Back in the late 70’s, law office attire was much different from today. Dress casual is common today. Back then the guys in my law office wore ties virtually every day. Beyond the tie it varied from suits to slacks and jacket. Clients expected this level of dress and courts required it. If I wasn’t going to court or didn’t have a client meeting, the style of slacks varied from pin stripe to dress slacks. At the time I owned a pair of slacks with a (somewhat) subtle blue, white and thin red plaid that were in-style sportswear. One Friday I decided to bend the rules and wear them to work with a red tie and blue blazer.
Late morning one of the partners called me into his office to meet a client. After introductions I learned that the client’s son had a disposition hearing in juvenile court early that afternoon. It was a sentencing hearing. The father was facing assessment of the costs to cover his son’s placement in a youth program. The partner told his client that I would represent the father and son at the hearing. Mild panic set in. There was precious little time to prepare for the hearing and no time to go home and change. I was going to have to wear this outfit to court.
The jacket and tie were fine but plaid pants for court? Unconventional to say the least. I spent what time I had preparing for the hearing and got in my car to drive the half hour to court. I was really stressed-out about those darn plaid pants. I had appeared before this judge before and the best way I can describe him is “grumpy.” He probably never owned plaid pants in his life. As a young attorney it was challenging enough to project confidence and competence. Conservative business attire for court was always the safest bet. How would the judge react? Would he say something that would embarrass me in front of my client and the court staff? Studies have shown that how we feel about our appearance affects our self-confidence. I didn’t need a study to make the point that day.
The hearing started and things went reasonably well. The judge didn’t comment about my pants but I am sure a few eyebrows were raised. The result for the client was about the best we could expect; maybe better than a young lawyer wearing plaid pants had a right to expect. I was happy to get out of that courtroom and back in my car.
I had spent hours worrying about what people would think of how I was dressed. I have found over the years that it is easy to fear the worst and that the fear of anticipation is almost always worse than dealing with the situation. Suppressing anxiety is not easy but I do better by simply tackling hard things head on, accepting that the outcome may not be perfect and then putting the situation in perspective. In the big picture most situations do not live up to the worry.
I retired those blue plaid pants from their professional career after that day but they went on to live out their days in comfortable retirement, on the golf course.