January 23rd, 2017

Sean Spicer and the Ill-Fitting Suit (Updated)

Did Sean Spicer deliberately wear an ill-fitting suit?

Lawyers need to know a smidgen about fashion if we don’t want to look like fools before clients, courts and juries, which is why I’m bringing my limited sartorial skills to today’s post.

Many people across the country looked at Sean Spicer in his debut appearance as presidential spokesman, and the lies he was forced to spew about the size of the crowds for the inaugural Friday and the massive protests on Saturday, and then proceeded to…mock his ill-fitting suit.

He can see a picture of the slob. Many folks on the interwebs had fun with it. There is already a Go Fund Me page to Buy Sean Spicer A Suit That Fits that has been shared, currently, more than 6,000 times on Facebook. A couple of SeanSpicerSuit Twitter accounts have also appeared.

Daniel Politi at Slate snarked, for example:

“Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” Spicer said as he was gradually swallowed by his suit.

And my buddy Scott Greenfield, a lawyer fashionista, writes at Simple Justice:

According to respectable journalists, President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, beclowned himself already. Not by the ill-fitting suit he wore, but by declaring that the inauguration drew the “”largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”

But perhaps we should rethink this?

Would somebody, in one of the most high-profile jobs on the planet — appearing for the first time before the international media in his new role in the White House — deliberately dress down?

And then I thought of some mocking Trump for taking the oath of office without the decency of buttoning his jacket. Except that he is hardly ever seen with a buttoned jacket (see for example, this photo of Republican nominees).

Are these slips of sartorial splendor connected?

This brought my mind back to an incident many years ago when I was trying a case in the Bronx. Opposing counsel came in each day with the points of his shirt collar haphazardly upturned. I finally pointed this out to him. Oh, he said, he knows. It was purposeful.

He didn’t want to look like The Insurance Company Lawyer in front of a Bronx jury, few of whom wear suits for anything other than a funeral.

Many in the media have commented on the fashion style of Michelle Obama, as well as that of Hillary Clinton and her pants suits, so I’m going to take first crack (I think) at the fashion style of the new administration (because how you present yourself, be it in law or politics, matters).

Here’s my Trump Administration fashion theory: You don’t wear Brooks Brothers to storm the castle. The mob behind the screaming populist with the billowing jowls, carrying pitchforks and torches, do not wear fine suits. The mob wants to destroy. The mob laughs at those who mock an ill-fitting suit.

To test my theory, I looked up images of Sean Spicer. And, unsurprisingly, I found photo after photo of him showing fine fashion sense in well-tailored* clothes. Ask  yourself if this looks like a man who would inadvertently wear an overly large slob suit on his first day as presidential press secretary:

I think the ill-fitting suit that looked like it came from the wrong rack of a second-hand store was no accident. There’s an image-maker someplace advising on how to deliberately downgrade appearances, and I  think we’ll see much more of it.

As for me, when I speak in front of a jury, I would never wear french cuffs. Or a bow tie. Or braces. Or a pocket square. Or funky socks. I try to be boring.  But that’s just me, as I dress for the point I am trying to make — my point being that I don’t want my clothes to distract my jurors.

And when my clients appear before a jury, I don’t tell them to wear a suit if the only suit they own is the one they wear for special occasions, meaning funerals. I advise them to wear their church clothes, so they are comfortable and that neck tie doesn’t cause them to squirm.

I don’t think the Spicer/Trump clothing issues are an accident as they appeal to the mob, and we’ll see in the coming months whether my theory holds.

For now, though, be wary of quickly jumping all over the suit(s) that Spicer elects to wear. It’s quite possible that it’s all a very deliberate appeal to his base. And that we are being trolled.

