Who Wears The Pants Around Here?
October 23, 2014 10:53 AM   Subscribe

In 1938 Los Angeles, Helen Hulick went to jail for wearing slacks in courtroom. 'Kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made Los Angeles court history — and struck a blow for women's fashion — in 1938. Hulick arrived in downtown L.A. court to testify against two burglary suspects. But the courtroom drama immediately shifted to the slacks she was wearing. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time.' 'The next day, Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt. She was given a five-day sentence and sent to jail.'

'Hundreds sent letters of protest to the courthouse. Guerin's contempt citation was overturned by the Appellate Division during a habeas corpus hearing. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court.

A couple of months later, Hulick came back to court. Her point made, this time she wore a dress.'
posted by VikingSword (86 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
76 years later, and we still use expectations about how women should dress to harass them.

Particularly if, ya know... they're in school.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:58 AM on October 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


Alas, there are still judges who believe this, although they no longer jail you.

Unfortunately, at least according to career services office in law schools across America, Big Law will not hire women who interview in pants.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:00 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Bad. Ass. No sarcasm.
posted by Think_Long at 11:02 AM on October 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is not the source of the word "slacker."
posted by chavenet at 11:03 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


it's sure great that we no longer use expectations about how women should dress to harass them.

I'm guessing Crush-onastick's Big Law firm is equally unlikely to hire a man in a dress.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:06 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yeah, women lawyers are still expected to wear skirt suits in some law firms and courtrooms, at least in the South.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:06 AM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


A woman in a suit which has pants on the bottom, rather than a skirt, is in no way sartorially equivalent to a man in a suit which has a skirt on the bottom, rather than pants. They make very expensive business suits for women with pants. They make cheap ones too.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:12 AM on October 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


A woman in a suit which has pants on the bottom, rather than a skirt, is in no way sartorially equivalent to a man in a suit which has a skirt on the bottom, rather than pants. They make very expensive business suits for women with pants. They make cheap ones too.

I think I know what you're getting at here, but I think we should assume that if a man wanted to wear a skirt suit, it's totally sartorially equivalent, it's just less socially accepted.
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:21 AM on October 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


About this time a male attorney could be held in contempt of court for wearing brown shoes rather than black, as my grandfather once told me.
posted by mr. digits at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


A 2010 ABA magazine article: Order in the Closet Why Attire for Women Lawyers Is Still an Issue features from more recent perspectives on this issue (hint: it's not all better now).

US District Judge Richard Koph also caused a stir earlier this year over a blog post entitled: "On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress." It didn't go well.
posted by zachlipton at 11:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


"Listen," said the young woman, "I've worn slacks since I was 15. I don't own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that's okay with me.

"I'll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism."
*starry-eyed adulation*

Her 1910 birthdate makes it decidedly unlikely that she's still shuffling around this mortal coil, but this quote really makes me want to give her a most righteous high five. Great find, VikingSword!
posted by divined by radio at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2014 [35 favorites]


*starry-eyed adulation*

I second that emotion.

The modern excuse is that the dirty old men can't ignore the skin, but the photos show that Hulick's trousers were more "modest" (exposed less skin) than the jail dress.
posted by immlass at 11:35 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I may have been extraordinarily fortunate in my pursuits, but I still find it hard to believe that anyone, anytime, EVER, gave a damn about this picayune bullshit. WTF is wrong with people? Who cares what you're wearing? The first thing I discard if hiring people. Shallow, stupid bullshit. If you want to interact with clothing instead of people, go chat with the racks at Men's Wearhhouse, or the Dress Barn. Putting the 'suck' in dress for success.
posted by umberto at 11:37 AM on October 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


In the 1990s I wasn't allowed to wear trousers in court (in England). And one swelteringly hot summer's day, when I was wearing a skirt that was almost floor-length, I was banished from Chambers by a Chancery Master until I was appropriately dressed - which meant that I had to go across the street to the store and buy a pair of tights (pantyhose) to wear under my skirt, on a day that was so hot the tar on the road was melting. Apparently the three or four inches of bare ankle that I was showing offended the court!
posted by essexjan at 11:41 AM on October 23, 2014 [28 favorites]


Judge Guerin: "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap slacks? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with no taste. Good nutrition's given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Helen Hulick? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed: pure West Virginia. What is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? "
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


Is that The Knick you're quoting??
posted by VikingSword at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2014


