Posted on July 3, 2009 by Jason Schneider
With the summer months approaching, and the temperatures in Chicago climbing rapidly, it seems appropriate to discuss appropriate courtroom attire. There is always that token person that does not understand that a court room is a conservative place, and that everyone looks at and asks “what on earth is that person thinking?” The problem with inappropriate attire in the court room is that no one informs the person that they are dressed inappropriately. The judge often won’t say anything as someone scantily clad approaches their bench, because of a fear of being accused of harassment or discrimination. Similarly, an attorney might not say anything, particularly if the attorney and the client are of opposite sexes, for fear of the same. Being a female, and working at a law firm, I fit neither the description of a judge or an attorney; however, I do witness these monstrosities and I think it is time to tell it like it is.
First, if you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing your outfit to a religious ceremony, there is no reason that you should feel comfortable wearing it in the courtroom. Although people inside the courtroom may not always act like it, the courtroom is a very conservative place. While it is understandable that a divorce courtroom might seem like a great place to pick up another newly single divorcee, showing your cleavage off to the judge isn’t going to help you when you are trying to convince the judge that your ex is a bad influence on your kids. The credibility just goes down. You have to rise when a judge takes the bench, you have to turn off your cell phone, and you have to be completely quiet while the judge is on the bench for fear of a sheriff coming up to you and yelling at you. If you are not convinced, just try and remember that all the judge needs to do is fill out one piece of paper, and you could be spending the night in jail.
Second, it is also not appropriate to wear an evening gown in court, or a tuxedo. (Baby blue tuxedo and bow tie, anyone?) As ridiculous as it sounds, it does happen. Although it might feel just as catty, the divorce courtroom is NOT the adult equivalent of prom. There is no need for evening gowns, or tuxedos.
Here are some other items to avoid wearing in a courtroom: hot pants(short shorts), hats (you will have to remove them anyway), “wife beater” and all other sorts of tank tops, ripped jeans, flip flops, sunglasses on your face or head, bathing suits (even with a cover-up, not appropriate!), shorts, leggings (unless with a dress!!), sweatpants, sweatshirts, jogging attire, and sleeveless tops (applies to both men and women). If at all possible, try to remove any facial piercings before you enter the court room, and any oversize earrings that you are using to stretch your earlobe holes out. Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing, but judges are called “judges” because they are judging you, and what they determine is final. It is only for a short hour or two, and then you can return back to your normal everyday clothes. Think of being in the courtroom as a job; no attorney wants to wear a suit on the weekends, but we wear them while we are at work because we want to look professional and make a good impression. Clients should aim to do the same.
Although jeans have become a little bit more acceptable in certain courtrooms, they are very strongly discouraged, and some judges will be offended by them. The bottom line is, the way the judge sees it, if you don’t care enough about your appearance to try and make a good impression on the person who decides the fate of your finances, children’s custody, and many other personal issues, then there is an unstated assumption that you must not care about very much. There is “popularity contest” that goes on in the courtroom that is never spoken about, and you want the judge to like you the best. It is important to make a good impression in the court room, and on top of that, no one wants to be the walking joke of the day.
With that said, here are a few ideas for items that are appropriate, that you might already have in your closet. If you don’t have something, it can be purchased inexpensively at Wal-Mart or K-Mart, and since they are basic items, they will be a good investment. For women, a plain skirt (not too short!) or a pair of pants in black, khaki, navy, gray, or another neutral basic color. A basic bottom like that is appropriate for court, and can probably be paired with some sort of basic top that you already have at home. Men can wear any pants that are a neutral color, that are not denim, and that are not sweatpants. If you have nothing else, black jeans will work. It is not necessary for a client to wear a suit, unless you already have one at home. Simply wearing a conservative outfit that you would wear to a religious ceremony or family party will work well. A good basic rule to remember is that if your grandmother wouldn’t approve, keep it out of the courtroom, and if you are unsure, then don’t wear it.
- Jessica Natkin