We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, the truth is that first impressions matter and can give the wrong impression if care isn’t taken. There are places that simply require a higher level of care regarding how you present yourself. One of those places is a court of law.
Established as a core value of the foundation of our country, our freedoms, and our democracy, the courtrooms in America deserve respect. Dressing appropriately sends the message that you take the matter seriously and that you have respect for the courtroom, the judge, and the legal system.
Learning how to dress for court can make a substantial difference in your first impression and how you’re perceived by everyone in the courtroom.
What Not to Wear
Many people have similar questions. Can you wear jeans to court? Can you wear tennis shoes to court? Do you have to wear a three-piece suit to court? First, you need to know what not to wear to court.
- Sleeveless shirts, muscle shirts, sundresses, strapless dresses, crop tops, tops with spaghetti straps, tight tops, anything you would wear out to a club, revealing clothing, shorts.
- Exercise outfits, yoga pants, t-shirts, yard work or painting clothes, athletic clothes.
- Clothing that is too tight or too large.
- Bare legs or bare shoulders.
Shoes and Accessories
- Flip flops, athletic shoes, open-toed shoes, beach shoes.
- Lots of jewelry that makes noise or is flashy.
Hair and Hygiene
- Hair: Dirty, wet, messy, hairnet, curlers, strange colors.
- Hygiene: Smelling like you have not bathed, smelling like cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, too much cologne or perfume, a dirty appearance, unshaven, extremely long nails, dirty nails.
- Hide tattoos if possible.
What To Wear to a Courtroom
Now that you know what not to wear to a courtroom, you should familiarize yourself with how to dress for court appropriately. First, all clothing and appearance should be conservative and modest. Stereotypical church clothes are always an excellent choice: modest, clean, and proper.
Anything you may wear to a nice, formal social luncheon or dinner would likely be appropriate. All clothing should fit properly and be tidy and neat. Your appearance absolutely does matter, whether you think it should or not. Some options for your courtroom appearance could include the following suggestions.
- Suit with a tie.
- Long-sleeve button-down collared shirt with nice dress or khaki pants.
- Sports coat.
- Belt (or suspenders) to keep pants on correctly.
- Dress shoes.
- Women’s business suit.
- Nice, modest, appropriate dress.
- Conservative, modest, neutral-colored pant suit.
- Conservative blouse or top with long dress pants.
- Conservative jewelry. Remove any piercings.
- Conservative, closed-toe shoes.
Hair and Hygiene
- Men: Shave or trim your facial hair, brush your teeth, deodorant, cover tattoos.
- Women: Wash hair, hair pulled back, or put up appropriately neat and clean nails, and only neutral nail polish, deodorant, conservative makeup if any, cover tattoos.
Additional Appearance Suggestions
While the above suggestions are important, there are some additional considerations to think about as you prepare for your courtroom appearance.
- In some areas of the country, certain brands are associated with gangs and gang activity. If you are aware of these brands, avoid wearing them in the courtroom to prevent any appearance of association with illegal gang activity.
- Although you should dress conservatively and appropriately, you should also dress comfortably. If you wear too constrictive or uncomfortable clothing, you may fidget and sweat more, which could potentially cause the jury or judge to wonder if you are lying or uncomfortable with your testimony.
- Remove any clothing or other items (such as buttons or keychains) that could indicate any kind of political affiliation. People have strong opinions about politics, and you do not want someone to make judgments against you based on your political beliefs.
- Leave cell phones in the car or turn them off completely. While a cell phone is not technically “attire” per se, these devices seem inherently part of most people’s lives. Resist the temptation by not bringing a cell phone even into the courtroom.
Choose Your Courtroom Attire Carefully
We have all heard the saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Whether you are in court for personal injury, financial suit, criminal charges, or any other matter, how you appear in court will determine your first impression.
The people who will be deciding your case, and perhaps your fate, will be judging you on your appearance as well. They have limited information regarding you and your case. As a result, they’ll likely make snap judgments about you based on your appearance.
Make sure you present yourself in a conservative, appropriate, and clean manner. Always be polite, courteous, and observe all the rules established in proper courtroom decorum.
By dressing appropriately, and acting responsibly, you have another way to illustrate to the judge and jury that you take your case, the courtroom, and the justice process seriously.