Is there any chance that Helen Hulick was this person? She's around the right age and was teaching in California at around the right time.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


I can still remember arriving at school (2nd grade) one day in 1969 to see teachers and administrators standing in front of the closed building doors, and all of the students in a throng outside the building. The principal was trying to control the mass of students using a bullhorn. Turned out one 6th-grade girl had come to school wearing slacks, and refused to go home and change into a dress or skirt when ordered to do so. (This was a public elementary school, no uniforms required). Memory may be embellishing here, but I recall a police car or two on the scene. The stand-off lasted maybe 45 minutes, with shouting and high emotions on both sides, before the school officials finally caved and let her in. After that, the floodgates were open and, within days, girls in trousers were everywhere at school. But that day that one girl seemed, to 7-year-old me, as committedly and ferociously beyond the norm as John Brown or Che Guevara.
posted by newmoistness at 12:01 PM on October 23, 2014 [49 favorites]


Who cares what you're wearing?

If my experience waiting at an intersection Monday evening is any indication, some random muscly at-least-middle-class dude on a scooter behind his girlfriend. Apparently this shoe style is so aesthetically appalling that he had no choice but to express his contempt.

If I had to extrapolate about who cares what you're wearing, I'd posit: people with relatively greater social standing who are feeling insecure for some reason and are willing to punch down.

At any rate, kudos to Helen Hulick.
posted by johnofjack at 12:02 PM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


I had to ask someone recently why anyone cares if women wear pants. I was told it's because to some that's cross dressing.

Wow. Never occurred to me. As far as I've always been concerned, pants are a gender neutral form of clothing.
posted by sbutler at 12:07 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


well, times change, right? i can only imagine what a courtroom would be like if a woman or man testified topless, even though both women and men have the right to be topless in public. Has that ever happened?
posted by rebent at 12:13 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


some random muscly at-least-middle-class dude on a scooter behind his girlfriend
Not sure exactly how it's possible to punch down from a SCOOTER!
posted by joecacti at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apparently the three or four inches of bare ankle that I was showing offended the court!

Noooo, this is what knee highs are for! Fuck that creepy old ankle peeper.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:26 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Good find, ArbitraryandCapricious.

Seems possible, based on these photos about a year before Beebe's death. Hard to say for sure. All three images are from the waist up.

The photo of Beebe on this page makes it seem likely. Maybe?
posted by notyou at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2014


I believe I've told this story before, but It Didn't Get Better. Sometime around 1968 in Los Angeles, my mom walked on to her Jr. College campus for phys. ed. class. She was wearing pants on her way to the gym. She was asked to leave and come back in a skirt, so that she could change into sweatpants.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


I hope that, not too far into the future, people will look back at society's current hangups and prejudices with the same derision.
posted by Foosnark at 12:38 PM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Is that The Knick you're quoting??

I believe that's Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice first meets Dr. Lecter.
posted by axiom at 12:44 PM on October 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Okay, so, what is the social function of this sort of sumptuary law? Not a rhetorical question: who, if anyone, does the policing of clothing styles, then and now, serve? Or is clothes policing just a random freak of history?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2014


who, if anyone, does the policing of clothing styles, then and now, serve

the smug entitled whining of the patriarchy, basically.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2014 [25 favorites]


The social function is keeping women oppressed. It serves the patriarchy.
posted by agregoli at 12:57 PM on October 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


It serves the idea that women's bodies are objects that belong to men and they wear clothes that were and are approved by men to display their material possessions.
posted by bleep at 12:58 PM on October 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


Women deciding what they want to wear based on convenience and comfort is women having agency and being people just the same as men. We forget that this is a new thing that feminists gave us.
posted by bleep at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2014 [37 favorites]


The worst part is the constant snide mockery women get for being interested in fashion, for taking an interest in how to best personalize the narrow confines of what they were permitted to wear throughout the ages, for being forced to limit artistic endeavors into socially acceptable pursuits. I bet there's ancient egyptian graffiti that says "pity poor thutmose for his wife spends too many shekels on robes" or some such bullshit.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:03 PM on October 23, 2014 [15 favorites]


Another photo of Helen Hulick Beebe. I don't know. Could be...
posted by Naberius at 1:04 PM on October 23, 2014


To give further context, and to answer some of the questions of You Can't Tip A Buick, in LA at that time it was illegal to wear the clothing of the opposite gender, something frequently used to persecute LGBT people. The law came out of a masquerade ball in the late 1800s where it was rumored that much gender-swapping and illicit cavorting occurred and kept on the books up through (if I recall correctly) the '50s. While the enforcement of the law weakened with the growth of the movie stars in the golden age of Hollywood — stars like Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn intentionally flouted the law — it was still a frequent pretext for raids on lesbian and gay bars, and if you were arrested for it you could be charged as a sex criminal and made to register with the police. It was also a significant private burden — many people were blackmailed or lost jobs, money and family over being picked up for cross dressing.

