Suit Up!

Putting On A Suit 2 Crop

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.

 

24 thoughts on “Suit Up!

  1. In the world I work in, suits have never been a thing. But in the late 80s when I entered the business, slacks and dress shirts were expected. That went away by the mid-late 90s. In the last 10 years or so the engineers I work with routinely work in T-shirts.

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  2. You look really good in that suit! But you shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for you, which wasn’t known until 1604 when King James I wrote “A Counterblaste to Tobacco.” 🙂

    We’ve lost something to which you alluded: putting ourselves in a good “mental place.” Dressing formally reminds us that what we’re doing is important and worthy of respect. That applies whether it’s going to court, going to the office, or just having people over to the house for dinner. It shows respect for the event and respect for the people. Now, people wear whatever’s handy and call total strangers by their first names. It helps get them “in a mental place” to show no respect for anything or anyone. Next stop: Mount Rushmore. Sorry for the rant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have no dispute with what you say. Although I have threatened to start smoking a pipe in the event that I outlive Mrs. JP. Until then, that is a non-starter.

      There are holiday pictures from when I was a very little kid (maybe 1961-ish) in which my father and two uncles were all wearing white shirts and neckties for a family Christmas dinner. This was in a small midwestern farming town with no church activity as part of the evening, but just because. It was just what was expected.

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  3. I enjoyed that JP, having worked in a law firm many years before finally working from home the last ten years as you know. Sadly I see my skirt/pant suits hanging in the closet, slim-cut skirts, gored dresses, pumps lined up and blouses folded and put in drawers over ten years ago. Once a clothes horse, I am no longer proud how I dress for work (also in shorts and slippers and in Winter, often in polar fleece PJS). Sigh.

    But I think all law firms must operate the same way. The first firm I worked in (1980-1993), also primarily an insurance defense firm, was very staunch and businesslike – all attorneys wore the three-piece suit, oxford shirt, boring tie and the brogues. I think brogues were part of the dress code and the brogues were so wide they looked like flippers, or maybe clown shoes. The attorneys, even the law clerks, all looked like they shopped at Brooks Brothers. If an attorney ran downstairs to the convenience store for anything, he needed to be in his three-piece suit. And in the office, the jacket may come off, but the sleeves were never rolled up – what if a client walked by? A young associate had a motion hearing on a Friday before a long holiday weekend. He made the mistake of wearing cowboy boots, dress slacks and a Harris Tweed jacket to court. It was a simple, in/out hearing, then to the office and changing clothes. then off to the airport for a short getaway weekend. Oops! The senior partner saw him coming back from court, briefcase in hand – asked why he was dressed like that. I witnessed the altercation as it was right near my desk and it wasn’t pretty. Poor associate stammered and fretted and finally said “you don’t do litigation Stewart; it was a simple Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories – a nothing motion.” The senior partner retorted “as long as my name is the first one on the door, you’ll come to the office dressed for business or don’t show up – now get out of my sight.” Everyone within earshot was shocked.

    When my boss and I left the Firm (a different firm) and went out on our own in early 2003, we had no dress code. He always kept a three-piece suit, shirt/tie and dress shoes in the closet for an emergency and he always said he’d never meet a company head in anything but a suit/tie as they expect it.

    Kudos to the tailor for remaking that suit to make you look like a million bucks in it!

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    • We guys have it fairly easy because as long as we pick something conservative it may not be stylish but it also won’t be badly dated. Womens’ styles seem a lot more noticeable for style cycles. Update the tie and I could probably get by in some 20 year old suits (if I could drop a few pounds, anyway). 🙂

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      • Well hopefully you didn’t gain weight as a result of the Quarantine 15. Yes, guys do have it easier. We actually had a dress code at that same firm – no pants, even a tailored pantsuit. When I went to the next job, we could wear pants, just not jeans. Everything was different, including the fact the first Firm had separate events for attorneys and staff – including Christmas parties, Firm outings. No fraternization – they were strict about many things besides clothing, even addressing one another with an honorific. (And they didn’t like the word “Ms.” so you were either Mrs. or Miss .)

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  4. My Cousin Vinny comes to mind.

    ‘The only suit I have got Alabama mud all over it, and the only dry cleaners in town got the flu. So it was either the leather jacket, which you hate, or this ridiculous looking clown suit. So I wore this, for you.’ (Joe Pesci)

    A most enjoyable jaunt with Judge Chamberlain Hallem, (Fred Gwynne) who finds him in contempt of court.

