By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Back in an earlier life I worked for a man named Nat Gilbert. I can speak evil of him should I choose because he is long since dead. Time tends to have that effect on human beings. “Good Ol` Gnat” was how I referenced him. He was a character of the first order, eccentric, disorganized, and one of the best deal makers I ever met.
Gnat Gilbert was in my heart, a great man. Among his eccentricities was that he refused to wear a tie. Working for a large company that we did and he being among the big ‘machers’ in the corporation; no matter the event, Gnat’s uniform was always dress slacks, sport coat, and a turtleneck. Nat never wore a tie. He was adamant about never wearing ties and that was his line in the sand. On only one occasion in all the time I knew him did he ever wear a tie and that was during a meeting with the then LAOOC in meetings to be an official Olympic sponsor.
Nat always said that if you train “them” at the start what they can and cannot expect from you, you have the right and liberty to continue to behave as such. His line in the sand was a tie. He won that fight.
Nowadays, I have what I affectionately refer to as, “ugly tie days”. Every man has one or more ties that he hates or thinks are ugly and refuses to wear when he is trying to make an impression. Over the years, I have collected several. There are many times when I have to make meetings or court appearances that require a tie but which appearance is not much more than a, “Hey, how ya doin?” Protocol requires a tie and so I grab one of my ugly ties; saving the good ones for when I have to make an impression such as at trial.
I bring all this up because I think it is time that folks my profession rethink its position on Men having to wear Ties and Jackets to Court. The genesis of this came from sanctions suffered by this lawyer for choosing to opt for an ascot instead of a tie. I am sure he looked quite smashing with a bundle of silk wrapped around his throat underneath an open-at-the-neck dress shirt. The Judge there was not so impressed and reacted angrily.
By no means am I a fashion queen and I think barely pass for a reasonably well dressed attorney when I have to be so attired. But I have seen and heard comments on how lawyers dress and but-for that tie and jacket, they are certainly not wearing their finest. Perhaps I am not the only lawyer who uses the “ugly tie day” concept.
Actually, I should limit this entire discussion about Men. Women lawyers have no such burdens. They are not required to wear ties. Certainly no female attorney is obligated to have on a coat. As the temperatures warm, lady lawyers tend to show more leg and cleavage (a much appreciated site, by the way). But lady lawyers have the luxury of a wide variety of dress options that are considered proper for court. Of course, there is one lady lawyer I know whose size and girth limit her to not much more than sweat pants to court.
While it certainly is not a goal (yet) to bring about a change in dress code such that shorts and t-shirts can be worn as respect for the institution of the Judiciary and those that practice therein has to be taken seriously. Still, full respect can be shown by a Male lawyer with just a sport coat and no tie. The same respect on a hot day can be shown with a dress shirt, slacks, and no tie or coat. There is no chance that whether I am tied up or down, jacketed on or off, my work performance is going to suffer. Rumors always run amok and I hear often that Judges locally are not always suited up with ties and jackets under the robes. Good for them, I say. (Also kudos for the lady lawyers who go without panties).
But speaking for just this one man, I respectfully submit that Men lawyers should have as much freedom and liberty as do their female counterparts. Dress nice; dress respectably. But let’s get rid of an historical anachronism that serves no value. Ties and jackets should be as optional for Men as they are for women.
I am sure women of all employment statuses will concur. Some Men lawyers might be seen in a better light if a button or two were open on a hot day. Lord knows how sales of cod pieces will rise locally. Women can, should, and do on occasion use their sexuality as one of their weapons in advancing their cause. Good for them. I once had a lady juror making goo goo eyes at me the entire trial, she probably would have fucked me right there if I asked. This is all part of the social psychology of the work environment.
So why tie me down? Is it not possible for Male lawyers to be and appear just as professional sans tie or jacket if they choose? Must Men be tied up while the Women run free? Under some circumstances, this can be an interesting concept. But not at work.
The real question is one of liberty, self expression, and fundamental fairness. I do not want to be a woman nor do I want to dress like one. (The one exception being on really hot muggy days, I would LOVE to be able to wear a sundress and feel a breeze blowing up my crotch).
By forcing me to wear a tie and jacket, the Courts are in essence requiring me to be like everybody else. I am disabled from distinguishing myself as a human being from another by means of dress. How does the judge know whether the Male lawyers before him or her are not doing an ugly tie day? Ties prove nothing and do not make the man. Nor does the jacket.
Also how the lawyer is dressed is always part of his or her presentation. If at a particular moment I represent a conservative client in front of a conservative judge and the issue involves a conservative matter, then I will present myself conservatively. At the same time, there is room for the casual and relaxed appearance to help calm the situation or give the judge an honest visual impression of the lawyer arguing before the Court. Frankly, making me wear a tie and jacket gives me little opportunity to distinguish myself as a human being. How we are being seen is always part of how we are being judged. If I look identical to my opponent, a critical opportunity to make a point is lost. A client who retains a lawyer who comes to court in a red ‘70’s style zoot suit or leisure suit, with white belt and shoes, and hugely splayed collar with gold chains is obviously trying to send a message. I am sure there is even room for the flamboyant; though I doubt their long range productivity.
All I ask is to be on equal footing with my female counterparts have the opportunity to make sure I am more focused on the client and the issue and not on having the right tie and jacket, and be allowed the liberty of self expression and comfort.
Right now, us Men lawyers are being dragged around by our ties and are servient to the archaic notions of our ancestors. Precedent has its place. But it is time to loosen the bonds and unshackle our expression. After all, is a Court of law not the constitutionally designated franchise where such values are to be honored most?