Debra J. Saunders
The first thing you should know is that I'm guilty. I am a part-time professional dress code offender. I wear jeans to work when I don't plan on interviewing anyone that day. I used to keep a pair of flip-flops under my desk. For all I know, they're still there, buried under something else. When I told co-workers I'd have to confess to my sartorial sins, I thought they'd tell me: Nonsense, you always dress well. I was wrong.

In my defense, I clean up well for editorial board meetings.

I like to think I dress well for a newspaper writer. But face it; that's a low bar. I have a kiddie work wardrobe for the newsroom and an adult work wardrobe for the outside world.

Yet I'm also guilty of being glad when I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that the San Francisco County Superior Court has decided to enforce its 1996 dress code. No tank tops. No cutoff shorts. No beachwear.

I figure it's a good thing for the public and journalists to be able to tell court staff from the defendants. A few years ago, Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik wrote after she served on a jury about watching litigants and witnesses in a criminal trial -- "slumped, mumbling, sockless, with pants drooping, necklines gaping." They didn't seem to consider appearing in court "important enough to take seriously."

Like fashion, fashion crimes change. San Francisco County Superior Court CEO T. Michael Yuen told me he decided to enforce the dress code to prevent staffers from wearing sneakers, jeans, spandex and hoodies to work. About 90 percent of court staffers interact with the public, and it's important that they project a sense of respect for both the public and the judicial system.

"This is not a gym," quoth Yuen. "We're also not a night club."

Yuen speaks affectionately of the tradition of requiring proper attire before the bar. California state law requires that judges wear black robes. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, barristers have to wear wigs in court. In San Francisco, male lawyers can and have been made to wear ties before a judge.

The goal, court spokeswoman Ann E. Donlan explained, is not for 400 McAllister to be headquarters for the fashion police but to educate a professional workforce. In December, Yuen sent an email to personnel that noted many employees were dressing too casually and reminding them of the 1996 policy. Since then, supervisors have sent home two employees to change their outfits.

Debra J. Saunders

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