A Daily Update from Fordham’s Fashion Law Bootcamp.
Friday, June 1, was graduation day for the 45 members of the Fashion Law Bootcamp Class of 2012 at Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute. It was an amazing two weeks, and I’ve enjoyed featuring the class on Commandress! It was hard to say goodbye to New York City, Bootcamp, and everyone who was part of the program.
Our last class focused on sumptuary laws, dress codes, and clothing as communication. Sumptuary laws regulate consumption and restrict access to luxury or extravagance in areas like clothing. For example, the association of purple as the color of royalty was regulated and reinforced in Ancient Rome by sumptuary laws that prohibited commoners from wearing clothing that had been colored with purple dye (which, at the time, was extremely expensive). I am a commoner who loves to wear purple, so it must be for the best that I did not live in Ancient Rome.
Although contemporary dress codes are rarely intended to regulate social class, they certainly reinforce social norms. Of particular interest to the class was the “professional uniform” adopted by many women working as lawyers. There was a consensus that a certain degree of conformity is necessary for professional success – especially in the early stages of a legal career.
Nonetheless, several members of the class shared stories about thoughtfully personalizing their own office uniform – typically with clothing that was more “feminine” than the office norm. One classmate was even approached by female colleagues who told her they didn’t think it would be acceptable to wear “business dresses” at their law firm until they saw her do it – and they were pleased to follow her lead. This story made me very happy, of course, as I am unwaveringly “pro-dress.” (You can check out some work-appropriate dresses I’ve posted on Commandress and on Pinterest.)
More importantly, our discussion affirmed one of the guiding principles of Commandress: when you are “smartly dressed,” you will look, feel, and be more confident. To that end, another comment that I loved came from a classmate who is very tall and always wears heels to court because she wants her opposing counsel – male and female – to be looking up at her. Also a great example of fashion as communication!
So what’s the law on dress codes? In the U.S. employers can regulate employee dress and grooming for any number of reasons as long as the reason is not discriminatory. So it is okay to have different requirements based on gender (for example, women must wear make-up, but men cannot wear make-up) as long as the requirements are similarly burdensome. On the other hand, it is not okay to impose weight limits on female flight attendants only.
Our speaker Friday evening was Sarah Feingold, General Counsel for Etsy, Inc., a website that helps individuals sell handmade and vintage items. Ms. Feingold has enjoyed designing jewelry since she was twelve and developed her interest in copyright issues for artists while attending law school. Ms. Feingold pursued her interest in copyright law even while she was practicing in a different area at a large firm by writing a book, articles, and presentations on the topic. After deciding that working as Etsy’s in-house counsel would be her dream job, she pitched herself to the company’s president and became Etsy’s 17th employee – now there are over 300. Ms. Feingold also continues to design jewelry, which she sells through Etsy.
We finished our evening – and Bootcamp – with a delicious dinner at Trattoria Dell’Arte. Susan Scafidi presented each of us a certificate from the Fashion Law Institute in recognition of completing the program. Fashion Law Bootcamp was an intense and wonderful two weeks, so “graduating” felt appropriate!
I started my day visiting the Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit Fashion, A-Z: Highlights from the Collection of the Museum at FIT, Part Two. My favorite item was an orange and gold lame dress from Etro’s Fall 2011 collection (pictured above) showing designer Veronica Etro’s use of unusual colors and abstract paisley prints. The abstract paisley reminds me of the gorgeous ready-to-wear dress by Etro that I featured on Commandress last month (also pictured above, and posted here). FIT is also displaying student entries from a contest to create fashions, interior designs, jewelry, photos, films, and visual displays for Mattel’s Barbie and Ken. I loved “Pretty in Pantone” by Sarah Karp, which features Barbie’s iconic color: Pantone 219.
It was also time to brave Times Square to visit Sanrio Luxe – a wonderland of every Hello Kitty item you can imagine – and find the perfect souvenir for my daughter. So you need an Easter egg in June? You can find a Hello Kitty Easter egg gumball machine here anytime. Bonnie is three, so I’m sure this is what she thinks New York City look like.
There’s no need to tell her otherwise quite yet, but I look forward to bringing her to New York when she’s old enough to see it all for herself!