Abraham said victims of crime and their families expect prosecutors to be professionals and to dress the part.
That meant that even on the snowiest, slushiest, coldest days of winter, female assistant district attorneys slogged to court in stockings and heels.
Among the city's legal community, Abraham's no-pants dress code drew quiet grumbles from her staff but no formal complaints.
In June, the district attorney's committee on hiring strategies, noting that women fresh out of law school expected to be able to wear tailored pantsuits to work, formally proposed changing the dress code, said Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
Abraham said the new dress code was also "a reaction to fashion realities."
"I went to New York with my husband last weekend and shopped around," she said. "It's apparent to me that it's harder and harder to find suits with skirts - and then the skirts are way too short!"
Now, female prosecutors will be permitted to wear business pantsuits tailored from the same fabric - no khakis and blazers, Abraham told staffers, who applauded her announcement.
"I like the change," said veteran homicide prosecutor Yvonne Ruiz. "But I probably would still wear skirts or a dress for a jury trial or a bench trial. . . . It's just a personal preference."
Ruiz, who wore a white turtleneck, leather skirt and coordinating jacket to work yesterday, said she now planned to do a little shopping. "I may ask for a couple pantsuits for Christmas, too," she said.
Ellen T. Greenlee, chief of the Philadelphia Defender Association, said she requests only that her lawyers wear proper professional attire.
"We have always dealt with our attorneys as professionals and adults. We've never had a dress code prohibiting pantsuits - and in fact I'm wearing one today," said Greenlee, sporting a black ensemble paired with a white mock turtleneck and a gold necklace.
Philadelphia Bar Chancellor Audrey C. Talley said: "Pantsuits for women lawyers - as well as other professional women - have become routine. . . . It's far more acceptable than it was a decade or so ago."
When Talley first started to practice law in 1981, she said, the unwritten rule was that women wore "man-tailored, body-concealing suits."
Today, female lawyers no longer have to hide their femininity on the job, said Talley, clad yesterday in a lilac knit sweater and long skirt with pearls.
Talley said she is not aware of any Philadelphia law firm that prohibits pants for female attorneys.
Laura Treaster, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said that gender-based dress-code discrimination complaints are unusual today.
"We have not seen a case like this in some time - not since women's business professional pantsuits came into fashion," Treaster said. "If somebody had brought it to our attention, we would have investigated it on a case-by-case basis."
Pennsylvania, unlike California, for instance, does not specifically bar all employers from banning pants for female workers.
Abraham, a self-proclaimed "clothes horse," said her weekday work wardrobe would be unaffected by her new policy.
"I'm not going to wear pantsuits - nope, nope, nope - it's just not the way I see myself," said Abraham, who yesterday wore a navy-blue skirt suit, white blouse, pearls, and a red, white and blue scarf.
One former female prosecutor vividly remembered her introduction to Abraham's dress code. It was the first day of orientation for new hires, and one woman wore a trim pantsuit.
"Lynne Abraham came to our training and said, 'That's the last time you wear that,' " said the former prosecutor, who requested anonymity because of Abraham's position in the city's legal community.
In Manhattan, the New York County District Attorney's Office does not prohibit women from wearing pants. Neither does the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office in Boston.
A lawyer at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington said a skirts-and-dresses policy would not likely be a violation of federal law if men were held to equally strict standards of attire.
And under Abraham's policy, that standard remains firm: Male prosecutors are still required to wear suits and ties.
Contact staff writer Jacqueline Soteropoulos at 215-854-4497 or email@example.com.