Make Clothes Work for You

I’m five foot four on a good day, so I almost never wear flats to work. I’ll put on a pair of heels, even if the rest of my outfit looks like upscale pajamas, which is what I’d secretly like to be wearing to work.

Women are certainly held to a different standard of appearance. When men dress down, they are presumed to be tech moguls. Indeed, in Los Angeles or Silicon Valley, there’s an inverse correlation between how sloppily dressed a man is and how important he is presumed to be. It’s not the same for women—we need to be well dressed, well coiffed, and well shod just to be taken as seriously as our male counterparts in their ripped jeans and Allbirds.

And I suspect it’s even harder for younger women professionals: As a 36-year-old female law partner, I’m desperately trying to look more polished, more presentable, and more grown up. One recent week, I wore pearls almost every day, just so the summer associates would believe I was qualified to be the hiring partner.

The harder question is whether this dual standard in the legal profession is unfair. Yes, society’s expectation for women’s appearances is fundamentally unfair. But my having to wear heels, while my male counterpart wears flats has never struck me as a core inequity of the legal profession. (In a still-male-dominated field, there are plenty of others that rank higher on my list.)

Rather, my female role models have taught me that clothing is power. My mom, a lawyer who grew up with parents in the garment industry, set an early example with the stylish suits she wore to run the moot court competition at Stanford Law School. My mentor Karin, who teaches “dress for the job you want,” has the perfect dress (and advice) for every occasion. Through clothing, I have bonded with them, and with countless other female attorneys.

And for me, getting dressed for work is an opportunity to control the narrative of my day. Depending on what the agenda holds, I can add a blazer for more power, pick an A-line dress for more femininity, or put on my great-grandmother’s pearls in hopes of achieving gravitas.

With heels, I can choose to be taller. And I can look my male counterparts in the eyes … before I leave them in the dust.