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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Prawfs in Jeans?

I'm sick of wearing sportcoats to look professorial on the days I teach.  Anyone think it's totally inappropriate to wear jeans? 

Posted by Ethan Leib on August 24, 2005 at 03:19 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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» To Jean or Not to Jean from Conglomerate
Ethan Leib asks his readers if he should wear jeans to teach class, and his readers are giving him an [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 25, 2005 9:57:01 AM

» Jeans from Letters of Marque
As part of my proof that I actually read Prawfsblawg, I would like to answer Ethan's question: I'm sick of wearing sportcoats to look professorial on the days I teach. Anyone think it's totally inappropriate to wear jeans? As far... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 25, 2005 10:47:12 AM

» Dress code for law profs from The Yin Blog
Ethan Leib at Prawfsblawg is wondering about wearing jeans when he teaches his class. . . . There's a rich variety of comments to the post that predictably converge nowhere. The [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 25, 2005 3:12:28 PM

» So I shoudn't wear shorts to my first class? from Judgment NOV

Apparently, few questions can spark as much discussion among law professors (and fellow law pro... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 25, 2005 7:43:17 PM


Well, I guess it's relevant to consult what other profs are wearing. At my school, I haven't seen anyone wear jeans, although I too wish I could, along with a comfortable pair of sneakers. At UCLA Law, there was a prof who wore (and--last time I saw him during the summer--still wears) sandals, and there was an associate dean who always wore jeans and hightops. So I guess it depends on what your school's culture deems suitable....

Posted by: John Kang | Aug 24, 2005 3:42:17 PM

Isn't it most professorial to wear a sportcoat and jeans? Who else would do that?

Posted by: Chris | Aug 24, 2005 3:51:34 PM

Out of respect for the position, I favor coat and tie when teaching. In fact, I normally avoid a sport jacket and wear a suit.

Posted by: tim | Aug 24, 2005 4:44:52 PM

Coming out of a trial practice, I have the problem of choosing between courtroom appropriate suits and jeans--I never needed the "in-between" attire, so I just don't have it. I love the formal suits, but they seem silly for class. So, I'm in jeans today and teaching two classes. I'll let you know if I hear anything about it ...

Posted by: Brooks | Aug 24, 2005 5:09:12 PM

Consider nudity Ethan... be free... be free. :-)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 24, 2005 5:13:50 PM

I wear a suit to every class. Lawyers wear suits to court, and I am training them to be lawyers. Ergo I wear suits to every class.

Posted by: lawprofguy | Aug 24, 2005 5:21:44 PM

I hate to be unduly precise, and mean this with love, but I don't think you've earned that "ergo" yet. Syllogistically, I think you took a wrong turn somwhere and ended up at "All men are Socrates." True, lawyers (if they are wise) wear suits to court -- but not all lawyers go to court, and even many trial lawyers go to court only occasionally. Many people (if they are wise, and have the means) wear suits to court. Robert Blake did; so did Scott Peterson. Ergo, it is at least possible you are training your students to be criminal defendants.

Ethan, I wear a jacket on my first class without fail and reasonably often thereafter, but typically rock the jacketless business casuals or pseudo-quasi-hip-but-dressy outfits. And I look great.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 24, 2005 5:28:54 PM

I think the answer to this question depends to a large extent on gender. I don't think that many femprofs would wear jeans in class on a regular basis, if at all.

Posted by: femalelawprof | Aug 24, 2005 5:40:00 PM

I think age/race/gender (particularly age) can play a part in the dress code question as well. A number of the older professors at my school seem to eschew suits or suit jackets, regardless of their race or gender. Perhaps with the gray hair they no longer have to worry about establishing their authority in the classroom. Being young-looking and not stereotypically professorial looking, i.e,. a white male, I have been advised to wear a suit to class regardless of any dress code standards at the school.

Posted by: mmanian | Aug 24, 2005 5:44:59 PM

From the student perspective I would offer this: I have had professors who wear suits and profs who wear jeans/polos. The clothes seem to have no impact on the quality of their teaching or my enjoyment/value in the class.

