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Stanford Law Prof Is One Of Esquire’s Best-Dressed Real Men

Publication Date: 
June 04, 2009
ABA Journal
Debra Cassens Weiss

Professor Richard Thompson Ford is interviewed by ABA Journal's Debra Cassens Weiss about his entry into an Esquire Magazine Best Dressed Men contest:

Professors aren’t known for their stylish dress. Stanford University law professor Richard Thompson Ford acknowledges the stereotype, and says he probably strikes his colleagues as something of an oddity.

Ford, an expert on civil rights and anti-discrimination law, is one of 25 semifinalists in Esquire magazine’s “Best Dressed Real Man” contest. Others in the running for the title include two lawyers and a paralegal.


Ford’s Esquire profile identifies him as the kind of guy who favors slim cut, single-breasted suits, French cuffs with cufflinks, and brown leather wingtip shoes. His accessories are high-tech in nature; they include an iPhone and a Mac.

The ABA Journal contacted Ford to learn how he became such a fashion expert. He credits his father, who trained as a tailor and had a great sense of style. Here are Ford’s e-mailed answers to our questions.

ABA Journal: How did you get interested in the Esquire contest? Have you entered it before, and if so, what were the results?

Ford: Never entered before. I've always liked Esquire—it has a long tradition of cutting-edge, edgy reporting and sound sartorial advice (not to mention great cover art). I noticed the contest in the magazine and thought it would be fun to think about what makes someone well-dressed and see if the experts agreed with me. My wife actually took the pictures on the last day for entries—you can see our kids in some of the pictures because, of course, they wouldn't sit still for long enough for her to take five snapshots.

ABA Journal: How did you find out you were one of the 25 semifinalists? What was your reaction?

Ford: Disbelief. I went to the website to see who had made the semifinals and saw my profile. I had to refresh the site several times (the electronic version of doing a "double take") as I was certain I had the wrong page or it was a technical glitch. They had thousands of entries and some of those guys looked like fashion models and Hollywood actors right off of the red carpet. I assume the judges eliminated those guys as ringers in favor of people with more normal lifestyles (the contest is called the "Best Dressed Real Man").

ABA Journal: Have you always been interested in clothes? Tell me a little about your style.

Ford: My father had a great sense of style—he trained as a tailor for a while and would always scrutinize the clothing for construction and fabrics. As a young person, of course, I rejected his advice and dressed abominably, but as I grew older I came to appreciate his wisdom in these matters. I try to stick to clothes that are well-made and stylish but not too trendy. The idea is to have something that will look as good in five years as it does when you buy it, both because it's made to last and because it's cut to stay in style.

ABA Journal: How do you dress when you are teaching? Does it differ from your dress for a night out, or in other situations? How does your students' style of dress differ from yours?

Ford: I usually wear something relatively conservative for teaching—a sport coat or a suit in a subdued fabric—navy blue, gray, tweed. For a night out the suit might be a bit more luxurious—it’s not a big difference, but my thought is that anything with a little bit of sheen and anything black is usually better saved for the evening. Students are much more casual than I am. That's appropriate—I'm at work and they are not. Plus, tragically, I'm a good 20 years older than most of them.

ABA Journal: Do your students and colleagues know you entered the contest? What was their reaction?

Ford: My wife started a bit of an e-mail campaign once I made the semifinals, so I think a lot of them know now. For the most part my colleagues think it's amusing. College professors are notorious for looking slouchy, and plenty of them pride themselves on it: One has too many cerebral things on one's mind to be distracted by something as superficial as clothing. So I think I strike them as a bit of an oddity, but everyone has been kind and supportive.

I find students think a bit more about these things because most of them will enter the profession—not the academy—and there grooming is more important. I recently read about a judicial conference where judges complained that attorneys didn't know how to dress appropriately for court. I think it can be hard to keep a sense of individuality and still look appropriate, and sometimes people cross the line into the overly flashy or overly casual. And, let's face it, a lot of students are single and still need to impress potential dates. Several have e-mailed to convey their enthusiasm.