Brilliant Bainbridge

uglybetty.jpgThough I’ve had my disagreements with Professor Stephen Bainbridge, I’m cheering his recent broadside against law-prof-attire-improvement initiatives:

At age 49 (almost), life’s just too short to be uncomfortable. If I could get away with it, I’d teach in sweats and a vintage Redskins jersey (which, after all, is my non-teaching day uniform). As it is, khakis and an open collar shirt are as far as I’m willing to go.

Bainbridge finds support in the unlikeliest of sources:

“It’s always the badly dressed people who are the most interesting.” – Jean Paul Gaultier

Since Bainbridge has nicely covered the libertarian bases here, let me add a few more angles. First, as a 6’7″ person with size 15 shoes, I have found it virtually impossible to find nice suits and shoes at a fair price. The average-sized have the pick of clothing, while outliers are reduced to scrounging the scraps. Why hold us responsible for a market that won’t meet our needs?

Moreover, whatever challenges men face in the clothing world, women can face downright incapacitating standards. Just take a look at this report on high heels from the Washington Post. The musculoskeletal toll is undisputable.

Then there’s my old concern about fashion as a positional good. There are always going to be winners and losers in the appearance game. If every law prof decided tomorrow to put on some outfit that’s considered perfectly elegant today, don’t be surprised if the standards start rising in a few years. Polished shoes will need to be Prada shoes, and perfectly serviceable pinstripe suits will need to give way to Thom Browne bizarrerie. So why even start the positional arms race?

Finally, there’s a practical/corporate angle here. At my old law firm, casual dress became the norm because that’s what the clients were wearing. Innovators at many new economy powerhouses have gave up the discomfort of suits for the relative freedom (and egalitarianism) of dockers and polos. Their share prices certainly aren’t hurting.

Photo Credit: ABC, Ugly Betty.

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