Intellectual Property Law

Lawyer Criticized for Nonconformist Outfits Discovers the Field of Fashion Law


In law school, Tricia Elam had imagined a legal career that would allow her to flaunt her fashion sense. Her bosses, however, were not so accepting.

At Elam’s first job with a two-partner Washington, D.C., law firm in the early 1980s, her boss was mortified because she wore a cream-colored pantsuit to small-claims court, she writes in the Washington Post (reg. req.). At Elam’s second job with a legal services organization, she began to favor Madonna-inspired clothing such as rhinestone jewelry, leather skirts and lace. “Overall, a good attorney,” Elam’s male boss wrote on her year-end evaluation, “but she doesn’t dress like one.”

After several legal jobs, Elam concluded she needed a different career. She returned to school for a master’s degree in creative writing and now teaches at Howard University.

But Elam has discovered that some lawyers can dress outside the norm in a field that mostly accepts their creativity: fashion law. The field began to gain ground about five years ago when designers began seeking laws to protect their intellectual property. The field could get a boost if a bill to give copyright protection to fashion design wins congressional approval.

Elam attended a fashion law symposium at Howard and noted the panelists’ clothing. One wore “a fitted bespoke navy suit with sparkling ankle-strapped heels,” Elam writes. Another was attired in “six-inch red patent leather heels and floral dress.” A third “showed her fashion flair with a bold brooch and bling-worthy cocktail ring.”

Though Elam still teaches, she is attending legal seminars and imagining the future, when “I can have my law degree and my leopard print, too.”

Prior coverage:

ABA Journal: “The Genuine Article: Some Designers Say Their Work Deserves Copyright Protection; Others Say It Would Harm the Industry”

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