Lawyer sticks neck out, rallies against casual dress

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 25, 2006
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Corporate lawyer Matt Smith is fit to be tied.

The 27-year-old has been pushing “Tie Tuesday” at his firm’s office for a year with limited success—a colleague or two will remember it’s tie day and don the neckwear.

Now, though, his low-key protest against casual work dress is sparking water cooler comment across the nation, blog debates ​around the world and e-mails from law school friends in New York and Washington, D.C., telling him “they support the cause” since his one-man rallying cry made headlines in August.

Smith likes wearing ties. He likes dressing up for work. But unless lawyers at his Los Angeles firm are appearing in court, meeting with clients or representing the firm outside the office, the dress code is business casual.

That means “nice” pants and button-down shirts for men and a dress or nice pants and top for women. On Fridays, employees—including Smith—pay for the privilege of wearing jeans to work, with the money raised donated to a local charity.

It’s quite a departure from the old days at the firm when wearing suits to work there was the norm, according to Smith.

“Oh, you’re taking it back to the good old days,” is what people would tell him two years ago when he was an intern and he wore ties to work as often as four days a week. But business casual is not Smith’s way. He says he finds he’s treated differently when he wears a tie.

“Whenever you’re wearing a tie, people always assume you have something important that day. They usually think you’re going to court or meeting with a client,” he told HR News. “When I wear my tie, I still have my sleeves rolled up and I have the tie a little loose. Regardless, it just gives the impression of hard work.”

Smith is just the latest in the backlash against casual dress that surfaces periodically. The Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team made headlines earlier this year when a photograph of the team meeting with the president at the White House showed several team members wearing flip-flops.

Bulletin board chats, such as on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) web site, often are filled with comments from HR professionals wrestling with dress code questions.

“Everyone wants to be comfortable but you just need to remember who your clients are and dress as they would expect you to dress,” he said, pointing to his brother, an electrician who wears jeans to work, as an example.

“If you’re meeting with President Bush, absolutely you dress up. I think the gray area is if you go to work and no one sees you.”

Smith’s quiet crusade is gaining support since his story originally ran in the Los Angeles Times ​on Aug. 11. Now tie-wearing colleagues draw Smith’s attention to their neckwear and say, “I remembered—Tie Tuesday,” he said.

His supervisors “love it. They think it’s hilarious,” he said of the attention his idea has gained. But it’s not without precedent at his firm. Some older colleagues introduced Bow-tie Thursday for a number of years, with four or five lawyers embracing the look.

Smith likes the idea of ratcheting up the business look.

“When you dress to perform,” he said, “you perform at a higher level.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at

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