Should you dress "like your mother-in-law is coming to dinner"?

How should professional women dress in the workplace? What about lawyers, specifically? Should we dress differently if we're going to court vs. working in the office all day?

Interesting questions, I think. This Chicago tribune article explores these issues and begins with the following analogies:
The female members of the self-proclaimed "hot, young cast" of "Conviction," a courtroom drama that recently wrapped up its inaugural season on NBC, sometimes wear skirts as tight as sausage casings and a plunging whisper of chiffon under their suit jackets.
But Assistant District Atty. Leslie Hansen of Colorado is a longtime member of the bar who views the court as a place of reverence. Drawing attention to yourself by dressing provocatively, she says, not only is tacky but also demeans the entire legal process.

And Coroner Jo-anne Richardsonof Frisco, Colo.,says skirts would-n't be practical for someone crawling around the underbelly of a mountain car crash.

And "sexy" won't do. Wearing leather and a cleavage-enhancing top on the job is as plausible as a 10-minute toxicology test. It might happen on "CSI," but not in her office.

These professional women follow the advice of experts who say that if you want people -- of both genders -- to focus on your brains, then you can't dress for distraction.
Personally, I prefer pantsuits simply because they're more comfortable and I absolutely despise nylons--especially in the summer. But, skirt suits do look sharp and I always wear them when I'm on trial. Appearances are everything in front of a jury, and juries tend to be conservative and prefer women to "play the part." I also have a tendency to wear skirt suits if I know I'll be going to court on a given day.

And, in my opinion, as a general matter, suits or very well put together separates are a must for women lawyers, unless your office allows everyone to dress "business casual." I wish the legal field wasn't so conservative, though. Especially when it comes to hair styles. It's hard to find the right balance between a hair style that's not too severe from 9-5, and that can really loosen up after hours.

I think that the following observation from the article is absolutely true:
Initially, there might be benefits to dressing like a sex kitten, but there are hidden costs. "For young women starting out, it's a real temptation [to be sexy]. You get more attention; you might even get hired; but it will only take you so far. Eventually, it undermines perceptions of your competence."
Many young women don't realize that until it's too late. And, a lot of them come to work dressed like it's girl's night out at the local dive. Eventually that's going to backfire.

I was thrown off by this tidbit from the article regarding inappropriate attire:
"A beautiful woman came into our office in a beautiful suit. She looked great. But she wasn't wearing a shirt underneath her suit jacket. [Before long] everyone in the office knew she wasn't wearing a shirt," says Drum, who promptly pulled the woman aside.
Didn't the employees have any work to do at that particular office, or did they all just stand around the water cooler and gossip about the newcomer? And, wasn't there anything else going on at their office that waws juicier than that to gossip about? Apparently not.

As for the issue of whether one should wear a shirt under a suit--it depends. I have quite a few suit jackets that have 4-5 buttons and I rarely wear a shirt that can be seen, if I do wear one, since the "V" ends high enough and the suits are well-fitted. There's nothing revealing about 'em.

What is inappropriate, per se? Ally McBeal skirts are too short no matter what, in my humble opinion. Lace camisoles are also a definite no-no, as is any form of visible lace. And, no, f*** me pumps are not acceptable. Keep it reasonable ladies, unless your office has a stripper's pole installed in it.

Another pet peeve of mine is suits that fit too snugly--so much so that you can almost hear the threads straining at the seams. It seems as if women who are a bit on the chunky side tend to favor snug suits, and I'll never understand why. My guess is that they think it's slimming, when it's really just the opposite. One woman I used to work with consistently reminded me of Miss Piggy. And, I know she thought she was "all that", even though she ended up looking "all fat."

But, enough about my pet peeves. What about yours? What is appropriate for professional women to wear? How about lawyers? What absolutely, positively should never be worn in the office?

And, guys--what do you think? Does sexy clothing on a woman colleague affect your ability to take her seriously? Does it even matter? Are we over-thinking this issue? I highly doubt it.


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