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Is Fashion Advice for Female Lawyers Sexist?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 09, 2015 10:55 AM

There's nothing skilled professional women like more than being judged for their appearance. Indeed, most lady lawyers invite the chance to have their hair, dress size, and outfits overshadow their legal prowess.

Luckily for female lawyers in the San Francisco area, two Marin County styling consultants stalked the halls of a county court house to do just that. The pair spent a day critiquing female lawyers' outfits -- and had their judgments published by the Marin County Bar Association. Was the fashion advice sexist, as many claim? You be the judge, here are the facts:

Passing a Different Kind of Judgement

The piece was not kind to the Bay Area attorneys. According to Jill Sperber and Susana Perczek, the consultants who played style judge, jury, and executioner, "female lawyers in Marin are not winning their case in the Style Department." The duo wants to remind lady lawyers that their client's negligence isn't the only "trouble area" they'll have to cover up -- they recommend silk blouses for "curvy torsos." We wonder, how did their fathers and husbands ever let them out of the house looking so dowdy?

The pair say their business "dares women to leave their comfort zone and wow." Wow, indeed. Their article certainly was uncomfortable -- and completely devoid of any mention of the less-fair sex. It was quickly decried by women who found it "blatantly sexist." Local prosecutor Yvette Martinez, offended by the implication that she should drop everything and run to the mall, wrote in response:

Consider for a brief moment an article written by men suggesting that male attorneys 'jazz up' their attire to 'watch (their) professional image improve immediately.'

Sperber, in response, claimed that male lawyers need no advice, since they "basically wear a uniform," but there was still work to be done among young female attorneys and older women who have "given up."

Are All Fashion Pieces Sexist?

Which begs the question, are all fashion advice pieces inherently sexist? Many such pieces are couched in the idea that a woman's professional ability is tied to her appearance. When coming from places of authority -- bar associations, employers, judges themselves -- these pieces are often patronizing at their best, outright misogynist at their worst, a strong reminder of the double standards placed on women in the workplace. Take, for example, the Magic Circle firm whose memo on "speaking effectively" focused on how much cleavage lawyers should show.

Of course, we at FindLaw have published a fashion advice piece or two -- for men and women both. We try to keep the information helpful and separate from any implication that a lawyer's beard, bust, or blazer is a reflection of his or her legal ability.

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