For women, the law really only stopped being enforced after the U.S. entered WWII and women were needed for factory work, where they were able to dress in jeans and not be persecuted for it, but arrests and convictions continued through the '50s — it was one of the main organizing causes for the Mattachine Society, one of America's first gay rights groups. (The other, primary cause for the Mattachine was the rather less publicly sympathetic attempt to end cruising laws.)

I wish that the LA Times had gone further into the episode — it's one that I've seen mentioned in LGBT history of LA, thought I don't know whether Hulik was LGBT.
posted by klangklangston at 1:05 PM on October 23, 2014 [26 favorites]


In fact, here's the LA Times describing the enacting of the 1898 law on cross-dressing and "All Fools Night": Google newspaper page.
posted by klangklangston at 1:25 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sorry all, but I don't think she's Helen Hulick Beebe. According to this profile, Beebe had lived in Northern California - not Los Angeles - and she was already married to Mr. Beebe by 1938.
posted by Aster at 1:53 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the other functions of forbidding cross-dressing is being able to draw clear distinctions between men and women. If women are permitted to dress like men, women might be mistaken for men and/or compete with men in male fields. (And in fact this happened, for thousands of years, during which women went to war, practiced as lawyers and doctors and probably bricklayers and cowboys and priests, and some even married.)

Why it is so important that men and women be distinguishable is either obvious or impossible to determine, depending on one's perspective.
posted by suelac at 1:56 PM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Why it is so important that men and women be distinguishable is either obvious or impossible to determine, depending on one's perspective.

And something that is still, in october 2014 in the progressive northwest US, A Thing.

I have several friends who are relatively impossible to peg. It's a combination of their style, and them just being very androgynous in and of themselves.

One of my friends has gotten harassed both in town and while traveling around western europe and overheard stuff like "i cannot tell whether it is a he or a she, it is a monster" or just been outright yelled at and shit for basically, not obviously fitting the binary.

While i can see why it would be obvious why someone would find this important, i think i fall more on the impossible side in my own head where it's like "ok, they're just existing on the street, why does it matter so much to you?"

Like i get how some weinerhead could be obsessed with the idea that man has to be some unassailable silo otherwise they'll lose their privilege they don't want touched in society, but i still don't get how someone not fitting in to the box fucks with that. It's not like for every non binary, or "butch" or whatever person you're erasing someone whose both a woman and femme. Unless of course these are people wishing for the good old days when you either fit the strict gender roles or were entirely rejected from society.

It's just hard to understand how it could inspire such rage in someone.
posted by emptythought at 2:04 PM on October 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


If I could be mistaken for someone with less rights I would want to prevent that too. (I'd personally rather everyone have the same unlimited set of rights but you know what I mean.)
posted by bleep at 2:04 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


The last sentence of that obit says, "Surviving are a brother, Charles E. Hulick, and a sister, Mary Eliassen," so how could it not be the same person?!
posted by jabes at 2:47 PM on October 23, 2014


Slacks, like saddles and bicycles, might touch the only important part of a woman, and everyone knows that part belongs to men and so a) shouldn't be touched by anything else, b) should be as easily available as possible to any man who wants to use it.

That's what's upsetting about women in pants.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Eh, I think there is some rationale in having a strict dress code for. lawyers. who. are. in. court. since a slackening of the code is a slippery slope (with the assumption that well-dressed attorneys are at least somewhat important to the notion of court decorum). If women are allowed to wear slacks, then why not men dresses, and why not women t-shirts, and why have a shirt at all... so the argument goes. I fully support women being allowed to wear slacks to court and interviews with no bias. While we're at it though, I really hate wearing suit jackets in summer so that's on my wishlist; there's no way that's less uncomfortable than being forced to wear a dress. All said, I will say, when it comes to formal attire, I think it's one of the few areas where women actually have MORE options than men on a general basis.

