How to Dress for Court to Look Honest and Feel Fearless!
Written by: Megan Dell
Ready for a Court Hearing? Think again!
If you are summoned to appear in court for your court date, you most likely have spoken with legal counsel and know what to expect for your upcoming court appearance in front of a judge.
But do you? Do you know the court’s “dress code”?
Do you know what to wear to court to make the best of your first impressions for the court case and show up on your court date ready to go?
Now it is time to start thinking about what to wear to court and how to dress appropriately in front of the judge.
It does not matter whether you are a witness, the defendant, the accused, a lawyer, a mediator, or a spectator.
It does not matter whether you appear in criminal court, family court, or divorce court: always err on the side of caution and dress in a professional way.
There are many reasons to go to court, and we understand you want to wear what makes you feel comfortable, but this is the one time in your life you need to listen to the experts.
You only have one opportunity to make a good impression on everyone in the courtroom.
Why Does Your Appearance in a Courtroom Matter?
The short answer is: dress in a professional manner as it gives you instant credibility and makes you appear trustworthy in the eyes of the judge and everyone else in that courtroom.
This is no time to argue with anyone on what to wear to court; your appearance may affect the outcome of the court case. Take care of your appearance at all times when in front of officers of the court.
Listen to those who appear in front of a judge on a daily basis and learn from them.
General Rule of Thumb: Dress Conservatively
In general, it’s best to dress conservatively. While there is no official or formal dress code, those who work in the courts agree that a well-maintained court appearance gives you an opportunity to show a fine first impression.
If you’re ever confused about how clothes you picked will look in the courtroom, ask yourself this question: “Would I wear these clothes for a family member’s funeral or other similarly formal public event?”.
That means not showing up in flip-flops and t-shirts and ignoring dress codes when attending court, as first impressions count for a lot.
Instead, being dressed in the right clothing and dressing up for court indicates to those in the courtroom that you take being in court seriously, and thus your actions should be taken seriously as well. Your appearance as a well-groomed and well-dressed person might just be the tipping point needed for a judge to take you seriously!
More Tips: Dress like you have respect for the court
If you were preparing to stand trial, wearing a T-shirt isn’t suitable but a suit will make you look smart in front of the judge.
It is generally recommended in court for people to dress plainly. Show the judge in your court hearing that you respect the courts.
Over the past decade, dress standards at courts have declined dramatically. Even if you witness others in court with slippers or sweatpants on, don’t be tempted to follow suit as your judge might not be appreciative of that.
Men’s Court Dress Tips
Here are some ideas for men to wear to court.
- Dark suits. Navy blue suits, black suits, and dark grey suits all work.
- Khaki pants paired with a blazer and a dress shirt. At a minimum, wear a collared shirt.
- If your pants have belt loops, wear a belt.
- If picking a tie, stick with a plain, conservative tie.
- Pair your outfit with leather dress shoes.
Women’s Court Dress Tips
How should a woman dress for the court?
- Wear slacks, dress pants, or a skirt and shirt, or a dress.
- If you choose to wear a nice blouse, keep the pattern plain and non-distracting.
- If you choose to wear a dress or skirt, make sure it’s a knee-length skirt.
- Flats or loafers are best to pair with both a dress and dress pants.
What does conservative dress mean for women?
In courtrooms, conservative dress means professional.
What you wear should make you feel comfortable. Stay away from tight-fitting or form-fitting outfits. Keep long hair out of the eyes, as this helps to reduce distraction and nervous behavior.
Dos for Dressing for Court
General tips for clothing:
- Dress for success and professionalism.
- Dress plainly.
- Wear clean clothes that fit and don’t attract attention.
- Wear dress shoes.
- Wear a dress shirt.
- Wear a tie.
- Dark leather shoes.
- Make sure your clothes fit.
- Pick plain colors.
- Wear a belt with dress pants and a suit.
Don’ts for Dressing for Court
- Don’t wear ill-fitting clothes; that includes clothes that are too large or too tight.
- Avoid bright colors and wild prints, which means leave leopard and Hawaiian prints at home!
- Don’t wear sneakers, gym shoes, high heels, or flip-flops.
- Clothing should have no visible holes.
