It was interesting trying to figure out the dress code in LCBH during my first few weeks. I noticed that some of the other interns that we worked alongside were dressed very formally, with suits and ironed pants. My supervisor and some of the other staff that I worked with dressed only semi-formal, with collared shirts and sweaters, while some of the staff dressed formally everyday.
Without giving it much thought, I mimicked the dress attire all the varieties that I had seen. I would wear a collared shirt on one day and a formal shirt and tie the next. I would switch between dress shoes and basketball shoes, between trendy colorful sweaters and dull beige ones. I was doing the same things every day, so it wasn’t like I ever needed to dress up or down for any reason.
The reactions that I got from the other staff gave good evidence as to what the social dress code was to be in LCBH. On days that I wore a collared shirt or a sweater I got no remarks at all. But when I wore a formal shirt, a suit or a tie I would constantly get asked about dressing up. Of course I had no reason to dress up, I had just brought all ranges of formal attire to Chicago with me. So I would respond with a shrug.
After several weeks of getting to know people in the office and what their titles and roles were, I began to see how the dress code actually functioned. No one dressed as nicely as the legal attorneys. In fact, every person that was involved in legal work dressed to the nines daily. I figured that this made sense, since they would have to present themselves in the court of law. That one was easy to figure out.
With this in mind I began to consider the rest of the office, and realized that the varying degrees of dress might have been influenced by the formal attire of the legal team. Paralegals, who do not have to appear in front of a judge, dressed very formally as well, which made sense as they were working closely with very formally dressed attorneys. I would say that paralegals were not as finely dressed, but seemed to represent a tier below the attorneys. I realized that this may have to do with the relationship that paralegals have with attorneys. If attorneys are dressing powerfully and professionally, then their paralegals and assistants would have to dress with power and profession merely to be able to hold their own in the office place.
I realized that most of the office followed in similar fashion. (ha) Those working with paralegals would dress formally as well. Only those who did not have anything to do with the law dressed semi-formally, in collared shirts and sweaters. I realized that some power flows in directions of dress, with formal attire demanding others to dress in formal attire as well. Dialogue is influenced by power.
Dressing informally has its functions as well. Those who speak with tenants in person will usually be dressed in more casual clothes, so as to not create a power dynamic with the client. I feel as though I am supposed to dress only semi-formally, so that I can assume the role of the learning intern more readily. But, to be honest, I still often wear nice shirts and ties. I brought these clothes, and I’m going to go ahead and wear them…