For what it's worth, the only judge in my city that remarks on women wearing a dress in her court is a woman, and she definitely wears pants on occasion under her robe since I sometimes eat at her favorite lunch spot.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:11 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


A slippery slope for what? Bullshit.
posted by umberto at 4:27 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Decorum is bullshit in formal clothing.
posted by umberto at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


gagglezoomer: Why should one's sartorial presentation be relevant to the facts at hand in a case awaiting adjudication? It's a very short step from there to privileging certain classes of citizen with a sympathetic hearing from the bench (and others with an unsympathetic hearing).

Hint: the word privilege has roots: "private law". And they strike at the very foundations of modern constitutional thinking, that all humans are of equal worth before the law (that is, that there are no aristocrats or monarchs who are above the laws to which ordinary people are subject).
posted by cstross at 4:39 PM on October 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


While we're at it though, I really hate wearing suit jackets in summer so that's on my wishlist; there's no way that's less uncomfortable than being forced to wear a dress.
Spoken like someone who has probably never worn pantyhose or shaved his legs.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:41 PM on October 23, 2014 [19 favorites]


It's like neither of you even read my comment.


Why should one's sartorial presentation be relevant to the facts at hand in a case awaiting adjudication?

A litigator must advocate for their client. That is the primary function of a litigator. If you want to rationalize from your ivory tower about the way society should be, then fine, do that. But the hard fact remains that you cannot advocate as well for your client in today's society while wearing anything but formal attire.

P.s. omg, did you just tell me to "check my privilege"
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:43 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've shaved my face plenty. It's not very comfortable. I'll even venture a guess that it's more uncomfortable than shaving one's legs, but I wouldn't know, you are correct on that.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:44 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've done both.
Face is definitely worse as far as discomfort, but legs take longer and have more hard-to-reach spots.
Never worn pantyhose on a hot day, though, but I imagine compression shorts come close. They're about even with suit jackets for me. Even those ridiculous unlined, near transparent "summer suit" jackets they have in Japan.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


All said, I will say, when it comes to formal attire, I think it's one of the few areas where women actually have MORE options than men on a general basis.

This isn't an advantage. The fact that women have more options than men when it comes to clothes underscores the fact that women are generally considered to be decorative objects rather than full human actors. Men have a uniform they can wear every day without being judged for it; it doesn't matter if they're making the workplace prettier or not. That's not their job! A woman can't wear the same outfit two days in a row without everyone assuming she didn't make it home that night, or something.

Also: gagglezoomer, if you think shaving your face is uncomfortable, you should try electrolysis. Especially the upper lip.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:10 PM on October 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


you cannot advocate as well for your client in today's society while wearing anything but formal attire

Yeah, and a woman can do that in a fucking pants suit. There's no slippery slope, no man marrying a dog, nothing but the same old misogynistic bullshit.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:21 PM on October 23, 2014 [27 favorites]


one way to ensure courtroom decorum would be to require attorneys wear a uniform provided by the state. That way decorum couldn't be used as a stalking horse for maintaining social hierarchies.

I'll have us all in Mao jackets yet, just you see!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:24 PM on October 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


And those cute berets!
posted by sneebler at 5:52 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I still have the memo, sent to me in 1993, from the director level, reminding me that EDS had a skirt, hose and heels dress code. It was 20 degrees out and icy and I had to walk a quarter mile from where peons parked, thru a parking lot that had never seen salt, in the Deep South where nobody buys winter clothes because we don't really have one very often. I told them that expecting me to dress like the steno pool from the 1950s was absurd and that I would wear a dress to do my job when H. Ross showed up in heels. To nobody's surprise I didn't keep my job for very long.
posted by dejah420 at 5:54 PM on October 23, 2014 [19 favorites]


Men wearing dresses in court - "As the magistrate remanded the prisoners on bail, he commented that ‘this was a most disgusting case’, but he was relieved to know that the majority of the men were from Sheffield, rather than Manchester."
posted by unliteral at 7:01 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Men have a uniform they can wear every day without being judged for it

We must live in different post-modern professional spheres I guess.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:53 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and a woman can do that in a fucking pants suit

And I can do it without a fucking jacket (or a tie). How does that observation change anything? Go reread my comment.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:00 PM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Shaving your legs involves either bending over with your head down or lifting your legs above your head and holding that position for at least half an hour. It's nothing like simply standing in front of a mirror and slathering your face in the most silky oils and creams. I do not want to hear any more from men about how shaving their face is sooo hard and I'm also not shaving my legs anymore.

