January 10, 2009

The new Solicitor General -- Elena Kagan -- is female, so the question is: What will she wear?

The Solicitor General — up to now, invariably a male — has always worn a "morning coat" — that is to say, tails. So it's a puzzle. Lawprof Patricia J. Williams writes:
The persistence of this sartorial custom beyond its natural lifespan—and in the American justice system of all places—is not merely a quirk of history but testament to the deep and tenaciously clubbish culture that still afflicts the highest levels and most intransigently closed circles of power. Blockquote
Tradition, it's an affliction.

Williams tells the story — "perhaps apocryphal" — of a female deputy solicitor who wore a "'dove-brown' or 'doe-beige' business suit" when she argued a case in the Supreme Court:
According to a friend who, to this day, fears being identified, Chief Justice Rehnquist "went berserk." He chastised her for inappropriate attire, and followed it up with a scathing letter to the Solicitor General himself, requesting that this not occur again. Brown textiles! The scandal!...

In response, the Solicitor General’s office thenceforth recommended that women wear what is popularly known as a "feminized" version of morning attire, and/or a plain black suit.
So, then, the answer is easy: Kagan will wear a nice black skirted suit. Yes, it might have tails, but in my view that would seem oddly costume-y in the absence of an established tradition. Dressing like a man is not a tradition. It's sort of kinky.



IN THE COMMENTS: Sean writes:
There hasn't been a female solicitor general before, but women from the solicitor general's office have argued before the Supreme Court, and they wore business suits.

In fact, my [Appellate Advocacy]professor told us that there was some discussion, when there first started being women in the solicitor general's office, of what was the female analogue of a morning coat. Several answers suggest themselves, based on the situations where morning coats are encountered: bridesmaids' dresses (men still wear morning coats if they are in a wedding party); women's church clothes of the 1950s, featuring knee length dresses and white gloves (men used to wear morning coats at upper class churches into the 1950s); or upper class female street clothes of the Edwardian era, perhaps featuring a bustle (this was the last time that men wore morning coats on a regular basis). None of these female attires seems quite suitable for a lawyer.

Theo Boehm says: "Forget Dietrich. If that era is any guide to style, the new Solicitor General should try the Louise Brooks look":

20 comments:

MrBuddwing said...

Ah, yes. Marlene Dietrich in MOROCCO. A classic.

If memory serves, Leon Jaworksi argued United States v. Nixon in a business suit - he'd worn a formal on a previous high-court occasion and thought he'd looked like a penguin. If he was reprimanded for his allgedly sloppy attire, I haven't heard word one about it.

traditionalguy said...

She could one up them and wear a wig like the British Judges. God forbid that anyone scare the 5-9 elite men who are so traditional that thy cannot seem to quit removing all the traditions the rest of us ever wanted to keep.

Original George said...

There's no question about Marlene's gender in this clip.

Somewhat more business-like attire in the delightful "No Highway in the Sky," an obscure mid-1950s British romance/thriller that starred Jimmy Stewart as Theodore Honey, an absent-minded aviation engineer.

bearing said...

Remarkable and entertaining post -- thank you for linking to it.

Trooper York said...

I thought the traditional garb of a solictor is hot pants and a tank top and high heels?

We must know different types of solicitors.

ricpic said...

Dietrich: the greatest lesbo of them all!

Chip Ahoy said...

... Chief Justice Rehnquist "went berserk." He chastised her for inappropriate attire, ...

Rehnquist, the Rehnquist of design-your-own-robe, add-just-any-ol'-stripes-to-the-sleeves, Rehnquist fame?

paul a'barge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paul a'barge said...

Belay that

Michael S said...

Some ideas can be had from Harvard

Ann Althouse said...

"Rehnquist, the Rehnquist of design-your-own-robe, add-just-any-ol'-stripes-to-the-sleeves, Rehnquist fame?"

That's why I don't believe it really happened.

Ken Stalter said...

I cannot imagine Kagan in a skirt-suit. Every time I ever saw her on campus, she was wearing a pant suit that looked more or less like the one in the picture Michael S linked to.

Women would wear that cut of pant suit on Halloween and no-one had to ask what they were going as.

Donna B. said...

2L Michael Glick is hawt. Where's Titus?

peter hoh said...

Whatever. Just make sure the outfit includes button up boots and a riding crop.

sean said...

My Appellate Advocacy professor told a slightly different version of this story. Based on my recollection of what he said, this is a non-issue. There hasn't been a female solicitor general before, but women from the solicitor general's office have argued before the Supreme Court, and they wore business suits.

In fact, my professor told us that there was some discussion, when there first started being women in the solicitor general's office, of what was the female analogue of a morning coat. Several answers suggest themselves, based on the situations where morning coats are encountered: bridesmaids' dresses (men still wear morning coats if they are in a wedding party); women's church clothes of the 1950s, featuring knee length dresses and white gloves (men used to wear morning coats at upper class churches into the 1950s); or upper class female street clothes of the Edwardian era, perhaps featuring a bustle (this was the last time that men wore morning coats on a regular basis). None of these female attires seems quite suitable for a lawyer.

rhhardin said...

I'd recommend a judicial black robe with gold Gilbert and Sullivan stripes.

Synova said...

It's a costume. A woman can wear tails. Or she could wear a fitted jacket and skirt (I'm thinking something like a version of female military formal wear.)

Quayle said...

I vote for a formal evening gown, long gloves and a tiara.

Now that we've all agreed on the truth of gender equality, why not turn the dogs of beauty, fashion, and expression loose.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RR Ryan said...

Good luck forgetting Dietrich. Our families are friends and the running joke is that you can't open a magazine without seeing her.