Proper Courtroom Attire

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


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