Furthermore I really don't understand why pants are not considered formal for women if I'm wearing a suit jacket and matching suit pants. Well, I do understand but it's a load of bullshit. It's because women aren't allowed to disappear into their uniform the way men are plain and simple.
posted by bleep at 8:02 PM on October 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


This is why robes are a great idea. There are some minor benefits to requiring formality in attorney's/barrister's dress (essentially that they become a "uniform", which reinforces the ideals of being an officer of the court and allows them to go hard against each other without it spilling over to tomorrow's negotiations.

Much more importantly, of course, is the theoretically-unfortunate but in-practice-existent effect that it has on the views of their credibility by the judge and (if one exists) jury. We respond more positively to formally-dressed people; until that fact doesn't exist in our culture then a good lawyer will still dress up.

None of that is to say that women shouldn't wear pants, of course. Or that men shouldn't wear skirts. Or that people elsewhere in their gender role/presentation shouldn't wear whichever they please. Just that they will (even if they shouldn't) be formal. Robes allow a standardized sight, which further allow you to hide some of the showier aspects of formality, which again is good because of our stupid biases.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:10 PM on October 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


Why is the "solution" to something like "women should be allowed to wear pants in court for crissakes have you seen what year it is already?!" to point out that it's not fair that men have to wear ties or be clean-shaven or something? Stop being a goddamn crab in a bucket. Say "Yes, it is fucking stupid that a female attorney should be required to wear pants in court/to a job interview, and it is also stupid that a male attorney has to shave his face."

It doesn't have to be either-or to be an effective argument, and I'm certain that we can somehow maintain standards of decency in professional arenas without resorting to arguing that women in skirts are the ONLY thing keeping us from sliding down the slope to cargo pants and tube tops in court.
posted by rtha at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


Look, I didn't get allowed by the school system to wear pants to school till I was in sixth or seventh grade (around 1969-70).

Society as a whole was way more rigid about what was and was not appropriate to wear decades ago. As a little girl I wore white gloves to church. When's the last time you saw THAT? And men had their own rules and requirements.

People always dressed up to go to restaurants too. Of course we didn't go nearly as often as we all do now.

Different times be different.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:27 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


and she definitely wears pants on occasion under her robe since I sometimes eat at her favorite lunch spot.

Taken out of context...

New euphemism: lunch spot.
posted by futz at 8:55 PM on October 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Men have a uniform they can wear every day without being judged for it

We must live in different post-modern professional spheres I guess.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:53 PM on October 23 [+] [!]
Perhaps? I was a Big 4 consultant for a period and I know for a fact that I could have worn the exact same suit and shirt every day I worked at that job and simply changed my tie, and I'd have never gotten more than a raised eyebrow so long as I kept my hair short.

(grey pinstripe suit, black leather shoes, blue shirt)
(tiny american flag lapel pin)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:26 PM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


76 years later, and we still use expectations about how women should dress to harass them.

Do you really think the "expectations about how women should dress" in court are more exacting for women than for men? I work in a courthouse — I have to wear a suit and tie every day. I've been explicitly told that it's a fireable offense for a man to ever show up at work without a tie. The standards for what women are allowed to wear are far more lenient.

And it isn't necessarily true that it's easier for men to get dressed for work, or that their outfits are less conspicuous. I need to match my suit and shirt and tie — it's pretty hard to do. I notice when other men have suits that are well-matched or clashing. If a woman wears a dark suit with a solid-color top every day (which is relatively easy to put together), I would never take any notice of it. As for the idea that women's business attire is more "decorative" — really? I'd say a necktie is usually the most ornately decorative item in anyone's business attire. A man's tie in bold colors or patterns, combined with a pocket square, can get fairly exquisite — hardly a standardized "uniform."
posted by John Cohen at 9:38 PM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Men have a uniform they can wear every day without being judged for it; it doesn't matter if they're making the workplace prettier or not. "

They still get judged, it's just that the stakes are generally lower and most of that judgment is class based.
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 PM on October 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


"I need to match my suit and shirt and tie — it's pretty hard to do."

Wait, sorry, missed this — this is something you think is hard to do? Come on, man, you've been to law school. That's something hard to do. If you want to wear a basic set of conservative patterns, they're easy to match and the salesperson at the store where you buy your suit should be starting you off with a few shirts and ties to match the suit anyway. I mean, different affinities I guess, but this is like hearing Michael Phelps complain about jogging.
posted by klangklangston at 10:03 PM on October 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


Unfortunately, at least according to career services office in law schools across America, Big Law will not hire women who interview in pants.

