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Dress for Legal Success
Guest Article by: William Cane
“I recently visited a big law office in New York City,” William Cane says. “Most of the attorneys were wearing the wrong shoes and the wrong kind of ties. Three of them had their jackets off. This sends a negative signal to clients and is something we warn against when doing image consultations for these professionals.”
Cane, the founder of Manhattan Makeovers, advises attorneys on how to improve their image. But instead of basing his recommendations on guesswork, all the advice his firm provides is derived from research into what is effective for male and female attorneys.
“It turns out that the style of your shoe is critical for sending the right message,” Cane says. “Wear the wrong shoe and you’re thought of not only as incompetent, but worse, you’re considered unethical. Naturally, for attorneys it’s critical that clients, colleagues, and decision-makers perceive them as adhering to the highest ethical standards.”
The only acceptable color for a male lawyer’s shoes is black. And only two styles are considered inoffensive: wingtips and cap-toe shoes. For female attorneys, the only acceptable shoe is a closed-toe, closed-heel pump in a dark color with a heel no more than two and a half inches.
“One of the biggest mistakes female attorneys make is trying to be too stylish,” Cane says. “Skirts that test well are at or below the knee. Sweaters should not be worn at work because they send sexual signals that reduce a female attorney’s effectiveness. She should not wear pastel colors because males will not take her seriously.”
The power suit is the most effective outfit for a female attorney. It consists of a skirt and jacket. Pants are considerably less effective. In fact, research by John T. Molloy, published in New Women’s Dress for Success, indicates that pants will antagonize 6 percent of men and turn on 53 percent of men.
“The most successful female attorneys avoid wearing pants,” Cane says. “They have seen that it is not doing them any good. We have observed this trend in most law firms in the Northeast. The one exception to this is Hillary Clinton, who has taken to wearing pantsuits in the mistaken belief that it will help her fit in with the boys (Fig. 1). It will not. It serves, instead, to make her stand out as an anomaly in a profession where wearing the right attire is critical. I predict it will impede her chances of election should she run for President in 2016.”
“Law students dress like beachcombers,” Cane says. “When I was in law school I always wore a jacket and tie to class, and often a suit. I even dressed that way in college. The value of dressing in professional attire even when you’re in grad school is that you learn what works, and you become comfortable in suits. It makes the transition to the professional world that much easier.”
The two biggest mistakes male attorneys make is that their hair isn’t combed and their shoes aren’t shined. Cane says that it pays to look at yourself in a mirror for half a minute before you step outside the door to go to work. “I learned this when I was a theatrical producer working Off-Off Broadway,” Cane says. “Good actors routinely check their appearance before walking onstage. Attorneys should do the same because when they’re at work they’re always being scrutinized, and people are making judgments about their competence and moral character based on how they dress and how their hair is styled.”
Photo Credit: Richard Clement / Reuters
(Hillary Clinton wearing a pantsuit, walking with President Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in above photo)