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Flip Flops, Tank Tops, Tattoos—Oh My!

Vivia Chen

June 2, 2017



We've had some sweltering days in New York recently, so naturally our thoughts turn to shallower things—like what to wear to work in the yucky heat. Here's the issue: How much can you bare in the office without jeopardizing your professional credibility?

I don't know if this is a burning issue at your office, but a recent survey of over 400 managers finds that 50 percent of them "have experienced obstacles or discomfort when dealing with employees sporting overly revealing/casual summer clothing." (Seyfarth Shaw's compliance and consulting arm conducted the survey. And yes, Seyfarth had its share of problems recently, but that's a topic for another day.)

Here are managers' top gripes about the way underlings dress, according to the survey:

- 54 percent: overly revealing attire.

- 51 percent: overly casual attire (flip flops, no shoes, ripped clothes).

- 25 percent: overly distracting tattoos or piercings.

- 17 percent: obnoxious logos/decals.

Most lawyers I know are pleasantly uptight—about most everything—so could risqué dress be an issue in law firms?

You bet, says Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth's consulting group, who advises clients about dress codes, among other matters. Newbie lawyers, he says, sometimes require "an apparel adjustment period," and have to be weaned out of some bad fashion habits, like flip flops in the office.

I can understand the temptation to wear flip flops in the office (hey, if Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lawyers wear them with impunity, why not the rest of us?), but I'm not sure I'm ready for big tattoos in Big Law. Weiss says, however, they're increasingly popping out: "Usually, though not always, the tattoo is a relic of an earlier pre-law school life and/or lifestyle." He cautions, however, that firms need to address tattoos carefully, because they "can raise religious and other risks."

Tattoos, flip flops, shorts, spaghetti strap tops, bare midriffs: Are these really the things that drive firm managers batty during the long, hot summer?

"Not at our firm," insist the folks I talked to at several big firms, adding that their associate dress appropriately. "If anything, the summer associates tend to be super conservative," says a partner.

That said, firms are increasingly casual. I have certainly seen a gradation of what's considered acceptable. Though "traditional" casual still means polo shirt paired with pressed khakis (snore), ripped jeans (as opposed to jeans with holes, which are merely old) and t-shirts are not uncommon in firms.

Is all this a slippery slope toward  sloppiness?

Maybe yes. But those who get uptight by this trend tend to be older lawyers. "Just how casual attorneys dress is very much dependent on each firm's culture," says Weiss, adding, "we do see a certain generational butting-of-the-heads in law firms with respect to what is deemed overly casual."

Indeed, a mid-level associate at a big firm doesn't see what the big deal is with wearing tank tops or shorts during the summer. "I don't think anyone notices," she says, adding, "my firm is casual all-year round. If you're working like a dog, who's going to call you out for being comfortable?"

 In other words, it's your hangup, not theirs.

Contact Vivia Chen at [email protected]. On Twitter: @lawcareerist


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As a young associate on Wall Street, I learned that formal dress and being called "Mr.", even by Staff who were old enough to be my parent, was part of the comfort to clients who were paying a lot of money for our work.
More importantly, they often had to rely on the advice of a 26 year old kid. Hard to do, if the kid is wearing flipflops.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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