First impressions are incredibly important in every single aspect of life. I have to say that my first impression of someone who walks into a court of law dressed in sequins isn’t a very good one. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great sequin dress for a night of karaoke or to wear in Vegas, but typically it’s when the sun goes down that the sequins should come out! When I was in law school one of my professors constantly impressed upon us the importance of not wearing “go-go boots” in a courtroom. She stated multiple times that the judges do not appreciate it and would likely kick you out of the court room. She kept stating that you should wear a skirt suit with the proper leg coverings (think Kate Middleton panty hose (NOT Katie Middleton – the Princess not the Lawyer)) and close toed black pumps. Okay, this is a bit overkill for family law, but perhaps she has a point with huge civil litigation cases.
Well, it wasn’t until my first year of practicing that I noticed she had a bit of a point (just not to the extreme). When you are at a docket call and you see an attorney wearing a knitted poncho and go-go boots (with fringe), your first opinion is not full of respect and admiration, but rather something else. After that incident, the rumor mill spread and apparently one of the Judges in that town wasn’t too happy about the way a lot of the attorneys were dressing. She decided to hold a meeting with the worst offenders, and actually paired them up with fashion mentors so they could learn how to dress properly in court.
After this, I have become more and more aware of the amount of court systems having to inform people how to dress in the courtroom. In a recent article in USA Today, a Judge in Tennessee has done the exact same thing. He has sent notices to attorneys regarding their fashion attire when they are wearing sweat pants and tank tops to his courtroom. He even went so far as to hold a lawyer in contempt for his disrespectful choice in attire. According to the ABA Journal, a Sherriff in Jefferson County, Illinois actually had to post a dress code that restricted wearing cut-offs, shorts, house slippers, tank tops, muscle shirts, halter-tops, mesh shirts, hats or do-rags, pajama tops or bottoms, and closing with inappropriate or offensive logos, pictures of writing.
I know what you’re thinking. There is no way people actually do this. Well, reader, be aware that I have seen all of the above in the courtroom and have, since that time, become almost accustomed to it. I’m not talking about an ill chosen piece of attire that someone was arrested in the night before. I’m speaking of legitimate sober choices made the day of court by people who know they are appearing before a Judge in domestic cases. I have seen skirts to high heaven, t shirts that advertise alcohol or have crude statements across the front, ball caps, halter tops, sequin halter and tube tops, pajama bottoms with sweatshirts, pajama bottoms with house slippers, and torn up jeans. (Okay, I admit, I have yet to see any mesh tops!)
That being said, here are a few of our tips for what you should wear to court:
- Remember the three C’s: Churchy, Conservative, and Classy: Dress as if you’re going to church or to an interview. If you are attempting to show the judge that you should be believed by your appearance, you should be dressing in order to make a great first impression. If you couldn’t get a job in that outfit, why would a Judge believe that you should get custody of a child? Dress to impress & PLEASE cover up! The less skin, the better. We’re not stating that you should go out and buy the newest designer’s suite and/or dress, but if you’d be embarrassed to be caught in church with it, don’t wear it in the courtroom.
- Remember the 2 S’s: Shower & School: We want you to be at your best. You should look and smell like you’re a grown responsible human being. Shave and/or trim facial hair. If you want to impress the Judge, or in the least, show her that you respect her, don’t wear something that you would’ve been sent home in grade school for wearing. If you would have feared the Vice Principal and her measuring stick, you should fear the Judge’s opinion.
- Color (The not as important 4th C): Think of what colors express what you want to show. Red expresses power whereas Blue shows honesty. You should think of what you want to represent when choosing a tie or shirt. I personally prefer Easter colors for adoption and custody proceedings because, in my humble opinion, they radiate a nurturing personality.
- If all else fails – you can use my motto “What would Jackie Wear?” – Jackie O was the epitome of classy attire. However, if you have a hard time applying what Jackie would wear currently (and you’re not a fan of vintage clothing), you can change that to “What would Kate Middleton wear?” She’s got the respect of world, and she radiates respect back to it. (Men, I know this doesn’t mean a thing to you. Let me keep it simple for you so you don’t have to open a fashion magazine – No jeans, t-shirts, or ball caps. Wear khakis or nice dress pants, and a button down shirt.)