As I posted here, lawyers’ attire was already trending casual before the pandemic sent us all home. California-based real estate attorney Nina Ries devised a novel solution to make her life easy while maintaining a professional image: a wardrobe consisting entirely of black dresses and pearls.
Yet post pandemic, even a black dress and pearls may seem like too much. In an effort to entice workers to return to the office, many employers are relaxing dress codes, allowing jeans and casual attire all the time, reports Fast Company. Many large firms are also moving full time to business casual and jeans according to Law.com though the perennially behind the times Virginia bar still insisted that lawyers sit for the rigorous exam in formal business suits.
It’s not just working from home that changed during pandemic, but other social attitudes as well. A new administration and increased focus on sustainability and fighting climate means that many consumers are turning away from inexpensive fast fashion that many younger, financially strapped lawyers relied on for wardrobe. There’s even a company, Wool& that devised a challenge to customers to wear a Wool& dress for 100 days in a row (one hearty customer didn’t wash her dress for the full period).
From my perspective, lawyer dress is always driven by clients. For trials, dress hasn’t changed for in-person proceedings, so conforming to the formal dress attire is imperative to avoid prejudice to your client in front of the judge or the jury. As for the office, with fewer clients favoring remote work over in-person meetings, lawyers have more flexibility than in the courtroom to decide how they dress and should extend the same courtesy to staff. That said, if you expect to meet with a client in person, more formal attire signifies respect and at least for younger attorneys, may be needed to communicate authority.
When I graduated from law school thirty years ago, lawyers, regardless of gender, could always resort to a gray or navy suit every single day. Though those suits were constricting and (depending upon the era), not terribly attractive or flattering, they were a safe and easy choice. In some ways, with Instagram and branding and TikToks, the way we dress still matters if only to capture attention online or ensure that our clothing choice matches brand colors. And yet, the pandemic has taught that our outfits don’t matter as much as the work that gets done while wearing them.