Lawyers are trained to avoid risk, and their dress code reflects that propensity. Throwing a random but inoffensive accessory into a conservative dress mix, however, is a safe challenge I encourage you to take.
There was a corporate tax specialist I used to work with, a very senior guy at a major international firm—let’s call him Robert Price III.1 He used to wear a little medal with tassels which he kept in the fob pocket of his waistcoat, attached to a chain as if it was a pocket watch. Now it was a bit odd—but it was also oddly cool. The medal was purportedly Robert Price II’s from WWI, and when deep in thought Robert would stroke the tassels (which, I’ll admit, was just upsettingly odd—and if you happened to be sitting next to him at a conference table, really not cool at all).
To some degree I’ve appropriated this predilection for secreted and unusual accessories. I have a silver key chain fashioned in the shape of an enigmatic and skeletal hand (please note my last name). The fingers of the hand extend over my trouser pocket and expose the goth-like fingers to infrequent view. Now I realize that a little piece of peculiar jewelry like my key chain is a bit outside of a typical lawyer’s uniform. But it’s been described in terms ranging from “very interesting” to “magnificently quirky” to me by people that matter (not only in the legal industry but also the fashion industry). And listen: In practice, the thing is actually quite functional.2
So are there boundaries here? Sure. I wouldn’t advocate having more than one whimsical accessory going at once, and I wouldn’t ever make it a focal point. I’d also encourage you to have some personal connection to the item or have it be actually useful in some practical way. But within those limits, I think you can show some real character.
A vintage fountain pen peeking out of your jacket’s breast pocket? Nice. Even better if there’s a credible story behind it, like “my grandfather used this pen for the bar exam,” or, “I used this pen to sign my marriage certificate.” Just make sure it doesn’t leak.
Of course, watches are great and I encourage you to collect a nice selection within your budget. Mix and match watch bands on occasion to zing your color possibilities up (striped canvas varieties can present a diverting seasonal alteration). And cuff links are another obvious accessory choice. Please avoid the large, the obnoxious (e.g., dollar signs, skull and crossbones), and the obvious (e.g., sharks, scales of justice).3
Most jewelry is troubling. A bracelet? Maybe, maybe, but be careful as this is perilous ground. Subtlety is paramount—nothing that could be described by even an 85-year-old Episcopal priest as “bling” should ever be on your arm. Those leather cuffs favored by the early Conan and current boy-bands—no. Small woven leather or understated ID bracelets seem best. A necklace? Egads! Theoretically possible, I suppose. I’ve no useful advice to offer you on ear or nose rings.
Ignorantia juris non excusat.4
1. To protect the anonymity of the old stylish legal eagle—and anyone else appearing in the Style Counsel’s articles—names have been changed. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or events, past, present or future, is purely coincidental.
2. The “hand” key chain keeps not only my keys from bunching at the bottom of my pants (allowing the trousers to retain their line), but it also keeps my keys more accessible (for those quick dives into the locked file drawer).
3. Honestly, watches and cuff links are such constant and evident accessories for the lawyer, they really each warrant their own articles.
4. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Douglas Hand is a New York attorney-at-law who currently represents Rag & Bone, Steven Alan, Phillip Lim, Richard Chai, and Rogan, among others. He has practiced in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Milan, and is on the Advisory Board of the CFDA’s Fashion Incubator Program and Fordham Law’s Fashion Law Institute. His firm, HBA LLP, is a member of the CFDA’s Business Services Network.