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Dress Codes: What is the prevailing view about associates’ appearance?

Another crop of new lawyers has entered the legal workforce in Virginia. We have seen some slight easing of the job crunch: Here’s hoping that law firms and other organizations decide that it’s time to hire and that the new lawyers can put their new law licenses to work.

But what type of workplace culture will a new lawyer face and what are the expectations he or she will endure? That question applies equally to the one-, two- or three-year associate who was fortunate enough to secure a position just before or during the recession.

There are literally thousands of law firms across the commonwealth, and as a result, there are an equal number of dress codes or sets of office mores about the appearance of the lawyers who practice there.

Some offices are pretty traditional, while others may take a more casual view. So we put together a Web poll to determine your thoughts about what is the most appropriate attire or appearance in a law office.

On this page, you will see eight numbered pictures. Tell us whether that feature of an associate’s appearance is appropriate. We’ve chosen four that apply to men and four that apply to women (for a few, admittedly, there might be some crossover). They are:

1. Nose rings or other facial jewelry.
2. The unshaven, stubbly look
3. Stiletto or other very high heels
4. No tie
5. Visible tattoos
6. Cleavage
7. Very short skirts
8. Earrings or ear studs for men

You can vote thumbs up or down here. We also ask your gender, your age and your location. Also, we would like to know if your firm has a written dress code or other rules applying to lawyers’ appearance. Each question will provide a space for comment.

We’ll leave the Web poll open until June 28 and report the results in our July 5 issue. Thanks in advance for your participation and input.


  1. I am not an associate, but a paralegal, and was recently given the “cleavage” speech by my superior who is also a woman. Does the definition of cleavage being (a visible division or line between) mean there should be none exposed? Of course, it is her firm and her business and I will certainly abide by her decision. There is no dress code in our small firm and I am old enough to know what inappropriate attire might be, or so I thought. No visible line between…. um….. for us full figured girls, it means crew necks only. My “exposure” was far less that photograph 6 on your front page. So, where exactly do you draw that line?

  2. Last week’s issue was all about diversity. The implication of this article is about conformity. I think the two will clash, for some will argue that dress styles, ink and bling are ways of ‘celebrating diversity.” Why no choices about dyed hair, grills, freaky fingernails, fe-mullets and clothes “not made of cloth”?

  3. Basically, the rule of thumb is if a partner wears it, the associates should be able to do the same. So, if partners sometimes don’t wear ties, then associates should feel perfectly comfortable not wearing a tie (except of course if the associate is to be in court).

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