Tennessee Judge to Women Attorneys: Long-Sleeve Jackets Required

As reported by The Tennessean,  a judge is seeking to have women attorneys look more “professional” in court:

Dress code Memorandum

To: Members of Rutherford/Cannon County Bar
From: Judge Royce Taylor
Date: June 7, 2013
Re: Professional Dress for Attorneys
At the recent Bench/Bar Committee meeting, the subject of attorneys’ professional dress in court was discussed. The unanimous opinion was that the women attorneys were not being held to the same standard as the men. It was requested that the judges require all attorneys to dress professionally.
I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent. If you have questions, please contact my assistant, Angela Sellers, at [phone #].
Your personal appearance in court is a reflection upon the entire legal profession. Litigants and members of the public should be confident that we both act and look professional.

Women often bear the brunt of “professional” dress codes, although interestingly this memo suggests that women are being treated more leniently than their male counterparts.  And while pantsuits have often been a focus, women’s jackets – – – or lack – – – have been important for women attorneys.

For example, when Ms. DeCarlo, a legal services attorney in Camden New Jersey, wore slacks (gray wool), a sweater (gray), and a shirt (green) during a court appearance in January 1975, she was eventually held in contempt by the trial judge.  She appealed the contempt order, arguing in part that it constituted “unconstitutional discrimination against female attorneys.”   The trial judge’s objection to DeCarlo’s apparel focused on her sweater and her “open-collared blouse.”   She represented herself on appeal – – – wearing the same outfit that the trial judge had found worthy of contempt – – – and won.

Unlike in some other nations, attorneys in the United States do not wear robes.  Thus, courtroom attire is subject to interpretation.  Most likely, most attorneys will conform to the judge’s desires.  However, if they chose to challenge him, he should hope that the appellate judges share his views about arm- length in jackets.


Women in their short-sleeve jackets in the 1940s

[image via]