This was pretty firmly the moment where I realized, even if I wasn't likely to end up in BigLaw anyway, that I was not intended for the profession. It's not that I never wear skirts/dresses, but I cannot possibly stand up to that level of gender performance on a daily basis. I'm not against the idea that one should dress up in a professional setting, but there is a pretty huge difference between that and a dress standard that actually requires that I be interviewed in clothing which allows my usual-male interviewers to see considerably more of my skin than they do of male applicants for the exact same position. It felt like a sort of ritual abasement. I had this whole conversation with the lady at career services. Black/gray actually opaque tights were also explicitly ruled out as not sufficiently professional. Funny how the only female definition of "professional" that they found acceptable was one that required me to expose parts of my body that I usually don't. (I don't judge anybody else for this, but I don't wear shorts, I don't wear skirts without tights, I don't wear sleeves shorter than the elbow; yes, even in the summer.)

I ended up wearing pant suits to pretty much every interview I had, tights for a couple places that I knew were very conservative, but I just couldn't go further than that without feeling like I was going into the place half-naked. Despite being ranked very highly was no-offered at OCI twice. Mock-interviewer said I was fine. I no longer have any regrets for getting out of there.
posted by Sequence at 10:11 PM on October 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: Different times be different.

I agree. Back then, more people were more wrong about this particular thing more often, and had more power to enforce their disgusting attitudes.
posted by polychora at 11:12 PM on October 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


As a lawyer who does regular trial work (I'm an English barrister) my view is that while an advocate might well be reprimanded by a judge for a significant departure from the 'formal business attire' that is the required standard of dress - for instance, a man wearing a garish tie or chequerboard suit*, or a woman wearing a low-cut top - he or she will be criticised by the client for looking scruffier than the other side's lawyer.

The issue is not so much that judges expect us to look smart, it is that the ordinary people we are paid to argue for in court expect us to look smart. And I mean what I say by 'ordinary people'; many of my clients are blue-collar, unemployed, and/or first/second generation immigrant, in court because they have been in a road accident or want access to their child after relationship breakdown or are in dispute over a debt. They expect their lawyer to look like a 'proper lawyer', and indeed many are a little disappointed to find out that for the majority of such cases we don't actually wear wig and gown in court. They certainly expect me to look as formal and smart as the lawyer on the other side. They also expect me to be familiar with all aspects of their case, and to have prepared my questions for the other side and my legal arguments for the judge thoroughly, so it's not just appearance, but it is part of the package, and one of the most obvious parts for a layperson to notice and criticise. So I have three suits and a dozen smart shirts, all tailored, and I polish my shoes before I go to court. It is what my clients want, it is what they are (in part) paying me for, and it is what I will ensure they have.

*There is only one person on this planet who can make such suits looks smart.
posted by Major Clanger at 1:10 AM on October 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


People keep saying "Lawyers must dress formally" and we keep asking "Why are matching suit pants not formal for women?" I still don't get it. I'm sure a woman wearing pants like in the OP back in the day looked as crazy as some would see man wearing a skirt suit now. But jeez if men are really feeling that oppressed by pants then maybe it's time for trail blazers like this brave lady to show up in skirt suits. Somebody has to do it.

But it's not that ladies pants can't be formal because men's skirts can't be formal. It doesn't work like that. Ladies pants can't be formal because at the ceremonial level that is enshrined in formal clothes the traditional ladies' role of Object of Male Gaze is still required. And it shouldn't be.
posted by bleep at 1:25 AM on October 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


The smug is thick in this thread. If any man complaining about the effort of matching his tie to his suit *actually* wishes he could wear a skirt-suit, hose and heels to his job, I'll take him to Nordstrom's and buy his outfit.
posted by SakuraK at 1:27 AM on October 24, 2014 [15 favorites]


To get back to the original point: I think it's ridiculous that a female lawyer should be told that a trouser suit is somehow inherently less formal than a skirt suit. I know plenty of female trial advocates and many of them wear trousers in court. So long as they confirm to the rather vaguely-worded guidance of 'dark business suit' I can't see a judge criticising them for not wearing a skirt and one who did would probably be on the receiving end of a complaint him/herself.

