Philadelphia Lawyer = Sharp Dressed Man?

The other day, while visiting with an older gentleman (~85), he used the phrase “dressed like a Philadelphia lawyer.”

I hadn’t heard this term since my grandfather was alive (before 1985), but immediately knew what it meant. My question is: was a Philadelphia lawyer once considered the last word in mens’ fashion? Why?

When I googled and Wiki’d, all I got was reference to the Woody Guthrie song.

When I googled it came up as someone who knows a lot about the law. Wikipedia has an entry.

I got that and the song too, but neither said anything about the mode of dress.

Dress had nothing to do with it, originally.

Chiefly a U.S. phrase.

1975-1985, somewhere in there, one of my friends said that i was dressed up like a Philadelphia lawyer. Somebody else, same circa, made the reference of being dressed up like one. Don’t remember much else.

Best wishes,

Incidentally I refuse to allow person who dare appear in court not dressed in at least a black pinstripe suit, with a wing collar and bands the dignity of the term “lawyer”. They are “Legally Aware Persons” at best but AFAIAC, not sharp dressed or lawyers.

See Sam’s cite of the OED in post #4. My (much older) relatives were wont to use the epithet, and I formed the opinion from how they did that it was an evolution of usage, as follows:

  1. A very bright and skillful lawyer, such as stereotypically were members or partners in Philadelphia law firms, especially one who was ingenious in finding a technical point that would win his client the case.

  2. By extension, a lawyer who sacrifices scrupulosity on the altar of expedience in order to win his cases.

  3. By further extension, a lawyer with both the pelf and the need to look impressive who would be a particularly natty dresser.

I refuse to dignify anyone with the term “professor” anyone who is not wearing a gown and a mortarboard hat.

I refuse to dignify anyone with the term “admiral” anyone who is not wearing a fringed bicorne and huge epaulets.

Man after my own heart.

I believe it was Warren Burger who said that as a Judge his right to wear a wig and a gown was denied to him by Thomas Jefferson; about the only thing IMO that the United States second Vice President got wrong.

I refuse to dignify anyone as “vice president” who is not wearing a powdered wig, a frock coat, and knee breeches.

“Pelf”. My new word for the day. :slight_smile:

The term “sharp” can mean “really clever and smart” and also “very well dressed”. Could “Philadelphia lawyer” just be a synonym for “sharp”?

You may be on to something, ZipperJJ.

As I understand it, up until the late nineteenth century, being a Philadelphia lawyer was the equivalent of working for a Wall Street law firm today. Until then, Philadelphia and Boston were considered to be the cultural, economic, and legal centers of the U.S. rather than New York. It was only around the end of the nineteenth century that the New York law firms began to be considered the top ones in the U.S., rather than the ones in Philadelphia. Similarly, it was only then that there were more book and magazine publishers headquartered in New York than in Boston. Until then, Philadelphia and Boston were considered to be more the center of high society than New York.

It can also be a reference to unethical or frowned-upon conduct by a lawyer, falling short of the customary standards of the bar. Calling a lawyer “sharp” is not necessarily a compliment.