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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 26, 2019

    Final Thought
    Who Cares What I Wear to Court?

    Some people care what women lawyers wear to court, but it's up to the individual to decide how to deal with "dress codes" and appearance expectations.

    Deanne M. Koll

    Has anyone been following the recent Twitter war regarding what women lawyers should wear to court? It has been quite the kerfuffle. Always wear a pantsuit. No, skirts are a must. Never show bare leg but never wear tights. Try to look conservative but also feminine. I mean, who can follow all these instructions? Can I get a flowchart for women’s apparel?

    Deanne KollDeanne M. Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C., with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond, Wis.

    If you read commentary on this issue, one would think that Lady Justice would keel over dead unless the woman lawyer was perfectly dressed. Until this issue played itself out, I thought it was academic only. I was woefully unaware of the ongoing outrage. I never really think about my outfit when I’m pouring my kids’ Cheerios with one hand, responding to email with the other, and packing lunches with my third hand.

    But, I do have a tragic narrative on this issue. When I first started practicing, I was told– by more than one lawyer – that I should always wear a skirt when I showed up in Judge X’s court. Seriously.

    Now, if you follow my rants, you would assume that – upon hearing this suggestion – I would have made an obscene hand gesture, and always showed up in a pantsuit. But, embarrassingly, you’d be wrong. Instead, I conformed to this unreasonable demand. Every time I showed up in the courtroom for a hearing with Judge X, I always wore a skirt. And, I told other women lawyers about this mandate, and to the best of my knowledge, they dutifully complied.

    Now, 13 years into my legal career, I look back at this and I’m ashamed. How am I showing the future generation of women lawyers that you are the only one in charge of you. I am acutely aware of my own hypocrisy, particularly when I stand strong on the position that we should gauge a woman’s worth by her words and deeds rather than her image. I tell my two daughters how smart and funny they are, rather than beautiful (even though they are), specifically to attempt to eradicate the social indoctrination that a woman’s beauty – and not her brain – is paramount.

    But what are women to do in this situation? If we earnestly accept the duty of zealous advocacy for clients, can we knowingly defy a wardrobe mandate that may determine a case? Can I ignore this wardrobe directive if doing so works to the client’s detriment? Or, is this just me justifying my compliance?

    I don’t know the answers. Frankly, just putting these issues down on paper is a bit depressing. To me, the Twitter warfare over the correct female wardrobe is an exercise of diminishing a woman’s worth to her appearance. I cannot stand for that, and I hope you won’t either.

    Every time I showed up in the courtroom for a hearing with Judge X, I always wore a skirt.

    Meet Our Contributors

    What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

    Deanne KollI have this lie I tell myself: Work will slow down soon. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to further lies: You’ll get your head above water. Your anxiety level will decrease. You’ll sleep more and eat better and run a half-marathon. Okay, so maybe the last isn’t true. But, the first parts certainly are.

    I think we likely all tell ourselves these little white lies, so that we can make it through the day or the week. We tell ourselves that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and once we get there, we’re taking back our lives. Usually there is a break – but only for a moment. Then the phone rings again, that client you thought you were done with comes back in, or one of your partners asks you to help her with her current work load. Regardless, it is this break – coming in August for me! – that I’m most looking forward to. Even though I know there won’t be one.

    Deanne M. Koll, Bakke Norman S.C., New Richmond.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.

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