Is this one of those areas where the US legal system is more conservative than the UK? (Yes, I ought to say 'England', but don't think there's a distinction between the legal systems of England & Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland in this context.) I'm always amazed at the stilted language and prevalence of latin in US judgments, when we were told firmly by Lord Woolf to junk all that in the massive Civil Procedure reforms of the late 1990s.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:00 AM on October 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure i'm all that receptive to the "everyone should just wear robes/a uniform!" thing. I mean i realize those posts might have been a bit spherical chickens, but it strikes me as being dangerously close to the whole "legalize gay marriage!" "why don't we just like, get rid of marriage entirely as a legal thing and just let everyone have civil unions and be done with it?" exchange.

Like, first of all, it's sidestepping the entire problem as if someone intractable and not worth dealing with(whether or not the individual person positing it is intending that, that's what it's doing)

And secondly, it comes off as a bit of glib bloviating because it always seems to be coming from someone who already won, or could win in one move, the game. It's basically "Hey, the game isn't fair, and i think i should get to play with the same rules you do" "Well fuck, if it isn't fair, why don't we just throw out the game and play a different one?" where it's like, well no, i've been asking to play the game for years, and when it finally seems like i might get a chance to you just shitcan the whole thing? It stinks of taking balls and going home.

Pretty much every "well why don't you just not play the game?" response to anything like this reeks of a lot of that to me. But this is a particularly blatant case of it.
posted by emptythought at 4:26 AM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure i'm all that receptive to the "everyone should just wear robes/a uniform!" thing. I mean i realize those posts might have been a bit spherical chickens, but it strikes me as being dangerously close to the whole "legalize gay marriage!" "why don't we just like, get rid of marriage entirely as a legal thing and just let everyone have civil unions and be done with it?" exchange.

I think there are plenty of good reasons to get the state out of marriage, and I think there are plenty of good reasons to resist gendered clothing.

I agree completely that we work with what we have, and make small steps towards equity where we can. But that doesn't mean that the awesome, exciting, romantic, and ultimately progressive legalization of gay marriage somehow makes the terribly biased tax system any more fair to single mothers, who pay the highest tax rate despite deserving the largest subsidy. It's only because the state wants to "incentivize" marriage that that happens.

Much the same thing goes for pants: this FPP is about an awesome woman achieving a badass victory. But as many, many female lawyers have now made clear, this victory didn't actually solve the problem of female attire and the gendered clothing choices we now have. It's not unreasonable to wish that women could wear pants suits, but nor is it unreasonable to wish that formal attire, itself, was more accessible to everyone.

Adam Smith noted that in 18th Century Europe social inclusion and respect required that each man be able to find a linen shirt:

“A linen shirt … is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.”

This, then, was the material basis for respect. And it served then, as the expensive bespoke suit does today, to exclude some from the spaces of power. So no, I don't think there's anything wrong with wishing we'd lower our expectations and let lawyers practice their profession in plain, durable, unisex jeans. You can take your job seriously without spending 10% of your income on clothing (which is pretty intense and exclusive when you think about how much Big Law lawyers actually make.) I understand why the pant suit is a victory when compared to the skirt suit, but it feels like an early victory in a long battle.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:45 AM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


If any man complaining about the effort of matching his tie to his suit *actually* wishes he could wear a skirt-suit, hose and heels to his job, I'll take him to Nordstrom's and buy his outfit..

I've always assumed a lot of men wish that at some level. Or at least wish they had some option other than a suit and tie. Some women love fashion, dressing up, self expression. They treat clothes as costumes; they dress as a specific character, the version of themselves they want to be. They play with comfort, sexuality, formality, aesthetics. And yes, a whole spectrum of acceptable gender performance, in most contexts these days. Colors and shapes and textures, attracting just enough attention but not too much. Gaining confidence from their clothes when they know they look good.

On the one hand, that game is a lot of pressure for women (like me) who aren't really into it. And the stakes are certainly higher than they should be. It would be nice to be able to opt out.

On the other hand, surely a lot of men would get joy out of playing that game well too, if they were allowed. They did back in the Beau Brummel days, and through most of history, actually. To have their self expression confined these days so narrowly, to dress always in this one specific costume regardless of comfort or suitability to one's personal tastes or shape or personality or aspirations... To be judged so harshly for any departure from perfect conformity... The stakes are just as high for the game men play, but there's basically only one way to win.

