Every so often, I find a government tradition that delights me to my very core. Like the Candy Desk. Or the fact that you can’t go on the Senate Floor without a suit jacket, so lots of Senate offices just have a random suit jacket that doesn’t always fit the Senator but which he or she sometimes has to wear.
This week, it’s the traditional outfit for the Solicitor General.
In the early days of the court, specifically the 1800s, all attorneys wore “morning dress” when they argued before the court. Morning dress is a more formal style of clothing that is worn before 5pm. And the court took it very seriously. Apparently, an attorney once showed up in a regular suit and Justice Horace Gray said (loud enough for the attorney to hear) “Who is that beast who dares to come in here with a grey coat?” Justice Horace, original fashion police.
I understand why the attorney wasn’t wearing morning dress though. Because morning dress is pretty weird looking. The proper morning dress requires a “morning coat” which is a single breasted coat with a link closure and pointed lapels. These coats generally have tails which come down to about the knees in the back. It also requires a waistcoat (vest), that matches the material of the morning coat, and striped or checked pants. But what if you want to look even more like Mr. Monopoly? Never fear! A top hat, sued gloves, a cane and a pocket watch are all appropriate additions to morning attire.
And this is what the United States makes its solicitor general wear to argue before the Supreme Court.
I’ve told this to about ten people now, and the question that always comes up is “what if the Solicitor General is a woman?” Great question everyone, I knew I kept you all in my life for a reason.
We haven’t had a lot of evidence to answer the question, because the United States has only had one female Solicitor General. Messed up right? But this isn’t a blog post about sexism, this is a blog post about dumb coats. But our only female Solicitor General was Elena Kagan, who is now a Supreme Court justice. And she didn’t wear the coat. According to Kagan, it looked ridiculous, so she asked the justices, through intermediaries, if she could just wear a regular business suit when she argued. The justices agreed.
It’s not only the Solicitor General who has to wear morning dress either, all the Solicitor General deputies have to wear it too. As of 2009 though, the Office of the Solicitor General has a new policy that requires morning coats for men, but makes them optional for women.
I think the Solicitor General’s office is missing a great opportunity. Why make it optional for women to participate in the ridiculous morning dress of men when you can require them to wear the equally ridiculous morning dress of women?
What’s the morning dress of women, you ask?
I mean, it’s not only a hat, it’s a modest dress, usually with a jacket over it and low heels but the hat is the most important part. I’m picturing a row of deputies, some in the morning coat, and then two or three women in gigantic hats. Of varying colors. With adornments. It’s like the royal wedding but the rule of law hangs in the balance.
Stupid? Maybe. But if we’re going to lean into stupid traditions of English dress, we might as well go all out. Either let every Solicitor General wear a normal suit, or lean into the old-fashioned style, that’s what I say. Of course, if I was ever the Solicitor General, I’d go hard with old-fashioned style. The only question would be if I would wear the men’s version of morning dress, complete with fancy cane, or go with a hat. Actually, knowing me, I’d probably do both.