Justice Is Blind, Decorum Is Not

September 7, 2010

There’s a place, the Wall Street Journal reports online today, where first impressions are even more important than at job interviews: court.

Doctors have, the author says, appeared to testify in their own malpractice trials wearing blue jeans, and one anonymous California judge admits to wardrobe considerations in her rulings: sloppy dress might bolster a case against a father accused of child neglect, she says; likewise, expensive shoes and earrings might undermine a lady claiming financial straits.

Jurors are likely even less judicial. Juries pass their service by hearing evidence, considering facts, and observing participants. That means demeanor, attitude, posture, and wardrobe. Is the alleged drug dealer in a coat and tie… or does he look like a drug dealer?

“Jurors notice everything,” says Patricia Glaser, a prominent attorney who counts Kirk Kerkorian and Conan O’Brien among her clients. “They notice the wedding ring, they notice if your hair is parted on the right or left, they notice if it’s an Italian-cut suit or a Brooks Brothers, they notice if your shoes are scuffed every day, just like they notice if you’re on time or not.”

Though it’s nice to see this article written, it’s disheartening that it had to be. If nowhere else, a courtroom in which your interests are being decided seems the place to look your best, or to at least do your best to look better than your worst. If not out of respect for the courtroom and the American judicial process, do it for yourself and your case.

John Gotti: Gambino boss looked the part.

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Live From Martha’s Vineyard

August 28, 2009

Anybody watching the television news this past week most likely saw, other than Mad Men, President Barack Obama address the nation twice from the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s been vacationing with his family.

Certainly, we can’t fault his choice of getaway: though economic times are desperate for many and President Obama was elected as the “people’s” candidate, a leader from the Midwest who would give ear to the common man, his choice of the WASP-y retreat of New England money is understandable: it’s a really, really nice place. 

In all honesty, the President’s job is arguably the hardest and most demanding in the world and where he chooses to vacation is his own business and, for the most part, beyond reproach.

What is more appropriate to critique is his conduct while there. The President is, even at rest, still the President; the office requires a level of decorum and taste at all times, no matter the occasion or location, and in both televised appearances this week President Obama fell short of the mark: first, in re-appointing Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve and second, when delivering a statement about the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. In the first instance, the President appeared in a suit but no tie, while Mr. Bernanke looked like a Carnival cruise lines captain in white pants and a blazer, also sans tie. In the second, the President appeared in tan slacks and a white Oxford shirt, without tie or even a jacket.

Casual Friday (?).

Casual Friday (?).

While any man, President or not, is entitled to dress comfortably while on vacation, when the President addresses the country and the world on national television and speaks as the President he is not on vacation; he is on the job. The situation requires Presidential bearing and solemnity. The world is watching, and judging. A tie is hardly too much to ask, even of a man at leisure. Mr. Obama gave the impression of being more concerned with Vineyard fashion than with the responsibilities of his office.  

A modicum of respect for his position is required of the President when acting in an official way, as when speaking on television, and in both instances this week Mr. Obama fell short.


“A Favorite English Sentence”

August 26, 2009

Menswear expert G. Bruce Boyer, author and a former editor of GQ, wrote this vignette and collected it, with more, in his 1980 book Elegance. In addition to the propriety of Saville Row fittings it opens a window into, it’s wonderful writing and a pleasure to read.

“If you will kindly step through, sir?”

The first time I heard those words was on my second trip to London. I’d been there once before, when I was a student and had no money to speak of. None to even whisper about. There was a chain of shops called Burton’s selling good English-quality ready-made clothes, and I’d bought a wonderful checked Harris Tweed sports jacket off-the-rack. It was almost bullet-proof, and served me well for years.

Author G. Bruce Boyer.

Author G. Bruce Boyer.

But this time I was determined to have a real Savile Row suit, handmade with all the trimmings: working buttonholes on the sleeve, step-lapelled waistcoat, silk-lined trousers, boutonnière loop behind the lapel, the works!

So, on a wonderfully crisp Spring morning, a resolute young man briskly walked across Piccadilly and through the Burlington Arcade, marched down the Row and, bringing his courage to the sticking point, pushed through the heavy Victorian oak and beveled glass front door of one of the most reputable bespoke tailoring firms in the world — all the while thinking of the kings and presidents, film stars and international diplomats, Greek shipping magnates, English dukes, Texas oil millionaires, and Continental boulevardiers who had preceded him.

I was also wondering what I should do once the door silently but firmly closed behind me and left me standing inside the entrance of this august, intimidating establishment.

Not to worry, as the English say. Standing outwardly calm, but inwardly shaking like a wet dog, I was quietly approached by an elderly gentleman in impeccably-cut pin-stripes, who very properly and politely asked me if he might be of assistance. “Oh, I want a suit,” I brightly said. Trust me to say the right thing.

“Of course, sir,” he calmly replied, taking me gently by the elbow and ushering me down the worn and faded Persian carpet, between the long oak refectory tables groaning under rolled bolts of worsted and tweed. And did I prefer town or country suiting, he inquired.

I spent the next forty-five minutes or so going through the cloth swatch books, dozens and dozens of them – there must have been a hundred different patterns of district checks in tweed alone – some containing squares of cloth I thought I’d seen twenty minutes before in another book. My elderly guide stood demurely at my side, offering a word or two of encouragement or advice if I turned to him with a swatch between my fingers.

“Very serviceable piece of worsted, that is, sir. Perhaps a bit too heavy, though, for your climate at home, would you think, sir?

In one book I spied a handsome plaid of rusty brown with a lavender and Kelly green over pane. Did he think it was a bit loud?

“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say loud, sir. But perhaps it does tend to mutter a bit.” Scratch that one.

Finally, I settled on a mid-weight, grey cheviot cloth in a miniature herringbone pattern.

“An excellent choice, sir, if I may say so,” my well-upholstered counselor intoned. “You may be interested to know that this particularly cloth has been woven for us for almost a hundred years now. Had a suit of it myself when I was younger.” And then the magic request.

“And now, sir, if you will kindly step through?”. His outstretched arm directed me toward the muted elegance of that burnished wood cubicle with the beveled triplex full-length mirror and malt-colored flannel curtain: THE FITTING ROOM.

I’ll save the operations of the fitting room for another time. Suffice it to say here that it is a place of both magic and mystery, as well as considerable consolation and gratification denied even to prayer. And so the words, “And now, sir, if you will kindly step through,” have always had a spiritually transforming effect on me, as well as the slightly more prosaic literal one.