The dress code for court isn’t something the general public know that much about. They base their expectations off of what they see on TV and in films. Any member of the public observing a courtroom will just see what looks like a small murder of crows, because of all the black gowns! But, as anyone working in the legal system will know, it is a serious issue within the legal profession.
For those in the legal profession, it is a kind of public, non-verbal statement. Sober attire denotes the seriousness and professionalism involved in the role. The dress code states that the law is a conservative institution that is dedicated to upholding the best interests of the public and whoever has recourse to use the courts. That’s why the upper echelons take it so seriously. Young or aspiring barristers and others may squawk at the restrictions, but the Law Lords enforce this with good reason. They are concerned with the image of the whole profession.
Sadly for some, courtroom fashion evolves very slowly.
Why the Strict Dress Code?
The idea behind the simple, dark gowns is to focus the courtroom’s attention on the arguments being presented by the barristers fighting their cases. The prosecuting or defending counsel should be able to command the full attention of the court with the mastery or prowess of their oral advocacy, without recourse to other means.
Dress Code Revision: the courtroom working dress code was changed back in 2008 when the new gown was introduced and included the wearing of wigs, collarettes, bands and wing collars. In 2011, the Supreme Court relaxed more court dress codes, after being petitioned by practitioners. Those working the higher courts won’t have to use the traditional court dress unless they would like to, but advocates in the criminal courts will still have to use the old accepted regalia. If you practise in different types of court, make sure that you understand the court dress code for both occasions.
Dress code details:
Court Dress: wigs and gowns with wing collars or collarettes and bands.
Business Suits: dark two or three-piece suit worn by fellow corporate executives.
Have any adaptations been made?
As practicing or trainee barristers, we hope you now have a good understanding of the requirements, but as you know, it is always good to reiterate the evidence. As mentioned earlier, changes have only been made in specific court cases so the acceptable dress will depend on which court you attend and your role in the courtroom.
The Lord Chief Justice laid out the new rules in his Practice Division.
Here is a quick summary:
- Court dress is worn in all the Higher Courts, such as Chancery Division, Administrative Court, Criminal Division, the Queen’s Bench and the Family Division.
- For the following courtrooms, business suits are the preferred attire: Commercial Courts, Admiralty and Technology Courts. Also in Magistrates Court or during Crown Court when applications for bail are heard in chambers.
Tailor De Jure’s advice: many Judges can exercise their discretion of when and where court dress is required. Check before you make your appearance.
A good rule of thumb is, when the judge is bewigged and robed, you should be too!
Under or Without the Gown
|Advice for Male Advocates||Advice for Female Advocates|
|Conservatively cut suits in dark, muted colours. (Dark blues or dark grey are the best bet, black is frowned upon as it reminds people of funerals.)||Pant-suits or skirts below the knee.|
|White shirts and muted coloured ties to match the suit.||Legs encased in tights.|
|Any patterns shouldn’t be eye-catching. Solid colours are best.||Muted colours with no concession to their femininity.|
High-necked, buttoned-up blouses.
|Black dress shoes, highly polished. |
|Jewellery must be small and discreet, nothing that attracts attention.|
|Short and neat haircuts.||Hair must be well-groomed and if long, neatly pinned up.|
|Facial hair is acceptable but neatly groomed.||Minimal and carefully applied makeup.|
|Solicitors can get away with more.||Low-heeled shoes.|
To find detailed information of what is expected and the exceptions, check with the Bar Council or Law Society.
Warning: you don’t want to be bawled out and shown up in court by a peevish judge, so get it right!
Although now in many courtroom sessions you can wear ‘normal’ clothes, you shouldn’t get carried away.
Unfortunately, women advocates may feel that they bear the brunt of official disapproval more than the men and need to be especially careful in their sartorial elegance.
- No short sleeves. This applies to both genders.
- No chunky jewellery. Men can be just as guilty as the women, with heavy bracelets, rings or cufflinks. Women shouldn’t wear big rings earrings or pendants. Huge loops are not acceptable either. Men should forget about slipping in the subtle ear stud.
- No clothes made of shiny materials. Silk or sharkskin suits are out. Women advocates should also avoid silk or satin. Sharp and neat, but dull and mousey are the order of the day.
- Nothing tight applies more to women for obvious reasons. You will get in trouble for being eye-candy.
- No straying from grey or dark blue, however much you yearn for a splash of colour.
- No commando boots or Cuban heels for the men. No trainers or cowboy boots either. Nothing pointy. Ladies, no heels or boots that are too high, or any footwear with straps.
- No long hair for men and no colourful dyed hair for either males or females.
- No nose rings, piercings or tattoos. At least, nowhere visible. You may (allegedly) have a Chinese dragon tattooed on your chest or back, but long as it isn’t seen, it’s ok.
- No short skirts, low-cut or see-through blouses.
- No brilliant nail varnish. Clear or pallid colours only.
- No scruffy facial hair. Neat grooming is a must.
- No wrinkled clothing.
- No overpowering cologne or perfume.
These few pointers will ensure you have the foundations to give the perfect case for all of your clients, providing the best case in their fights.