

We should not take on the costs of the health problems Ms. Kagan's eating habits will force on American taxpayers. Everybody knows that obese people consume far greater health resources than people who live "green" lifestyles.

But even more than that her inability to plan a proper diet is merely a symptom representative of her piss poor thinking and reasoning skills. Anybody with two marbles in their brain can plan a proper diet ... yet this critical skill seems to have evaded Ms. Kagan somehow.

Kagan isn't smart enough to be on the Supreme Court.

We should move on to a more intelligent nominee.

ricpic said...

I like Givhans. She's thoughtful. But what she and you don't understand is that suits are uncomfortable, doubly so with those choking ties.

rdkraus said...

Couple thoughts:

Suits are not uncomfortable if they fit correctly. Get a tailored shirt if you're a tough fit.

Any woman smart enough to be a decent lawyer should be smart enough to figure out how to dress for an interview.

Without showing much skin at all, a good looking young woman has a big advantage on an interview - for almost any job, including at a law firm.

Skipper50 said...

Might I point out that this discussion is only of interest to women?

edutcher said...

Have to agree with Treacle on the issue of "My God, don't bend over" skirts. We had a programmer at one time who just about mooned all and sundry when she bent down to check connections on her computer.

And Ann is right about exposure, generally. It doesn't seem to get the wearer much.

I noticed that the women where I worked took a lot of pride in their professionalism, dress as well as comportment and couldn't quite understand the younger women's attitudes.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano endured similar hazings. Sarah Palin, to say the least, did not.

She completely forgets how many times Ms. Palin was called some variation on "slutty" for looking nice. (i.e. Letterman's "slutty flight attendant" comment; Slate magazine wrote an entire article on how she was giving conflicting messages by being Christian but also attractive, complete with cartoon pic of her dressed in slutty librarian clothing with a bible clutched between her knees).

If Palin is slutty, then I would guess pretty much any attractive and fit woman wearing anything more fitted than a sweatsuit is slutty. So I think her description of female law student interviewees is accurate, given those standards.

- Lyssa

Bruce Hayden said...

I will agree with all those above who say that female law students pretty much know how to dress for interviews. And if they do join a firm, I am sure that someone along the lines will tell them how to dress for clients.

The dynamic is very different between men and women here. Men still mostly run the law firms, and so it is typically better to dress for them, than for women.

And, yes, the clues for men are much more subtle. Cut and quality are important. Ties are very important. And think twice before wearing that tie that your SO gave you. You are dressing mostly for men, not women. Shoes are important too. Not just shine, but also style. I know it is very dated, but Mallory's "Dress for Success" is still a good guide to what is successful.

Which reminds me, that even after you are out a bit, it isn't always that easy for guys. We were all interviewing a couple of years ago for a merger with a bigger firm. Another male attorney had a very expensive suit (too expensive, in my view for his pay grade). I talked him into different shirts and ties for Las Vegas and headquarters. Las Vegas got the silk shirt and flashy tie. The other office got a cotton shirt and conservative tie.

alwaysfiredup said...

"female law students pretty much know how to dress for interviews. And if they do join a firm, I am sure that someone along the lines will tell them how to dress for clients. "

Actually, no, they don't. Part of the reason I recently separated from my law firm (I've been practicing a grand total of 2 years) was that they kept telling me I needed to "dress better" but no one seemed to know what that meant. I wore suits every day and none had anything to do with either short skirts or cleavage. Apparently that wasn't enough.

I was told to look at the other female lawyers and dress like them, but there were only 2 of them and they were trim while I am post-baby overweight. Any woman knows you have to dress to flatter your body type, and things that work on slender bodies do not work well on plump ones.

I did overhear many conversations by male partners about how much harder it was for a woman to dress "like a lawyer." Whatever. Moral of the story: IMO, bias about appearance (clothing and possibly weight) is just one more reason why bright, driven, overeducated women are less likely to make the ranks of partner in a large law firm.

AlphaLiberal said...

"kitten heels"?

Second thought, forget I asked.

David said...

Palin didn't get hazed for her style and how she looks?

What rock has this mindless fool been under?

David said...

"Without showing much skin at all, a good looking young woman has a big advantage on an interview - for almost any job, including at a law firm."

