While in law school, I was defeated in the semi-final round of a moot court competition. The reason for the loss? My outfit. I’d worn a pantsuit and a female judge, who was a judge in real life, also, ridiculed the choice, telling me that no “real lawyer” would ever have worn pants to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, which was who we were “pretending” to argue before in the competition. The harsh criticism came as a total shock to me and I’ve never forgotten it.
Well, after these many years, I’ve finally been vindicated. In her first argument before the country’s highest court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, former Dean of Harvard Law School, wore a navy blue pantsuit and light blue blouse. So it seems that my judge was wrong. A woman would and, in fact, did wear pants before the Supreme Court after all. Does this brazen fashion choice signify a coming of age for women in the legal profession?
It would have been a far more remarkable silent victory but for the fact that it wasn’t silent at all. Kagan’s choice was all over the legal newsboards. Above The Law ran a story detailing the choice and discussing the outfit at length. The fact that her clothing garnered so much attention lessened the potentially important impact of what was surely a high point in Kagan’s legal legacy. Had the media not found it so remarkable, Kagan’s pantsuit choice may have been a much more significant symbol of how far women have come in our profession. But, by spotlighting it as a key point of interest, the news stories just reminds us that our fashion choices do matter–at least to the interested public.
Nonetheless, the fact that Kagan was not dissuaded in her selection by the media’s interest does give me a great deal of satisfaction. Would I follow Kagan’s lead? I’d like to think so but I dare not speculate. After all, an attorney with Kagan’s pedigree has plenty of reasons to be as confident as she was–she’s got the legal acumen to back up any outfit she “dares” to wear.