However, the professors who wear suits almost universally command respect in their classrooms. The professors who dress casually tend to be more approachable. Take your pick.

Personally, the best professor I've ever had (in nearly all of my undergrad/graduate combined) wore a suit *and* was personable and approachable. He commanded respect in the classroom, but overcame the "stodgy guy wearing a suit" stereotype. That is certainly a winning combo. But I have never, ever, had a professor who "rock[ed] the jacketless business casuals" and looked good doing it. :)

Posted by: Dave! | Aug 24, 2005 5:54:47 PM

Akhil Amar usually teaches class in a sportcoat AND jeans (usually over a dress shirt and a sweater).

Posted by: Will Baude | Aug 24, 2005 6:14:44 PM


I am a law professor, not a philosopher. Ergo, I use "ergo" in whatever imprecise and lazy way I want.

Posted by: lawprofguy | Aug 24, 2005 6:22:30 PM

One word: tenure.

Before tenure, look natty and professional and with-it.

After tenure, roll out of bed, combing hair is optional. That's for the men; unfortunately, the double-standard will bite especially viciously on the appearance question. Female prawfs are more respected the more attractive they are; the effect is present but I suspect weaker on the male prawf side. Being cheerful and having plentiful and available office hours usually trumps being rigorous in class and giving fair exams. That is to say, it's sometimes how it's perceived, not what it really is, as in so many areas.

On the other hand, Ol' Papa Geoff Hazard at Penn wore a bow tie, and I think still does. Prof. Bruce Mann, too, I think.

I saw turtlenecks; I saw jeans once tenure was assured; I saw three piece suits (rarely - only for cold weather indoors). Jeans are more accepted later in the semester, just as students go from neatly pressed shirts (any of those?) to sweatpants to, well, anything goes.

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Aug 24, 2005 6:58:33 PM

Ethan: I would get one of those tweed jacketd with leather elbow patches. My dearest ambition (other than getting an academic job at the meat market this year) is to be able to wear such a jacket to work.

Posted by: Nate Oman | Aug 24, 2005 7:26:12 PM

Dear Lawprofguy and Paul,

If the goal is to train students to wear suits, perhaps the students should be required to wear suits, and the professor should be dressed ridiculously, to train the students to deal with juries and witnesses.

Posted by: Adam | Aug 25, 2005 9:44:01 AM

I split my teaching time between the Law and B Schools. Best line I ever heard on this was from a Finance colleague at Columbia (now gone) who said "I wear a tie to class the first day to prove that I own one!." When I first joined the faculty at USC I heard through the grapevine that a certain older colleague compained about me, and some other younger people who taught in bluejeans. The chair replied "You should be glad the don't wear suits -- then they could go down to the California Club and take ALL your consulting income."
One other point, at least here, I find that the B school dresses up more than the Law school, though there is quite the mix at both.

Posted by: Mark Weinstein | Aug 25, 2005 10:35:15 AM

Jeans, hands down.

Posted by: Heidi | Aug 25, 2005 10:38:35 AM


Give the sportcoats a rest, too. I think you would look equally professional in a crisp shirt with khakis or jeans. I checked out your pic and I think you would command a lot of respect naturally.

Unless a prof is also a practitioner who has to go to court, leave the suits alone. The only law professor I ever had who wore a suit on a regular basis was over 60.

Posted by: Jazz | Aug 25, 2005 12:28:34 PM

I wanted to second "female law prof" in her comment that there is a gender distinction on this. I don't think I ever saw any of my female professors wearing jeans to class, even the older, tenured, distinguished ones.

As for younger or young-looking profs, the advice I've heard is to wear a suit to help establish your authority in the classroom. You don't want to be mistaken for a student, either in the hallway or at the podium.

Posted by: Laura | Aug 25, 2005 1:36:17 PM

At the law school I attended, suits were the standard, and only one male professor dissented from that social norm.

Those who wanted to emphasize their lack of regard for the norm simply wore suits from the 1970s, or wore mismatched suits, or mismatched shoes, or torn suits (ok, these last three were from just one (famous) member of the faculty).

