Professional women and the woes of nylons

By Lily Foss ‘13Feminism Columnist

As many of you know, I’m not just a feminist columnist. I’m also a member of the fabulous, award-winning Scripps Mock Trial Team. We just finished up a hugely successful season; not a tournament passed without either the team or an individual member winning an award. This is mostly because of our general badassery. But in addition to talking the talk, Scripps mockers also walk the walk. In heels. And this brings me to the point of this article: why is the standard of professional attire for women so archaic?

I get that serious lawyer people need to look professional. I like looking professional. But some of what we consider “professional” dress is so ... stupid. Like nylons. Regular readers of the Voice will recall that I hate nylons. They are the worst. And I always get runs in them—I swear, the last pair I bought had runs even before I put them on. But what’s the point of them? They aren’t providing any substantial amount of covering for my legs. Mine are the same color as my skin, so it basically just looks like I have matte legs. Would the sight of my bare legs really be so unacceptable? Why are they so scandalous?

Another annoying aspect of professional dress: high heels. I love heels. I love the sound that they make as they click across the floor. I love the way they make my calves look. I do not love the intense pain that comes with standing in mock trial court all day wearing them. And I know that there are some women who hate them all together and would rather wear flats every day. Why are heels more professional than flats? Does that extra two inches really make someone look more competent? Does a woman have to wear shoes that cause her extreme pain in order to be taken seriously?

Apparently she does. These are the impractical, arbitrary standards of workwear for women in certain fields. And it sucks. I shudder to think of how many pairs of nylons I’ll be buying in my future career as a lawyer. Probably a new one for every day, since I’ll almost certainly get runs in all of them. I have a habit of accidentally catching them on the bottom of my high heels. Men have it easy—throw on a suit, some dress shoes that certainly look comfortable enough, and a tie, and they’re done. Professional and practical. Yet women have to conform to this ridiculous and outdated image of femininity in order to be found acceptable. In my mock trial experience, judges are very quick to comment on a woman’s attire if they feel that it’s improper. I’ve been told that my skirt was too short, and a teammate’s only comment from a female judge at the end of the round was that when our mocker crossed her legs, the judge could see up her skirt.

Infuriating, right? But I have no idea how to fix this. Say I don’t wear nylons for my trial. That little gesture of defiance is just going to backfire on me when a judge thinks that my bare whore legs are indecent and rules against my client. You don’t get points for rebelliousness in the legal profession, even if “the whole trial is out of order!” So, right now my best solution is to complain in a newspaper column, and to incorporate my criticisms into my senior thesis. Read more in “Mocking Equality: Reproduction of Gender Hierarchy in Mock Trial,” which will hopefully be done by April 26!