Addendum, 1/23/17:

Fact: Sean Spicer’s Suit is Bad (GQ Magazine)

Sean Spicer Must Be Taking His Suit Advice from Donald Trump (Racked)

*Addendum, 1/25/17: OK, my theory might be for the birds. As pointed out to me elsewhere, one of the “well-tailored” suits (the one with the lavender tie) isn’t exactly well-tailored. And, stories have come out that Trump was pissed at the way Spicer was dressed. So, while I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt by postulating it was part of a grander theory that you don’t storm the castle wearing Brooks Brothers, it seems I blew this one. Some more:

Trump is obsessed with what his staff wears. Don’t let their costumes distract you. (WashPo – Robin Givhan)

Trump reportedly wants to fire Sean Spicer because he doesn’t like the way he dresses (Death and Taxes)

Did Sean Spicer Get a Trump-Approved Makeover?  (Hollywood Reporter)


July 30th, 2009

What to Wear to Court (Client Edition)

Bronx Justice Joseph Dawson went off on a rant, the Daily News reports. He was sick of people showing up in his courtroom dressed like slobs. (He’s not the only judge to do this.) The News quotes him saying to criminal defendants:

“Your client comes up in a T-shirt and sweatpants, chewing gum? This court deserves more respect than that.”

And to another:

“I’m not saying you have to wear a suit. You don’t. Just wear something appropriate.”

Now this blog gets a fair amount of hits for people looking for information on what to wear to court, as a result of this piece I did on a lawyer wearing an ascot to court. But I’ve never addressed the client version, so here goes:

It boils down to one rule, and one rule only: Wear the clothes you would wear to a house of worship. No slob clothes, no heavy jewelry, and ladies, no plunging necklines.

Lawyers and other professionals who routinely wear suits are expected to wear suits, like it or not. But many folks don’t have suits, or if they do, they own only one; the one they wear to funerals. And you shouldn’t wear the funeral suit because you will look just as comfortable as you would at a funeral.

If you are there to testify or make any kind of appearance then you want people listening to your words, not distracting jurors or the judge. Unless you want to lose, of course.

And if you are there to support a family member then you don’t want to do something that makes the jury think poorly of your family member. If you dress in the church clothes, you can’t go wrong.
Another view: Lawyer Fashionista: Haute Bronx (Greenfield):

Judge Dawson’s expectation that defendants consider the fact that they are going to court when they select their attire in the morning hardly strikes me as much of a stretch. Even in the Bronx, consideration of the day’s events should guide one’s choices. However, when one’s Sunday Best on the Concourse is either the best they can do, or a casual reflection of a cultural distinction, perhaps it would be wise to spend less time concerned with the questionable merit of halter tops or droopy pantaloons and appreciate the fact that the defendants have appeared as required by law, turned off their cellphones so as to avoid disruption and kept their hands to their sides.


January 10th, 2008

What to Wear To Court — Dress Up or Down?

A story making the rounds the last few days involves a judge that delayed a sentencing for hours because a prosecutor was wearing an ascot instead of a tie. You can find various opinions on the subject at the WSJ Blog and Above the Law along with a host of others. But it was Anne Reed who posted on “What Not to Wear” that caught my attention.

Because the issue of what not to wear to court begs the question of what a lawyer should wear. I’ve seen everything from schlumpy sport coats to silk pocket hankies with folks dressed to the nines.

So if you are appearing in the well of the courtroom, do you dress down with modest clothes or up with your best? I once tried a case in the Bronx with a guy whose collars were always bent out of shape because there were no collar stays. I mentioned it to him in passing and he told me, “I do it on purpose.”

So here’s my take: I dress boring. Neat and clean blue and gray suits. Modest ties. No French cuffs, pocket squares or spit-shined shoes. My goal is simple: I don’t want the jury to even notice what I’m wearing. I don’t want them distracted from the story that I think needs telling, or the cross-exam I’m undertaking.

I’m in the courthouse to do a job, and that is to effectively communicate the case. And dressing either up or down will make me stand out in some fashion and that is a distraction that takes away from the case. Of course, since I’m representing the plaintiff, I can’t afford to have any juror take offense or be distracted. Defense lawyers, especially criminal defense, may feel like they can get more yardage out of a little schtick. They only have to convince one person, after all.

Your mileage may vary.