The Laws of Style: Sartorial Excellence for the Professional Gentleman
by Douglas Hand
At a time when it appears there are no rules about what is appropriate to wear at the office or courthouse, the ABA has published a new book, The Laws of Style, to point attorneys in the right direction. Not since (the now very dated) Dress for Success has there been a guide for lawyers’ sartorial options. Thankfully, Douglas Hand has stepped into that void with clear, practical advice laying out “The Laws” for professional gentlemen.
Douglas Hand is one of the top fashion lawyers in America. A glance at his resume — 20 years representing fashion industry clients, adjunct professor at NYU and Cardozo School of Law, and a member of top fashion councils — will tell you he has the bona fides. But it is his writing, organization, and approach in The Laws of Style that set him apart.
This is a book written by a lawyer, for lawyers. It is full of “whereas” clauses, latin phrases, supras, and source cites. But the writing is never stuffy or pretentious. These formatting devices are used to make you feel comfortable and for humor. The footnotes range a broad latitude of popular culture. Just as he admonishes the professional gentleman not to be the “fop, the dandy, the coxcomb, the popinjay,” the writing is not showy, and the advice is practical.
The Laws of Style is structured around the list of “The Laws.” The laws are designed to rein in the peacocks and elevate the uninterested. They are intended to help your career and life. They are a mean around which personal style can be built. And while this is a book written about men’s style, there are important takeaways for women attorneys in the early chapters before Hand dives into suits and ties.
The book starts by postulating the importance of dressing professionally. Hand cites social science research to show professional dress improves people’s perception of your abilities, and it actually improves your performance. He convinces us to see personal style as a form of self-respect and respect for the profession. Clients should know they are working with a professional when they first meet you. As Hand states, “a very easy way to remind the client they are dealing with a professional is to always look like one.”
After convincing you that a professional presentation is vital to your career, Hand lays out some basic ground rules. The essence of these “laws” is that lawyers should make a statement by understatement. He wants us to stand out for our professional abilities, not our clothes. The goal is for lawyers to appear “capable and elegant” not an automaton or clotheshorse.
Hand encourages lawyers to err on the side of formality. But, The Laws of Style warns against the dangers of preening, being self-involved, and conspicuous. The goal is not to be that “fashionable” guy at the office. Fashions come and go. Hand wants to empower you with “The Laws” for professional dress and for you to use those rules to develop your own style. He has a clear framework for proper dress for your position in the office culture, but he does not prescribe a uniform.
Once the basics are laid out, Hand gets into the details of professional dressing, from socks to shoes and right on up. At times the particulars can be more than what most readers are probably looking for. There is a lot of background on brands that you may or may not be interested in. These details make for a handy reference to stick in the closet when a question comes up.
You come away from Douglas Hands’ book with a sense of confidence. The laws are straightforward and attainable. There is a recognition that attorneys can, once comfortable, work outside of the laws for their personal style.
Since The Florida Bar has made clear that professionalism is an expectation, we can all benefit from some expert advice and start each morning as a “professional gentleman” following The Laws of Style. The book can be purchased on Amazon.com.
Bruce Denson is a criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg, and is the author of Lawyer Up! Work Smarter, Dress Sharper & Bring Your A-Game to Court and Life.