When preparing for a court appearance, deciding what to wear can sometimes be the last thing on your mind. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be caught up in the emotions and anticipation of the hearing. You may be focused on gathering the evidence and providing the documentation that your attorney needs. Or you may simply think that worrying about your appearance is a frivolous waste of time.
However, the first thing that anyone will notice about you is your appearance. How you dress can set the tone for the initial impression you make on the judge and the jury, if there is one. No one wants to be judged on their appearance alone, but making a positive first impression is important. Abiding by a general dress code for court by wearing proper courtroom attire builds trust and credibility. It also demonstrates your respect for the court, the judge, and the legal proceedings.
Dress Code for Court: General Dress Code Guidelines
Think of a place that you have deep respect for. This may be a place of worship, the home or workplace of someone you admire, or even the type of setting where you would attend a wedding for a dear friend. You wouldn’t walk into that setting in your pajamas.
The same is true for a court of law. It is a place that holds a deep level of respect, so you should dress in a way that demonstrates your respect. Dressing appropriately also demonstrates that you have respect for yourself, the judge and other members of court, and that you are taking the legal process seriously. You can also take a look at dress code guidelines for jury members in Washington State; when in doubt, you can try to look as professional or even more so than the jury.
The general rule is to dress business or business casual; anything that you would wear to a job interview at an administrative or office setting. Wear close-toed shoes or dress shoes with socks and have a neat overall appearance, including your hairstyle. Avoid anything that is revealing, ripped, or worn out. Don’t wear any clothing that has graphic pictures, large logos, or any kind of lettering. Also avoid anything that looks too comfortable or casual, such as basketball shorts, sweat pants, baggy pants, zip-up sweaters and hoodies, or any type of athletic or athleisure wear. These would all be considered inappropriate clothing in the courtroom. While you may want to present a confident but relaxed manner, your clothes should not be the ones that say “I’m totally relaxed right now.”
It is also a good idea to avoid any loud colors or garish prints. While you don’t necessarily need to dress from head to toe in black, limit your color palette to two or three colors at the most. If your main color is a neutral (such as a black or grey suit) you could wear a shirt, tie, shoes, or purse in a brighter color. But again, the overall image you should be going for is confident and business casual.
Many courts have their own dress code, and some may require a stricter adherence to this code than others. Some courts may require that all facial piercings or other piercings be removed, others may be more lenient.
If you have any concerns about specific aspects of your appearance as it relates to the general dress code for court, if you have a disability or medical condition that requires accommodation in terms of dress code, or your religion requires a special covering of some kind, your lawyer can find out what the rules and options are for how you appear in court.
Dress Code for Men
The proper attire for men appearing in court is slacks, a casual dress shirt or collared shirt, and nice shoes. Men also have the option of wearing a suit, but take the time to ensure that it is well-fitting, neither too baggy or too tight. Shoes should not be scuffed or worn out. Wearing a tie is appropriate and can pull together a nice pair of slacks and shirt, if wearing a suit is not possible. A jacket or sports coat can make a simple dress shirt and slacks look more formal. Hair, including facial hair, should be well-groomed. Jewelry should be modest; in business settings jewelry is usually limited to a nice watch and a wedding ring or class ring. Wearing a hat, tennis shoes, or flip-flops is not appropriate in the courtroom.
Dress Code for Women
Appropriate courtroom attire for women includes a nice dress, suit, or a skirt and blouse. Avoid plunging necklines, tank tops, or spaghetti strap tops. Skirt lengths are best kept to the knees or lower. They can wear either high heels or flats, as long as the shoes are close-toed and in a style that would be considered office-appropriate or church-appropriate. A nice jacket, structured cardigan, or scarf in a neutral color can be nice to have if the courtroom feels chilly. Hair and nails should be neat and makeup kept to a minimum and professional looking if worn. Again, jewelry should be limited to simple earrings, a ring, and a nice watch. Avoid jewelry that is dangling or noisy, and accessories that are distracting. Take time to ensure that all items of dress, including accessories, are clean and look polished.
Dress Code for Teens and Children
Teens and children should wear “Sunday best.” This can include a nice dress, skirt and top, a dress shirt or blouse and pants. Older boys can add a tie and a jacket if they wish. Shoes should still be close-toed and clean. Hair should be neat and not hang in front of the face. Hats, noisy jewelry, and clothes with logos should not be worn in the courtroom. Cell phones are also not allowed unless there is a necessary accommodation or other legal requirement.
Dress Code for Court Extras: Tattoos and Piercings
While many social spaces are more comfortable with a variety of piercings, a court of law is not the place to show off a new or unique one. It is generally best to avoid wearing pierced jewelry anywhere but your ears, and maybe your nose if the piercing is small. While piercings don’t affect your value as a person one way or the other, they are still unfortunately something that can cause you to be unfairly judged.
The same goes for tattoos. While it is true that tattoos are unfairly associated with inappropriate activity, if you are able to cover your tattoos with long sleeves or full-length pants, then do so. It is better to cover up than to risk turning a jury member or a judge against you because of their personal feelings about body art.
Dress Code for Court Extras: Virtual Hearings
The pandemic required many hearings and court appearances to be rescheduled virtually using Zoom and other video conferencing tools. So what dress code for court should you follow when you are appearing virtually from the comfort of your home?
Generally, we recommend following the same guidelines listed above. A courtroom is still a place that deserves respect, whether or not it is virtual. You may have the option to be a little more casual, but we still recommend professional or business attire. And don’t make the mistake of dressing professionally on your visible half and pajama bottoms underneath. You never know if you have to get up to get something, or you might accidentally drop your laptop or phone. You don’t want to inadvertently reveal less than professional dress. Treat a virtual legal proceeding with the same respect that you would for one in person and make sure that all of your clothing is courtroom appropriate.
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For quick answers check out our frequently asked questions below.
Do courts have a dress code?
Yes, all courts have a standard for appropriate dress. The exact guidelines may differ slightly from court to court, but if you aim for business casual your outfit will be acceptable in any court.
Do I have to purchase new clothes for a court appearance?
You don’t necessarily have to purchase something new to wear to court. Just keep in mind that you want to present a neat, clean, and professional appearance. Clothing should be laundered and mended if needed before a court appearance.
What if I have a physical limitation, disability, or religious clothing requirement?
Work with your lawyer to ensure that your needs will be accommodated, but still try to dress as professionally as possible according to your abilities. .