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  5. Oh, the suit. I’ve had three in my life. The first got moth holes, the second I still have, and the third was purchased a little over a year ago. I’ve worn it twice, I believe.

    Like you, I have kept a routine with being dressed while working at home. It does indeed help with staying focused on the task at hand. However, shoes don’t apply as I went nearly two weeks early in the pandemic and never wore shoes. My feet still protest.

    A coworker claims he hasn’t worn pants in three months. I believe him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No pants for 3 months? Sounds like TMI for me. 🙂

      I work with a guy who had a video hearing and wore a shirt, tie and jacket up top and gym shorts down below. He said it was fine till a neighbor rang his doorbell then looked at him funny.

      I have usually had 2-4 suits at any given weight and time, with a couple of sport coats for fun. I actually wear the pants out with thin, shiny areas above the knees, but that was when I wore them more frequently.

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  6. An enjoyable post! That’s true about being in a “good mental place.” I always dressed up for work, and once suits and dresses went by the wayside, I still wore dress pants and a nice top in order to look professional. And once I donned my white lab coat (pristine and ironed), I was in the mood to concentrate. But my younger colleagues…..oh my……shorts, yoga pants, tops suitable for bars…..did they think the lab coat hid all that? So often they didn’t even wear one, nor even a nametag? Once I went to the dermatologist and she, a lovely older lady and a good physician, was wearing capri pants and sandals? Do we need to see that much skin? One other point, I love a good classic suit on a guy, but hate the new look in men’s suits – the one where they look like they’re wearing their little brother’s, two sizes too small. And the tan shoes with a dark suit? Our prime minister, Trudeau, is a perfect example…hope that trend disappears soon. I’m wondering if they still wear those lawyer gowns in courtrooms, or is that only for jury trials? When I was called for jury duty five years ago, the lawyers had them on? I always thought they looked quite strange, but perhaps there’s a history behind that tradition?

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    • We in the US have never worn the robes – those are just for the judges here. A good old suit is all we need to win (or lose) a jury trial.

      I remember my mother wearing a white nursing uniform every day. Now its just scrubs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting. I only see the trial lawyers wearing the robes on TV if they are being interviewed for a big case. And yes, I remember the nurses wore white, and those hats/caps until the mid-80’s. OR and ER staff wore green scrubs and the long OR gowns. Housekeeping wore burgandy and dietary wore blue, but now with everyone wearing scrubs, including so many different patterns it’s hard to know who’s who.

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  7. I had to return and comment one more time on this post. I referenced Brooks Brothers the other day and lo and behold they filed for bankruptcy today citing the pandemic for their downfall. But in the Bloomberg Business Report which is on twice per hour on my AM radio station they reported BB was in trouble long before the pandemic.

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      • Yes, it is no longer a status symbol to don Brooks Brothers attire,. I’ll bet those seersucker suits the senior partners wore were from Brooks Brothers. When the first law firm I worked finally began hiring women attorneys, it was a given their wardrobe was purchased from this clothing store which was in the heart of downtown Detroit.

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  8. I think the peak of American/European fashion and design was 1860-WWI. There was also a measure of greatness up to about 1962 (“The Last Innocent Year”). What we’re seeing now are the last dying embers of a world which is passing away.

    In Victorian/Edwardian times, men and women wore highly artistic, multi-layered clothes, hats, and accoutrements–and yet they had no air conditioning or synthetic fibers, and horse manure and mud was everywhere. They lived in homes and worked in commercial or government buildings which were of the most florid and robust, dignified design inside and out–and yet they had no modern construction equipment, diesel power, or CAD. Today, we HAVE all this modern technology–and what are we doing with it?

    In Western thought for thousands of years, a thing is not just a “thing.” Its design ENNOBLES it. That’s why (as you and the commenters have stated), putting on the fine clothes dignifies YOU and the WORK you are doing. So now we have websites like “People of Walmart” and you can see what we have become. Are we slobs because we dress that way, or do we dress that way because we are slobs?

    Reminds me of a quotation by Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.” That new world will be either one of two things: an aesthetic which I could not even begin to describe to you, or a retro steampunk-type revivalism.

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