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.
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 wants to look sharp. 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. I save the good ties for when I have to make an impression.
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 idea comes 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. 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.
Some lawyers don’t struggle with which tie goes with which jacket. Women lawyers suffer 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 sight, by the way). But lady lawyers have the luxury of a wide variety of dress options that are considered acceptable for court. Then there is the lady lawyer I know whose size and girth limit her to not much more than sweat pants in court.
It certainly is not my goal to bring about a change in dress code such that shorts and t-shirts can be worn. 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 not going to be impacted.
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.
Why is it so important to tie me down to a tie? 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, that might 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. No First Amendment Freedom of Expression for me. How does the judge know whether the Male lawyers before him or her are not doing an ugly tie day? Ties prove nothing. They do not make the man.
I agree how a 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. How we are being seen is always part of how we are being judged. Shouldn’t there be room for the lawyer wearing a red ‘70’s style zoot suit or leisure suit, with white belt and shoes, and hugely splayed collar revealing layers of gold chains?
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 than upon the right tie and jacket. All that I would seek is the liberty of self expression and comfort.
Right now, male lawyers are being dragged around by our ties and are subservient 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, a Court of law is the constitutionally designated franchise where such values are to be honored most.