Tennessee Lawyers Make a Fashion Statement - Articles

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Posted by: William Haltom on Oct 1, 2018

Journal Issue Date: Oct 2018

Journal Name: Vol 54 No. 10

Aug. 31, 2018, will go down in Tennessee history as the best-dressed day ever for the legal profession. On that day, lawyers across the Volunteer State made a fashion statement … a seersucker fashion statement.

They did it at the first statewide Seersucker Flash Mob! When I started law practice 40 years ago, lawyers dressed for work every day even when they had no scheduled court appearances, depositions or client conferences.

Jackson-Madison County

In the fall and winter, lawyers wore wool suits, and they were either navy or grey, the sort of attire worn by undertakers and funeral home directors. In the spring, lawyer’s wardrobes would literally lighten up, both in weight and color. Lawyers would don lightweight suits made of linen, poplin — and most of all — seersucker!

Ever since Gregory Peck gave his Oscar-winning performance as a seersucker-clad Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the seersucker suit has been the perfect lawsuit and a fashion mainstay, particularly for southern trial lawyers.

When I started law practice in 1978, I had only one suit, a grey three-piece model I had bought from the John H. Daniel company when I was a law student at UT. I wore that three-piece suit at my job interviews, and thankfully, on at least one occasion it did the job. Literally.

I also owned a blue blazer, a pair of khakis and some Bass Weejuns, but that outfit did not make me look like a lawyer. It made me look like I was going to fraternity rush at UT.

Determined to look and dress like a lawyer, I took my first paycheck and used it to buy a seersucker suit at Alfred’s Men’s Store on 2nd Street in downtown Memphis. The store’s owner, Jerry Salemi, congratulated me on my new suit, saying, “Son, you’ve just bought yourself a Memphis summer tuxedo!”

For 40 years, I have dressed like a lawyer every day, wearing my funeral director suits in the fall and winter, and proudly donning seersucker from Easter Sunday to Labor Day.

But in recent years, I have noticed an increasing number of my fellow lawyers are no longer dressing for work. It all started about 20 years ago with the rise of “casual days” in not only law firms but corporate headquarters, banks and white collar businesses throughout the nation. At first “casual day” was only one day a week, generally Fridays. But casual day soon spread like a soup stain on the fabric of American life.

Now, sadly, in most law firms it is casual day every day as lawyers show up for work wearing, at best, golf shirts and khakis, and at worst, tank tops and speedos.

But on the last day of August — the day before Labor Day — approximately 100 lawyers across the state of Tennessee decided it was time to get dressed, donning their finest cotton puckered seersucker.

The Tennessee Seersucker Flash Mob was held in all three grand divisions of the state of Tennessee. In Knoxville, the Knoxville Bar Association sponsored a gathering of seersucker-clad lawyers in the courtyard of the Howard Baker Federal Courthouse. This was altogether fitting (pun intended) and proper, since the late great Sen. Howard Baker was himself an aficionado of seersucker.

In the state’s capitol, the Nashville Bar Association sponsored a seersucker flash mob, as beautifully cotton-dressed lawyers gathered in front of the iconic Woolworth’s on 5th Street. It was an iconic location for an iconic fabric.  

In Jackson, the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association held a well-dressed Seersucker Mob at the Carnagie Center for Arts and History.

And in Memphis, seersucker-adorned lawyers assembled where the Delta begins — the lobby of the great Peabody Hotel. The Memphis seersucker delegation joined the world-famous Peabody ducks by their fountain. While the ducks did not wear seersucker, they were perfect companions for the event.

In all four locations, “mobs” posed for group photographs. And they did more. They passed straw boater hats around for contributions to support Legal Services, and in Memphis, A Step Ahead Foundation.

The seersucker flash mob was a wonderful event, and it would have made Atticus Finch proud.

Here’s hoping that the event will encourage all Tennessee attorneys to get dressed for work every day. Let’s show up at the office looking like lawyers, not “amateur golfers!”

BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis

Bar Association. He is the author of Milk and Sugar: The Complete Book of Seersucker, available at nautiluspublishing.com. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.

Thanks to the Knoxville Bar Association, Memphis Bar Association, Nashville Bar Association and Jackson-Madison County Bar Association for the photos!