Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dress Code

When I was growing up, when Mom and Dad would occasionally go out for dinner, Mom put on her best dress and Dad his coat and tie and off they’d go.  Just about the same way they would dress for church the next morning. 

When I began to practice law in the mid-1970’s, no one would dare dream of going to the courthouse without a coat and tie – even if you were called for jury duty. 

The Rules of Decorum today provide for “appropriate courtroom attire.”  I used to tell my clients to dress for court as if they were going to church.  That doesn’t work so well any more, as a significant number of churchgoers wear shorts, cut-offs, t-shirts and even tank tops.  I am amazed that people come to court in such outfits. 

No one wore a hat in Lucy McCarthy’s house, but rarely a week goes by when I don’t tell someone in court to take off their baseball cap. 

When I was first on the bench, I would send home defendants who were not properly dressed and told them to come back later in the day.  Most did, but some did not.  So, I switched to thanking those who did come to court dressed up – shirt and tie for men, dress or dress suit for women – often by reducing the fine they were required to pay. 

As an attorney, I rarely went to the office without coat and tie.  Today, with casual Fridays several times a week, attorneys are called into court on short notice and appear in what is inappropriate courtroom attire.  Sometimes it’s not even business casual – it is jeans and a polo shirt.

When I was campaigning for office in the 70’s and 80’s, I would always wear at least a shirt and tie.  Now, candidates running for president are routinely seen in “business casual” or even jeans and plaid shirts.  I’m sure there are well-paid consultants advising the candidates how to dress, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.  When a person comes to court, or asks a voter for the privilege of serving in elective office, I believe they should dress to show the seriousness and sobriety of the task.

But, I have quit complaining about the dress of most litigants and attorneys, unless it is just too offensive to overlook.   But just because I tolerate it doesn’t mean I like it or think it’s appropriate.

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Next week:  All Men Are Created Equal