Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Judge tells female lawyers what to wea

Story Originally Appeared in USA TODAY

"I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent," the letter reads. "Your personal appearance in court is a reflection upon the entire legal profession."

News of the soon-to-be-published letter spread quickly. Many female attorneys, including Nashville-based Karla Miller, who handles some Rutherford cases, heard chatter that Taylor's rules include mandatory pantyhose — an accusation Taylor denies.

By way of explanation, Taylor said: "They're usually behind the podium. I only see their upper bodies."

Miller said she was "slightly offended" by the judge's move but understood his motivation.

"The bigger picture is: Some ladies are dressing in a manner that should be bothersome to other lady lawyers who strive to be professional," she said.

Murfreesboro attorney Michelle Blaylock-Howser responded to the dustup with a shrug. If men are held to a standard, she said, women can be, too.

Blaylock-Howser often sees female attorneys sporting sleeveless shirts, which she said should be out of bounds in the courtroom. Once, a Nashville attorney came to court wearing a dressy blouse and sweatpants, she said.

"How we got off those standards is beyond me," Blaylock-Howser said.

According to image and brand consultant Mila Grigg, who works with more than 100 attorneys in Middle Tennessee, personal fashion choices clashing with professional decorum are especially pronounced with the millennial generation who, as she says, "have a different standard for what professional looks like."

"I've never met an attorney who has broke the rules on purpose," Grigg said. "They'll say, 'Oh, I can't wear that? What should I be wearing?' "

Singling out women, though, is unfair, Grigg said, since men violate professional fashion etiquette just are often as women.

"Well-fitted suits for men and women is one way to express your personal brand," she said. "And you can always showcase your personality through color."

Attorney Lisa Eischeid said Judge Taylor is an equal opportunity wardrobe conservative. She recalls one instance where he found a male attorney in contempt of court for appearing without a blazer. Taylor confirmed the story, adding that he also made the attorney donate to charity.

"Someone needs to tell women that sundresses are not proper in the courtroom," said Eischeid, who has worn a business suit throughout the 23 years she has been a lawyer. "But it can be a delicate issue."

The courtroom is in no rush to abandon its old-fashioned protocols, attorney Miller said, though perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.

"Here's the thing — we're girls, we like making fashion statements," Miller said. "It's about individualism. Maybe the courtroom is not a place to show your individualism via fashion."

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