I wore a suit a few days ago. I know, big whoop. But in this era of COVID-19 it kind of is.
Actually, wearing a suit had become quite uncommon even before the virus was loosed on the world. And after a months-long lockdown donning one was a freakishly rare occurrence.
I got my first job at a law firm as a student in 1984. At that time I owned two suits – a navy blue pinstripe and a charcoal gray pinstripe. (Well three, actually). Good, conservative suits which were perfect for those many job interviews we all went on.
The uniform was pretty simple – a navy or gray suit, a crisp white oxford dress shirt with its button-down collar and a pair of hard-sole leather shoes, shined to the max. I never did the pipe like the guy up top, though.
Back then a suit was expected at the office every day. Even in my small and relatively informal office, everyone knew the dress code, though it was not explicit. It relaxed a bit in the summer when older lawyers broke out the seersucker suits. I never owned one of those, but did own a khaki job, complete with cuffed pants which showed off the sporty cordovan penny loafers.
As time went on “NCD” became a thing there. NCD stood for “No Client Day”. A collared golf shirt was acceptable on those days. I, however, seldom got to take advantage of NCDs because as “the young guy” I would have to be ready on a moment’s notice to rush something to the courthouse for filing or to serve a subpoena on a witness. One must look one’s best for such things.
It was not until I had moved to another office in the mid 1990s when the “NCD” became the norm. “Business casual” had become a thing by then and I was quite good at it. To the point where it is still kind of my default in life.
By the 2000s blue jeans had become acceptable on occasion, but I resisted that trend because the “emergency sport coat and tie” that hung on the backside of my office door would do little good if it had to pair with Levis on those rare and unpleasant occasions when a court would call to say “We had you down for a hearing today at 2 and everyone is waiting.” Those calls have been thankfully rare, and are exceedingly un-fun.
As law practice has begun to center more and more on electronic interaction, blue jeans have become a normal option in my life. Until we all went home because of COVID, at which point they became a major upgrade from the basics of gym shorts and slippers.
I finally decided that I had to actually get fully dressed everyday in order to put myself in a mental place where I could actually lawyer, and so I have. A status quo which has held since, until That Day.
On That Day a hearing that had been continued multiple times actually stayed on the schedule right on the heels of the courthouse opening. Which called for the full deal, because going to court has been one of those occasions for which the dress code has not been relaxed one whit.
That morning I felt a little like one of those ancient knights getting into his suit of armor before going into battle. I did not have a trusty squire there to assist in the donning of the suit, but then lightweight wool is not as difficult to get into as is armor. Or so I would guess, never having actually worn a metal outfit.
The top button on the shirt got a little protest out of my too-relaxed and slightly overfed neck, but such was necessary to prepare for the four-in-hand knot in the necktie that followed. This is one little, teeny bit of lowered standard that most people would never notice, as I was once a dedicated Windsor knot guy (or is it Double Windsor – I don’t recall). Perhaps someday I might do an entire blog post on the relative merits of the two different methods of tying a necktie. But today is not that day. (OK, no need for you to be so gleeful about it.)
Anyhow, the hard leather shoes completed the constrictive getup and there I was, ready to pounce on my hapless opponent in my best navy blue state of dapperness. Which may not actually be a word, but should be.
It was all a little bit of a letdown when nobody showed up on the other side. I had actually not expected him to – he was unrepresented and had ignored every previous attempt I had made to contact him and every previous hearing in the case. In fact, I never even got in front of the judge, who (in this particular court appears to be reserved for cases where there are actually two lawyers there and ready.)
It did, however, have me prepared to run the gauntlet of Coronavirus security which added to the gun, bomb and penknife security that is normal. I handled it all like a boss, acing the temperature test, answering the questions correctly and getting my little green wristband certifying me as “Clean”.
Soon it was all over and, having been given the approval by the bailiff to leave the courtroom. Or more accurately, the hallway outside of the courtroom, so that I could return to my (not) office. Off came the tie, off came the hard shoes and undone came that miserable top button on the white oxford dress shirt. Soon I was back to my business-casual self, finishing my paperwork for the hearing (that wasn’t) and basking in the win (that was). A wind due, in at least some small part, to that seldom-worn suit.