Dress & Power in the Legal Profession: Gender, Uniformity, & Commerce

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This paper explores the historical, cultural, and economic factors that have influenced professional dress norms for women in the legal profession. A multi-method approach, using market data, retailer purchasing data, and qualitative ethnography, seeks to paint a holistic picture of the diverse forces that shape the clothing choices these women make. The male suit is the standard “uniform” for men in most formal professions, but no equivalent standard exists for women. Existing research articulates the tension between looking too “masculine” when emulating the male suit, and looking too “unprofessional” when wearing traditionally “feminine” garments. This phenomenon is well documented in the legal profession, where formal suits are generally expected of men and define the image of professionalim. However, little work has been done to explore how this dichotomy arose, and what roles apparel marketplaces have played in their formation. This paper seeks to add depth to this conversation, and begin analysis of the impacts of e-commerce marketplaces on shopping and selection behavior. Ultimately, this paper concludes that a professional female uniform remains elusive; given the lack of a coherent standard, these women seek to express power through constrained, carefully balanced displays of powerful individuality. While this is a compelling strategy, it ultimately does not address the issues generated by the absence of cohesion, yet the interests of the online apparel industry seem firmly poised to perpetuate this behavior.


Type of resource text
Date created [ca. 2017 - 2018]


Author Wilson, Elle
Primary advisor Caroline Simard
Degree granting institution Stanford University, Department of Science, Technology, & Society


Subject Science Technology & Society
Subject law
Subject gender
Subject fashion
Subject clothing
Subject aesthetics
Subject power
Subject retail
Genre Thesis

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User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.

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Preferred Citation
Wilson, Elle. (2018). Dress & Power in the Legal Profession: Gender, Uniformity, & Commerce. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Stanford University, Stanford CA.


Stanford University, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Honors Theses

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