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Judging Books by Their Covers

If you want me to take you seriously, you have to look the part. First impressions are EVERYTHING in the real world.

I was in Court not too long ago, and, as happens often, I have to Wait My Turn.  (Don't worry, I wasn't being sued or charged with anything - I'm a lawyer by day.)  Although I often think this is a colossal waste of time, I also often enjoy watching other lawyers do their thang. I learn what to do and what not to do and what mood the judge is in. And sometimes the cases are very entertaining. There is a reason why they make a lot of courtroom tv shows.

So, I was sitting there the other day, in what I refer to as “lawyers’ row,” which is a row of chairs in front of the bar (yes, there is a little fence thing that is actually called the bar) just behind the folks whose turn it is to do their thang. In the first case, there was a young man who came to the table wearing a hunting camo pullover shirt. I guess it was his ‘dress’ camo, since it was clean and unwrinkled, but it was camo nonetheless. He wore it with well worn (but clean) jeans and a pair of sneakers.

In the next case, a woman came up wearing an attractive shirt which came down to her mid hips. She wore fashionable boots and leggings. As the attractive shirt only came down to her mid hips, and as I was sitting behind her, and as leggings by their very nature are form fitting, there was a lot that was on proud display. I won’t get into too much detail, but let’s just say I could see the little Fruit of the Loom Guys. Let’s say this together, folks: Leggings are Not Pants. They are Thick Tights.    

My client, I’m proud to say, wore an ironed pair of khaki pants and a pressed dress shirt and a tie. His Mom was with him and when I praised his appearance (I’m all about positive reinforcement) she said, “I would not let him leave the house otherwise.” I then complimented her parenting skills. Because I can tell you from my many years working in juvenile court that minors often show up for court with their parents dressed in ratty t-shirts and their boxer shorts hanging out.

I have observed this sort of thing for the better part of twenty years. I’ve seen any number of t-shirts with marijuana leaves, dirty work boots, uncombed hair, and – my personal favorite – a skin tight denim ‘suit’ that had the word “sexy” written all over it in different fonts.

I spend two-three days of every week in a courtroom, and I still think court is a Big Deal. And it isn’t even my life. I would imagine that for the litigants, who may be in a courtroom for a first time, but who in any event are about to experience some major decision making imposed from on high, this might be one of ten of the more important days of their lives. Court dates are never a secret – there’s a rule, in fact, that you have to have at least 15 days notice for most hearings. So it isn’t like you were trolling around WalMart when someone suddenly grabs you and says, “Now! To Court!” You have time to plan.

Everything you actively do (which is everything you do that isn’t automatic, like breathing and beating your heart) requires a decision. You decide what to eat for breakfast. You decide whether or not to change lanes in traffic. You decide to return a phone call. And you decide what you wear, even if you aren’t really thinking about it. And that’s what kills me. At some point, these people had to get dressed. I have this mental image of someone standing in front of their closet as I do every morning, thinking something like, “what to wear, what to wear?” 

Somewhere in there is an evaluation of the weather (do I wear long sleeves or short?) and what is on the day’s agenda (am I running a 5k or going to a job interview?) They reject some choices, and then eventually pull out what they are going to wear. I simply cannot imagine thinking, “Oh, I have my custody hearing today. I think I’ll wear my Ganja Mon t-shirt.”

I’m not talking about folks who simply don’t have the money to wear anything else. The camo shirt I saw the other day probably cost 40 bucks, and the leggings and shirt were high quality. More often than not the female offenders have $30 dollar manicures, and the male offenders are wearing $100 work boots or sneakers. Besides which, you can find some decent dresses at thrift stores for $5.00 (and some hilariously tacky Christmas sweaters and the occasional gem of a serving dish), and give the money to a good cause all at the same time. 

I know, I know. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, beauty is only skin deep, it’s what you are on the inside that counts. That’s just not realistic, though. First impressions are everything. And if you go into a serious situation dressed casually, my snap judgment is that you are taking the matter casually. And if you are going into it looking provocative, I’m going to assume that you think your sexual attractiveness is your main concern.

Although some delicious foods come in plain wrappers, is it really that unfair to judge a book by the cover it chooses? If you choose a flashy cover, it is fair to assume that there is a flashy inside. If you choose a counter-culture cover, it is fair to assume that there is rebellious material inside. And don’t get me started on some tattoo choices. Fine if you want it, it is your body, but just remember that for the rest of your life you will be broadcasting that same message to the entire world. So here’s a rule of thumb: if it wouldn’t look good on your grandfather, don’t get it.

I know. I’m old, I’m out of touch with today’s fashions and values. I don’t understand that today’s generation doesn’t place so much importance on conservative dress. Individuality is more highly valued. But ha ha, joke’s on you, because guess what? My generation is in charge, and will be for the next few decades. Nyah nyah. When you come to us for a job, we want to see that you are neat and thoughtful and well-put together, because we want neat and thoughtful and well-put together work product from you. I have no interest in seeing the gun show or how long your legs are or how you refuse to conform to societal norms.  Save it for the club.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 01, 2013 at 05:58 PM
For my first newspaper story, I covered court. I saw a defendant standing in front of a judge with a fitted, sparkling white, European cut shirt, fawn colored trousers and Cole-Haan loafers. With socks. He wore a belt and the shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, Michael Douglas style. He was clean shaven and his hair was trimmed. The judge peered at him and raised his glasses. "What's a nice looking young guy like you doing in front of me?" He got probation and community service. Next guy was dressed like he was fixin' to wrassle a hawg, on the same charge, and he got two years. It was a lesson not lost on me.
Gail Lane February 01, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Love this! Have had these kinds of conversations with my teens as they go through their attempts to define themselves with their clothing and attitudes. If you want to be respected, you have to show respect rather than disregard. I can only imagine that in court, you can definitely look around and know who has just had a momentary lapse of judgment that caused the court date vs. those who flaunt their disregard for rules and authority as a way of life.
Lori Duff February 01, 2013 at 06:06 PM
You both hit the nail on the head! Thanks!
Good Grief Y'all February 01, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Hilarious stuff, Lori. In your learned, experienced opinion, would any of those get-ups spare one from jury service? No camo or leggings, but I have some seriously ugly Christmas sweaters.
Lori Duff February 02, 2013 at 06:14 PM
I doubt the ugly Christmas sweaters would get you a pass. You might even get some compliments in the right season. But I guess that's a blog for next December.
C.A. Folds February 03, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Lori, thank you for pointing out what is obvious to those of us who've been around for awhile. Next time, you might want to mention the belt placement on the pants of some young men who are in danger of tripping themselves. My husband, waiting for a red light to change, witnessed one such fellow actually fall down on his face in a pedestrian crosswalk trying to get across before the light changed. The penalties of being a slave to fashion.....
Good Grief Y'all February 03, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Off season, maybe? Just kidding. But, I have been called so much, it has crossed my mind to try something like that.
Lori Duff February 04, 2013 at 03:58 PM
My husband, who is a retired DeKalb County Police Officer, actually loved that fashion when he was working. Your average 19 year old thug with a motive can easily outrun most 45 year old cops dragging a 20 pound gun belt. But not when their pants tripped them up and/or bound their knees together.

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