- Do not wear jeans.
- You may wear makeup but keep it light.
- Don’t wear jewelry.
- Do not wear hats.
- Women, do not wear short skirts.
- Do not wear anything that shows too much skin.
- Do not pick distracting patterns.
- Avoid wearing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Don’t Forget Your Scent
Don’t forget that your smell may also be noticed.
Do not smoke right before going to trial or entering the courtroom. Instead, shower, dress correctly and have a mint before going to court. Offensive body odor is, well, offensive. As a general rule, shower before each court appearance.
If you smell unpleasant when entering the court, this could inadvertently impact the courts’ perception of you – even if it is unfair or logical.
Color Considerations for Court
A person’s color choice in their clothing has an impact on their overall look.
Colors affect the psychology of a person and therefore it is advisable to consider the shade of the clothing before choosing it for court.
Keep your outfit neutral. Black or navy blue works for both men and women. Litigants are best off wearing modest and serious-colored clothing. Avoid bright colors and patterns, such as neon green, yellow & red.
Wear Clothes That Fit
Generally, fitting clothes will always appear better.
Whether it be shirts and pants and full-length suits and jackets, a dress or a skirt, ill-fitting clothes make you look… ill.
No Edgy Embellishments
Keep neutral colors in mind for your court wardrobe.
Avoid putting on jewelry or other items like hats or scarves, which might convey an impression or demonstrate individual preferences for a particular individual.
Do not wear anything with flags, sequins, political statements, or provocative images.
Facial Hair Guidelines
Men should be vigilant about their facial hair as they prepare for court and appear well-groomed in the courtroom. Long hair on men should be washed, combed, groomed and pulled away from the face.
If you are to get your haircut before your court appearance, choose a conservative haircut.
Trim facial hair and make sure it’s combed and clean. Don’t forget to groom the hair in your nose and ears.
Women should also appear groomed. Hair should be pulled back from the face and be clean and combed.
Body Piercings, Tattoos, and Painted Nails in Court
Take out visible body piercings and facial piercings like nose rings, and cover up tattoos when possible. Piercings and tattoos are personal statements that you could be judged on as you walk into court.
If nails are to be painted, stick with neutral or light colors and keep nails trimmed.
Courtroom Etiquette Tips
While wearing a good outfit helps you look professional, etiquette is also important for courtroom behavior as well.
When you are viewed by judges and jury members, your first impression is a lasting one. Both your physical appearance and your words matter. Dressing for success starts with adhering to this unwritten dress code.
Always respect the court, show up professionally dressed and respect the decisions of the judge.
If a judge advises you to make a change in your appearance immediately, don’t try to argue or complain to the judge! No matter how many court appearances you have, always stick to these outlined etiquette tips.
Learn more about courtroom etiquette here. <link to article>
Additional Courtroom Tips
Go not chew gum.
Do not bring your cell phone into the court hearing.
Pets are not allowed in the courtroom unless they are an official support animal like a seeing-eye dog.
Do not bring weapons with you to the courtroom.
Brush up on what to say, including how to properly address judges.
What we tell our Dell Family Law PC Clients
Frequently, clients and witnesses ask us, “What should I wear when going to divorce court?”
We advise our clients to dress conservatively.
The courtroom is a serious, conservative, and non-colorful environment, so the dress should be consistent with that.
For men, a dark suit or khaki pants and a blue blazer with a white button-down shirt and a simple tie is always appropriate. Men should avoid broad pinstripes, expensive fabrics, alligator or other expensive shoes, and cuff links. Women may wear dresses, skirts with a shirt, or slacks.
Coats for women look good in court. Blouses should be plain with no designs or “frills.” Women should not wear clothing that is too tight or too colorful. Red, zebra, leopard, or leather should be avoided at all costs. High heels and sneakers should not be worn.
Neither men nor women should wear expensive or excessive jewelry. Men should wear one simple ring (which could be a wedding ring) and a simple watch.
Women should wear a ring, a simple watch, and perhaps a simple bracelet or necklace, but at all costs avoid flashy jewelry. Earrings may be worn, but they should not be flashy or “dangly.” Hairstyles for men or women should be “conventional.”