Friday, July 29, 2011

Micro-Regional Patterns

After dropping more dosh than I'd care to admit to replace a stuck caliper, brake pads, and abraded rotors, I feel inspired to write about the culture of clothing as opposed to the acquisition of clothing.

I had a conversation with a few gentlemen the other day about when and where to wear seersucker.  In any Virginia circuit court in the spring and summer, seersucker is safe, even progressive.  In the Fairfax County courthouse, seersucker steps out with bowties every day when the weather's this hot.  But head a few miles east of the Arlington County courthouse's deliciously air-conditioned confines, and its iced-coffee-dispensing Starbucks, to the D.C. Superior Court, and seersucker just doesn't jive.  Poplin is the most frequent concession to oppressive heat there.

Anyone who lives at the Courthouse Metro stop in Arlington can tell you that the differences between that neighborhood and, say, Logan Circle are mostly cosmetic.  Arlington is the big city as much as D.C. is.  Yet their suit cultures are very different.

Why is this?  Hard to say.  Certainly, Virginia takes its Southern gentility seriously.  One component is what I like to call traditional dandyism--seersucker, bowties, straw boaters, braces, boots.  (No bolo ties; that only happens in Texas.)  On the other hand, DC's bar has a much higher proportion of African-American suit wearers, who tend to favor more constructed (that is, padded) shoulders, four-button jackets, and loosely tailored slacks in woolen summer hues, and they look just as smart.  Both bars are equally professional (as are those in Maryland, my other jurisdiction).  They simply choose to represent themselves differently. 

Knowing attorneys, this is a combination of feeling confident and audience awareness.  Most days at the courthouse, our audience is the judge.  Fairfax County Circuit Court's moderately paced environment is more suited to clothing that evokes a hot summer day, like "Inherit the Wind" or "To Kill a Mockingbird".  D.C.'s relatively staggering case burden demands a more efficient, though no less genteel, approach.  Every judge wants attorneys well-prepared and attentive, but perhaps different benches have different ideas of what a professional and pulled-together attorney looks like. 

This, in turn, derives from what professional attorneys have looked like in the past; judicial preference then creates a feedback loop that drives the way attorneys dress, which drives the way judges think they should look like, and now, we're full circle.

Do you see these kind of regional differences in your line of work?

1 comment:

  1. I would say the largest style variations within my line of work (the Federal government) stem from age differences. There are also some variations on the basis of race. The Federal government employs a much higher percentage of African-Americans than one tends to find in other workplaces and black men, IMHO, tend to dress slightly differently than white men. They're a little more genteel for reasons that elude me.


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