Very true. But good looking young guys have an advantage too, all else being more or less equal.

Looks matter.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I don't want to disagree with alwaysfiredup's post, but I often notice the opposite problem in court (I'm a judicial clerk). I'd say only about 1/2 of the female attorneys routinely wear a suit, or even a jacket, to court (even when actually arguing before the judge), and that number drops a bit more in the summer. As a new attorney, I really try to watch other women to learn from them, but so few of them seem to put forth any effort, while their male counterparts are always in suits, shirts, and ties.

I know it's hot and the suit can feel boring, but we have a lot more comfort and creativity options than the men (no ties!). I don't want to hear women complain that they are not being taken seriously when they can't even take the time to look the part.

- Lyssa

Blue@9 said...

I agree with Ann. I've never seen a female lawyer or a law student wearing an Ally McBeal skirt. When we were doing on-campus interviews, the women all wore skirts that fell at the knee. One thing that was true is that no women wore pantsuits (it was DC, where the legal culture is very conservative).

My favorite story is about a guy who paid his way through law school as a professional gambler. He spent half the week in DC and half in Vegas.

On the first day of on campus interviews, he wore a shiny, four-button suit. Our jaws dropped.

"Dude, seriously, four buttons? Silk?"

His response?

"Versace goes with everything."

holdfast said...

As someone who has interviewed a lot of law students I'd offer the following:

Guys, your suit should be modern, of decent quality (Brooks, not Armani or Brioni) and well-tailored. Anything beyond that makes you look like some kind of slickster, or the sort of 1st year associate who is going to be a pain in the @ss because he thinks the work is beneath him (of course 1st year work sucks - we all know that, but I don't need you to telegraph it).

Ladies - again, a good quality suit, well fitting and tailored. Cleavage is NOT required, and anything more than a hint is a distraction. Skirts can be below or above the knee, but not much above. Pants are fine too.

alwaysfiredup said...

It's okay, Lyssa. I imagine there are different standards everywhere. I always looked as formal as I possibly could when in court, but as a corporate lawyer I wasn't there much. I just wish someone would have told me what it was about my dress that bothered the male partners. (Neither of the female partners could figure it out either.)

So that bit about how being a good-looking female helps? I get the impression that not being good-looking hurts women more than men.

Gerard said...

Don't know what "year" is being referred to here, but I recall this style being noticeable in Boston / Cambridge during the early to mid 80s. Big shoulder suits an all that. Professional MBAs Lawyers etc. Sort of like transexuals in transition.

Eric said...

I guess I'm in the wrong area. Where do I go to find these mythical half-naked ladies? The lawyers I know don't dress anything like that.

Ally McBeal was a long time ago, and even then did anyone ever actually dress like that for any reason except to land a partner?

vnjagvet said...

Moral of this story:

If you don't want to be called "doll", don't dress like one.

WV ruckess

Either a female ruck, or what you will cause if you don't follow the fashion advice on this post and these comments.

Ann Althouse said...

To answer the question what era am I talking about: I've been looking right at law students dressed for interviews since 1978. I know this subject really well.

vnjagvet said...

I conducted interviews like these from 1970-2004 as a law firm partner, so I know also know the area pretty well too, but from a different perspective. Ann is spot on.

Note to non-lawyers: evidence is stronger than opinion, and eyewitness testimony is first hand evidence.

LilyBart said...

THAT'S ROBIN GIVAHN? That's the woman so busy passing judgment on everyone else's style? Funny.

(I've never seen her before - only read a few of her columns).

I once showed a column she wrote to my teenage daughter. We were both very impressed that this woman had turned the "High School Mean Girl" thing into a lucrative career.

William said...

I have a passive aggressive attitude towards civilization that is sometimes expressed in sartorial sloviness.... Men view clothes as a kind of uniform. The trick is to look just like every one else but of a higher rank. (You've reached the ultimate highest rank when you can show up in jeans and a t shirt for a billion dollar merger talk)....I once worked with a woman who was an absolute dead ringer for Cindy Crawford except that she was somewhat younger and prettier. The grooming, posture, and apparel of the male personnel improved noticeably after her recruitment....She married a rich man, but her good looks didn't give her any edge in professional advancement.