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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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What Should a Law Professor Wear?

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The Wall Street Journal Law blog asks an excellent question in If Clothes Make the Man, What Should a Law Professor Wear? Law professors are oblivious enough not to realize how often their wardrobe is the subject of student discussion.

The University of Houston Law Center is no different. A quick rundown – there are your more or less debonair profs – some perhaps have an innate fashion sense; most have obviously had help. A female law prof is known for her well-appointed taste for flashy shoes. One of the IP guys has an odd habit of wearing a holstered cellphone on the middle of the back of his belt. One of the better-known profs somehow manages to dress like yoda in his t-shirts and cardigans, an image reinforced by his wizened demeanor and intellectual reputation.

My favorite is a prof whom I see regularly around campus in slacks and a polo but in class is always in a suit and tie; this strikes me less as a nod to formality than an indication that he takes the classroom experience seriously – that it is not a haphazard inquisition but a treasured ritual for which he is assiduously prepared.

Ashby Jones makes a similar observation:

We showed up at law school many years ago not really knowing what to expect. But our civil procedure professor — Richard Friedman at Michigan — showed up on the first day dressed in a suit. It made a helpful impression on us — an impression not so much about Friedman but law school generally. It made us sit up and say to ourselves, ‘oh, right. This ain’t undergrad. We’re being trained for a profession here.’ And that, in retrospect, wasn’t an entirely bad chord to strike early on, we thinks.

This to me is the secret to dressing the part as a law prof, which is less about idealized form than revealing the thought you put into it. Hofstra Law Prof Bennett Capers in his original post at PrawfsBlawg, Clothes Make the Man, points us to Alison Lurie’s The Language of Clothes, noting:

For thousands of years human beings have communicated with one another first in the language of dress. Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing—and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood. I may not be able to put what I observe into words, but I register the information unconsciously; and you simultaneously do the same for me. By the time we meet and converse we have already spoken to each other in an older and more universal tongue.

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