Posted by: Thomas | Aug 25, 2005 4:00:12 PM

Young women profs: what do you wear? help!

Posted by: i'm a girl | Aug 26, 2005 10:55:31 AM

To I'm-a-Girl: Expensive business-like dresses and heels, every day (no jacket). In a colder climate, it would have been semi-formal suits.

It may also depend on what you teach. I feel that a business law class requires more business-like attire to commend respect, especially from male students. I suspect I would get away with a much sloppier dress code if I taught Women and the Law.

By the way, I’ve heard our female students catalogue wardrobes of every female prof. Be afraid.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Aug 26, 2005 12:11:37 PM

For financial reasons, the thermostats in the law school where I teach are currently set to 76 degrees--and, because of inadequate circulation of air, they get even warmer when filled with students.

I tend to be very active in class; I think I would dissolve into a puddl of sweat if I wore a suit jacket or sportcoat to class. But I almost always wear a collared shirt and tie, with either khakis or suit pants. I've worn jeans a few times (and turtlenecks a few times in the dead of winter), but I never feel right on those days.

Posted by: Jeff Cooper | Aug 26, 2005 3:35:28 PM

I am merely adjunct faculty, and go to class from work, so I teach in lawyer drag, but I think I would anyway, to show respect to the students, and to demonstrate what professional attire looks like. When I was a student our Evidence prof was so smartly turned out that I knew people who took notes on what he was wearing for future reference. I don't look that good, but a tie never killed anybody.

I do a mock deposition as part of the final exam for my Discovery class, and someone always asks if they can wear jeans (often it is a woman, which used to surprise me). I tell them that they should be guided by their sense of professionalism-- and unfailingly the students who show up dressed as lawyers do the best job. (The final is always on a Saturday, so I allow myself jeans then.)

Posted by: Bill Altreuter | Aug 29, 2005 12:45:02 PM

As a person splitting the jean wearing/suit wearing world in two, I'd suggest you at least wear of sports coat. Go business casual if you wish, but don't drop below that.

Splitting two worlds has tended to demonstrate to me that people judge you more by what you wear than you might think. That doesn't mean your teaching will be any worse for the jeans, and it might not make any difference in what your class learns, but it will at least have a slight impact on how they view you.

And, as they're headed into law, it'll give them a bit of a heads up in what will be expected. My undergrad degree was in a field where people did some technical work outdoors, and most of the professors dressed in jeans. It looked to us like they were prepared to do some technical work outdoors, and we more or less followed them. The few profs who didn't looked odd. In law school, they all at least wore business casual, which is what we expected.

In practice, I've worked with lawyers who dressed in suit and tie everyday, and with those who wore t-shirts and jeans. When clients will venture an opinion, I've found they dislike it when the lawyers are dressed down. Yes, it is silly, but they do that. Even those clients who know me from farming don't want me dressed down in the office. The students might as well get used to being looked at that way.

Posted by: Yeoman | Aug 29, 2005 2:07:18 PM

I wish a professor would just wear a t-shirt and shorts one day. Preferably with a marijuana leaf on it and a slogan saying, "Just Smoke It."

Posted by: centrist | Aug 29, 2005 11:27:51 PM

Centrist, I had that professor. He was utterly brilliant, and could get away with it, but he came to a bad end when he was nailed for using the mail to send and receive kiddie porn.

Posted by: Bill Altreuter | Aug 30, 2005 9:58:00 AM

Ethan, what are you wearing these days?

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Aug 31, 2005 2:09:07 PM

professor hazard no longer wears a bow tie and admitted he only gussies up these days if he is seeing someone "important" outside the classroom. he once casually referred to justice ginsberg as "sweetheart," so infer what you will. professor roger park still dons the bowtie daily. however, that seems to be more out of southern comfort than pedagogic duty.

Posted by: pepito | Sep 2, 2005 5:29:33 AM

"Akhil Amar usually teaches class in a sportcoat AND jeans (usually over a dress shirt and a sweater)."

And running shoes.

Posted by: anon | Sep 6, 2005 8:38:23 AM

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