I dunno. Patriarchy hurts everyone. I really do feel sorry for men, on this one.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:07 AM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


So glad right now that I work from home. What I am wearing right now would shock you.

The Radchaai may be terrible in a lot of ways, but they got this one right.
posted by kyrademon at 6:08 AM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Loved seeing this! Thank you for sharing.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 7:20 AM on October 24, 2014


kyrademon: I am working from home and right now I am wearing ... clothes. Because I nipped out to the gym half an hour ago and haven't changed since.

Sometimes the only way to win the game is not to play.
posted by cstross at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Much the same thing goes for pants: this FPP is about an awesome woman achieving a badass victory. But as many, many female lawyers have now made clear, this victory didn't actually solve the problem of female attire and the gendered clothing choices we now have. It's not unreasonable to wish that women could wear pants suits, but nor is it unreasonable to wish that formal attire, itself, was more accessible to everyone."

Just to clarify: The woman in the story was not a lawyer — she was a witness to a burglary. And she did not win. She was jailed for contempt and then later returned to court in a skirt. She was badass for pushing the envelope, but as we sidle into talking about attire for attorneys and thinking of Hulick as a winner in this instance, we mythologize history.
posted by klangklangston at 9:06 AM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


There is a famous story in my family about my awesome grandma (who would secretly help abused women in her tiny Midwestern town get away from their violent husbands, who volunteered at a TB clinic at 18 and her whole family bid her farewell because of course she was going to die, who was in a secret lady society in her twenties whose main goal was mischief). It was the middle of winter in Ohio, and it was FREEZING, and one Sunday morning in the late 1950s she just couldn't take it anymore. She put on her fanciest pantsuit, she looked beautiful and striking (as always), and the whole family went to church.

My mom remembered that my grandma got a lot of side-eye that morning, and almost no one talked to her, and when they got home my grandma burst into tears.

The next Sunday, she sadly put on her stupid skirt and hose, and the whole family went to church. And when they got there, my grandma was the only woman wearing a skirt, because every other woman in the whole congregation was wearing a pantsuit. And from then on, in at least one Methodist church in a small farming town, women wore pants to church.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:59 AM on October 24, 2014 [18 favorites]


And she did not win. She was jailed for contempt and then later returned to court in a skirt.

She certainly did win her habeas appeal! That she chose not to wear pants after that was a matter of personal taste (or at least prudence in the face of less-overt coercion) and not law.

My point was that it's okay to fight for small victories without taking our eyes off a very-far-off and as-yet-unachieved goal.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:52 AM on October 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Society as a whole My mom was way more rigid about what was and was not appropriate to wear decades ago.

Six year old me wasn't allowed to go on the class trip to have lunch with Governor Clinton in 1970's Arkansas because I refused to wear a dress. Fortunately mom is less oppressive now, though I haven't yet had another chance to dine with a Clinton.
posted by bendy at 11:34 AM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


What I am wearing right now would shock you.

The Radchaai may be terrible in a lot of ways, but they got this one right.


You're wearing a political prisoner's body, aren't you.
posted by squinty at 5:34 PM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Heh, so, my SO works at a school in a rather conservative county, which up until recently had a dress code very similar for women employees. Skirts, with pantyhose, were expected. Men also had rules of dress, although much less stringent (isn't that always the way . . .) mandating that they wear EITHER a tie or a sweater.

After long years of slow change and hard lobbying, the women's dress code was abolished, and now female faculty are free to wear all the slacks they want, but for some reason the men's dress code rules are still not only on the books, but enforced (see: my SO's meeting with his department chair and a frikkin VP over "the tie situation" after he was tie-less one day at work).

The result being that my SO and his female coworker wear the exact same general outfit to work, but he'd better put a cardigan on over it, or he gets written up.

I guess the moral of the story is: screw dress codes, man.
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:53 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was instrumental in getting rid of dress - codes at my school. I did it because the short dresses of the 60 - 70's exposed more of my body than I wished to expose.
Dresses below knee length were not allowed.
Supposedly this was for 'safety'.
We had a 'pants strike' at our schools and it was district - wide in a rural Northern California county.
I loved being able to go get me some Levi's and a few cow - boy shirts. I finally was comfortable at school.


I did not need to waste money on nylons, unless I had a Speech Tournament. You kind of had to dress like a teenaged lawyer for that. I had a green outfit reserved for Speech Tournaments.

I think Speech kids were mostly headed for legal careers.

Clothing police in my experience are often poor people.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:06 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


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