The Importance of a Woman’s Image in the Workplace

I am a female attorney working at a 10 attorney law firm in South Texas who has been practicing for 4 years. Professional dress is required at my firm. Gentlemen, that means a coat and tie for you. The lines for professional dress for women are not so cut and dry.

A few months ago, I read an article entitled “The Importance of a Woman’s Image in the Workplace” that was published in Legal Ink Magazine by William Cane. Mr. Cane is the president of Manhattan Makeovers and his firm provides image consultations and makeovers for attorneys. (Passing thought: Do people really pay money for that?) Mr. Cane states that, “if you are a professional—like a CPA, investment counselor, or attorney—you are going to be judged on the basis of your appearance everyday by clients, colleagues and decision makers.” I do agree with this statement; however, I don’t agree with much else in Cane’s article.

Some of the more interesting of Cane’s comments are:

-“You cannot sport hair that is longer than shoulder-length if you wish to be taken seriously as an attorney.”
– “You want to look like an attorney, not Lady Gaga.”
– “It’s a serious mistake to remove your jacket at work since doing so immediately reduces your authority.”
– “The only acceptable shoe for a female attorney is a closed-toe, closed-heel pump, with heels no more than two and a half inches.”

I would like to point out that I regularly violate 3 out of the 4 “image rules” above. For those wondering, I don’t look like Lady Gaga. Despite my longer than shoulder length hair and occasional 3-inch heels, I believe I look professional at work at all times. I do bring a jacket to work everyday, but I don’t wear my jacket around the office all day. In South Texas, where we are constantly braving the heat, men do not wear their jackets everyday either.

The thing that bothers me the most about the article is Mr. Cane’s tone. He is speaking to an audience of educated and intelligent women as if we are silly school girls and as if we have not overcome many obstacles and made more important decisions than what to wear in arriving where we are today. Surely, if a woman has made it through college, through law school, and passed the bar exam, we can trust her to make a competent decision on 2.5 inch heels vs. 3 inch heels, right?

My views on this article are pretty clear, but I am curious to see how it makes you feel.


Shannon White is an attorney at Wood, Boykin & Wolter, P.C. where she practices real estate, probate and business law. She received her Bachelor of Business Administration from Baylor University and graduated from Baylor Law School with honors. She and her husband Stuart live in Corpus Christi.
Shannon serves on the board of the Coastal Bend Women Lawyers Association and as Vice President of the Corpus Christi Young Lawyers Association. She currently serves as a director for the Texas Young Lawyers Association, serving on the Law Focused Education and Competitions committees. She also is a director of the Corpus Christi Education Foundation and a member of the Junior League of Corpus Christi.

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