Feeling sloppy? Not the folks who work in the Prince George's County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro. This week they received a 16-page memorandum on how to dress, complete with pictures, from their dapper chief court clerk Norman L. Prit-chett.
So far, the 136 employes, most of them women, who do the clerical work in the county courthouse-- from sorting land records to keeping track of murder weapons--are following suit. In fact, they were required to sign copies of the new dress code, which were then put in their personnel files, so ignorance could be no excuse for an unsightly appearance. Violators will be "spoken to" by their supervisors, said veteran court clerk Barbara Hammonds, who was chairman of the dress code committee
The new code "was certainly needed," said one woman, dressed in a matching sweater and skirt, as she pointed to a records office were some young men once toiled without ties.
"Ridiculous," said a male clerk, wearing a white shirt and striped tie, whose job involves few dealings with the public.
Under the new code, which sweeps aside ill-enforced codes of years gone by, men must wear shirts with collars and ties.
For women, the courthouse fashion guide says no boots can be worn, except "dress boots" with skirts, and other foot-wear must be "appropriate." Knee-high socks must be worn with sandals in summer, and "No Dr. Scholl sandals allowed," said the dress code committee of five women and a man. Dr. Scholls are clunky wooden sandals designed to improve calf muscles but not, apparently, the public image of the courts.
Such fine points of courthouse couture are amply illustrated with photo-copied pictures from Sears and J.C. Penney catalogues, showing just what the well-dressed court clerk is--and isn't--wearing these days.
One picture, described in the catalogue as showing "feminine blouses" and "silky split skirts," comes with a comment from the court dress code committee: "We feel these appear very feminine and are attractive for the office." With another photo-copied picture, showing the proper length for culottes, the memorandum notes: "Very stylish for the office. The person makes the outfit!!"
There is a bit of a break, however, especially for the women: For the first time, employes "should be allowed to wear culottes a/k/a also known as divided skirts and gaucho pants or jumpers," the memo to employes said. They "should be knee-length or longer", however. Cordoroy trousers are in at last, too, so long as they don't have studs on them or double stitching in a contrasting thread.
Jeans and denim materials are out, of course, as are T-shirts for both men and women. Modesty is definitely in: "No T-strap sun dresses are to be worn without a jacket or sweater. . . . No low cut dresses permitted."
"Quite frankly, some of our people were looking sloppy," confided court clerk Pritchett, who was wearing a grey plaid suit yesterday. "I've had comments from the public, members of the bar, and some of the judges. . . . I don't want members of the bar and the public criticizing my employes."
Pritchett assembled the committee that then held two "roundtable discussions," settled on the guidelines and then paged through the catalogues for pictures to make the rules clear..
So far, there has been no visible sign of resistance from court employes,although dress codes have a long history of causing friction between employes and management. Arthur Spitzer, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is currently working on a dress-code case involving a District fire-fighter's facial hair, says no clear answers about the legality of dress codes have emerged from the courts.
In Montgomery County, there is no official dress code but county regulations say "proper dress" is required. What that means, said a spokeswoman in the clerk's office, "is left, hopefully, to an adult mind. If not, we can help them."
In Prince George's, meanwhile, Pritchett said, "I've really had some good compliments on how nice and sharp everyone looks."