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If Clothes Make the Man, What Should a Law Professor Wear?

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  • If Clothes Make the Man, What Should a Law Professor Wear?

    We remember, way back when, the night before the first day of elementary school. It was the only day of the year when we worried about what we should wear the next day.

    You didn’t want to show up in last year’s duds, nor did you want to show up in the matching shirt-and-shorts-and-socks outfit that your mother bought you at Mervyn’s just a few days before — looking a bit too much like a child from the Von Trapp family. Twenty minutes into the first day, of course, the anxiety would have dissipated. But that night-before anxiety, man, we don’t miss it.

    We were reminded of this today when we came across this rather endearing post by Bennett Capers, a law professor at Hofstra, over at Prawfsblog.

    Capers doesn’t exactly seem anxious about what to wear on his first day of class, just a bit perplexed.

    Writes Capers:
    We’ve all heard the expression “clothes make the man.” But do clothes also make the professor? . . . And am I the only one, at the start of yet another school year, thinking about this?

    Given the importance of this first impression, am I the only one that obsesses at the start of the school year about what to wear on the first day of class, down to what color tie to wear? And I’m curious. Given that professors who don’t naturally look professorial . . . often have to do extra work to command respect and authority, is it mostly those professors who worry about clothing and first impressions?

    If you’ll indulge us, LBers, a quick reflection: 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.

    In any event, we called up Capers to find out which way he was leaning. Turns out, Capers is teaching both at Hofstra and Fordham this semester — and each has a slightly different style. “Fordham is a bit more formal,” he told us. He taught his first class there today, and said he chose a suit. “With a dark blue — almost black — tie,” he added. “You really don’t want to go with anything too controversial on the first day.”

    At Hofstra — where he’ll teach his first class on Tuesday — things are a bit less formal, he says. “I’ll probably wear khakis with a shirt and tie.” When we asked how long he thought about today’s Fordham attire, he admitted to laying out his clothes last night, then changing his mind in the morning.

    When we asked him what we thought of our theory — that a suit on the first day isn’t a bad way to go — he seemed to agree. “There’s sort of a growing sense that law students don’t really know how to dress for interviews,” he said. “Given the economy, I suppose I’ll try to be helpful. It’d probably be irresponsible of me to show up in flip-flips and shorts.”
    Welcome to our discussion forum!
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