Society and Culture

It Gets Worse: Clifford Chance Gives Style Tips to Its Lady Lawyers

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Lovelies, Halloween is upon us. Yay! If you’re a hippy dippy, wannabe Pagan goddess like me, you’re super pumped for the veil between the living and the dead to be at its thinnest — heightening the potential spiritual connectedness across different planes of being.

OR. If you’re just an awesome, stressed out person who’s working hard and looking for an excuse to party hard on a Thursday night, you’re probably equally as excited.

Because Halloween is arguably the best party night of the year. Why? Because it’s the one night of the year that everyone can wear the most fabulous costumes EVER. Dressing up as someone other than yourself means you can let loose, free your inhibitions, and revel in the freedom of character playing for a little while. AKA — partying on a Thursday night just got a zillion times better.

Just make sure that your costume isn’t a racist abomination to humanity, OK? Here are some tips to make sure your costume is fun and also not offensive.

Sheesh, I love Franchesca Ramsey, don’t you? I’d let her tell me what to wear any day.

But unfortunately, this week, Chesca’s not the only person who’s doling out fashion advice. Clifford Chance, a gigantic, international law firm, recently distributed a memo titled, “Presentation Tips for Women.” Cue barfs all around.

Seriously though. This memo makes me want to march right over to Clifford Chance’s New York office, roll up a stack of the memos, and beat its author over the head with my new paper weapon. Ya know, like how your mom used to smack your dog on the butt with last month’s copy of Food & Wine for peeing on your kitchen floor again? (Was it just my mom who did that? Moving on.)


Anyway! This memo had a bunch of super handy tips for its vagina-laden employees. Among them were gems like, “Stand up,” “Don’t wave your arms,” “Practice hard words,” don’t giggle, squirm, or pepper your sentences with awkward interludes of “um,” “uh,” “like,” and “OK.”

Because every presentation I’ve ever seen delivered by a woman involved her sitting on the floor, flailing her arms about, while stuttering over multi-syllabic words. Honestly.

This is how women give presentations never.

This is how women give presentations never.

And it just gets worse. Clifford Chance went on to advise its lady lawyers not to “dress like a mortician,” to choose business suits over nightclub attire, not to show any cleavage, and to keep your knees together, so no one can see your hoo-ha up that skirt.

Again, because every woman I’ve seen giving a presentation shows up looking like Morticia Adams in a push-up bra, flashing her party-favor panties for the entire audience to see.

The last, and possibly most ridiculous, piece of advice in this infuriating memo, was to advise the women of Clifford Chance to “Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.”

I can’t. I can’t even. There’s just so much here.

Let’s start by remembering that we’re talking about LAWYERS here. Women who graduated from law school. And managed to pass the Bar Exam. And survive the undoubtedly rigorous interview process to get hired at Clifford Chance in the first place.

Something tells me these are women who know how to get dressed in the morning, am I right?

Something also tells me that these are women with fairly advanced literacy skills. Like, I’m sure they can read and write pretty damn well. Once again, they graduated from LAW SCHOOL. So, advising them to “practice hard words” before a presentation is a bit like asking a professional writer to practice stringing sentences together with some Hooked on Phonics.

Chelsea Handler knows what's up.

Chelsea Handler knows what’s up.

And this crap about cleavage? I’m sorry, are breasts not work appropriate attire? No? OK then, I’ll just take them off and leave them at home, along with my detachable Kim Kardashian hair extensions and stick-on nails.

Seriously, this practice of regulating and shaming women’s bodies through a dress code has got to stop. A garment that exposes cleavage on one woman might by full-coverage for the next. What we’re talking about here isn’t clothing, it’s bodies, and which ones are and are not professionally acceptable.

Because this memo isn’t advising against certain necklines — in this case, specifically low-cut ones. It’s not worried about what kind of dress or top you’re wearing. Instead, it’s worried about how you’re filling it out. And that’s bullshit. Boobs are boobs, they’re not going anywhere, and they take up physical space beneath your clothing.

And if you’ve got human cranium-sized ones, like I do, they are consistently challenging to clothe and carry around. I spend more than enough time and money trying to figure out how to keep my boobs acceptably covered up without having to worry about my boss writing a memo about how distracting and unprofessional they are. So to the memo-writing busybodies of Clifford Chance, I advise you to get over it, and let your boob-bearing lawyers do their jobs in peace.

get over yourself

Finally, this crap about Lauren Bacall versus Marilyn Monroe? I actually feel like I’m watching the rivalry between Vivian Kensington and Elle Woods play out on Legally Blonde. This shit is ridiculous.

Elle Woods is outraged.

Elle Woods is outraged.

Not only is this comparison completely silly — we’re talking about unattainably beautiful movie stars from over half a century ago here, and neither of them exactly dressed in law firm-friendly business suits — but it’s also implicitly racist.

Clifford Chance’s ideal woman is inescapably white. If the firm expects its women to emulate Lauren Bacall — a stupid, objectifying expectation to begin with — what are its lawyers of color supposed to do? Bleach their skin and straighten their hair? What about its lady lawyers who are queer and don’t present their gender as feminine? (On second thought, those women probably just don’t get hired.)

The point is, Clifford Chance’s “Presentation Tips for Women” aren’t just sexist, they’re racist, heteronormative, objectifying, and condescending to boot. And sadly, they aren’t atypical of the corporate culture of many white-collar workplaces. Clifford Chance just had the gall to put it into writing.

So this Halloween, maybe dress up as a Clifford Chance lawyer who’s breaking all the rules. Or, just go toilet paper their office. Either way.

Featured image courtesy of [Wikipedia]

Hannah R. Winsten
Hannah R. Winsten is a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and blogger living in New York’s sixth borough. She hates tweeting but does it anyway. She aspires to be the next Rachel Maddow. Contact Hannah at



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