On my first day as an articling student — it was July 23, 2007 — I wore a black Banana Republic suit with a white button-down shirt, black heels and carried a briefcase. Was I an accountant? An awkward “model” for a stock-photo company? Who could tell?!
Today, I’m an associate general counsel at KPMG. On a typical morning, I drink my coffee while battling my four-year-old son, who wants to play with his toy trains while naked. (Honestly, how can that be comfortable?) My ensemble: a cobalt-blue floral blouse, a yellow blazer, cropped pants and tasselled, pointy-toed flats. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed of putting this on.
Times have changed. When I started out on Bay Street, everyone wore black, navy and grey. Everyone wore a suit. In a word? Yawn.
But now, if you look around the PATH, you’ll see professional women of all ages who look like they’re about to walk a runway. Pops of colour. Statement jewellery. Dresses, instead of suits. Red heels and studded flats share the floor with their traditional black-heeled counterparts. Meanwhile, men sport patterned pocket squares, European-cut suits, edgy cufflinks and striped socks.
What on earth happened? Well, I can think of a few things. For starters, the youngest generation of lawyers has changed the rules of the game. They want to express themselves through clothing. And they’ve given us older folks (okay, I guess 35 isn’t that old, but I feel old, so does that count?) the confidence to do the same.
Our increasingly digital world (I’m looking at you, Instagram!) has also made everyone, including us stodgy old lawyers, a little more image-conscious.
What’s more, our clients have changed, too. In addition to financial institutions, we now work for tech startups founded by millennials. And they don’t care if we’re not wearing suits.
The fact that the Bay Street dress code has relaxed is awesome news. As a society, we are starting to recognize that diversity of all kinds makes our social fabric stronger. And the more we allow lawyers to wear clothing that they love, within the confines of appropriateness, the better off we will be as a profession.
My recommendation to readers looking for fashion advice is to be who you are. If that’s white, black and navy, so be it. But as for me, I’ll keep wearing coloured blazers and red nails until retirement. That’s what I like! And that’s who I am.
Emma Williamson, an associate general counsel at KPMG, wrote Precedent’s fashion column from 2012 to 2014. She happily returned for this special anniversary issue.
This story is from our 10th anniversary issue, published in Fall 2017.
Illustration by Tierra Connor