Parsing the Visual Rhetoric of Office Dress Codes: A Two-Step Process to Increase Inclusivity and Professionalism in Legal-Workplace Fashion

23 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2015 Last revised: 1 May 2018

See all articles by Karen Thornton

Karen Thornton

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: October 26, 2015

Abstract

Legal employers expect attorneys in their offices to use the ethos of personal appearance to project an image of competence to clients. This expectation is largely unspoken, however, and polling and anecdotal evidence alike show that in today’s workplace, employers are frustrated with the level of professionalism demonstrated by new employees. The goal of this article is to encourage open conversations about workplace fashion as it relates to an attorney’s professional identity. It is in both the employer’s and employee’s interests to clarify employer expectations and empower new members of the legal profession to adopt a personal sense of style that projects competence, leadership, and professionalism, without subtracting out the self. Professional style and ethos, not conformity, should be the goal of office dress codes. This article is written from the perspective of a legal writing professor and advocates an approach to building a positive office culture by training new lawyers to parse the message of unwritten dress codes and participate in drafting inclusive office policies that accommodate disparate cultural, racial, and gender experiences. By making the unconscious conscious through open communication about employer goals and employees’ professional identities, biases can be overcome and new attorneys prepared for a profession where choice of dress projects an instantaneous message about an individual’s business judgment.

Keywords: ethos, professionalism, fashion, professional identity, style, dress code

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Thornton, Karen, Parsing the Visual Rhetoric of Office Dress Codes: A Two-Step Process to Increase Inclusivity and Professionalism in Legal-Workplace Fashion (October 26, 2015). Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 12, 2015; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2018-17; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2679721

Karen Thornton (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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