When you think about a courtroom, you likely picture a formal setting. Men generally wear suits and ties. Women usually wear modest, conservative outfits. A great deal of thought and effort goes into selecting this attire because how you dress for court is important. Believe it or not, deciding what to wear to court has an impact.
Judges, juries, opposing counsel, opposing parties, and everyone else involved in a trial are human beings. And people respond and react to what we see and often make snap judgments based on our first impressions.
Whether this is conscious or not, intentional or not, or reveals underlying biases, is a huge topic for another time and place. Regardless, nonverbal cues, from dress to behavior, play a significant part in how people perceive you.
That said: How do you decide what to wear to court?
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How To Dress For Court
The fact of the matter is, how you dress for court is an important piece of your preparation. Some people will be able to get past your appearance, but others may not. Why take the risk? Why leave loose variables out there when you can control them with something as simple as the clothes you wear?
Know the Dress Code
This may seem obvious, but there’s no excuse for not knowing the rules. You can likely look up what is and isn’t considered appropriate attire on the courthouse website. If that doesn’t work, you should be able to call and ask. If you have an attorney, he or she should be able to advise you in this capacity.
What is and isn’t acceptable will likely vary a great deal depending on where you live. Regulations and restrictions vary from place to place. For example, things may be quite different in a rural area versus in the heart of a major metropolis.
Knowing the dress code will help you choose what to wear to court.
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Wear Well Fitting Clothing
While many of us may lounge around at home in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, that’s not generally an appropriate way to dress for court. Wear slacks and a belt if you have them. Tuck in your shirt and wear your pants around your waist.
If you have a button-up shirt and a tie, it may be time to pull them out of the closet regardless of how often you wear such items. Make sure everything fits. You want to look as clean and tidy as possible.
Think of it like you’re going to church or a wedding and dress accordingly. Leave the ripped jeans, sneakers, and cargo shorts at home.
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Wear Comfortable Clothes
You may only be in court for a quick appearance, but depending on the situation, you may be there all day. However you dress for court, make sure you are reasonably comfortable. If you’re relaxed, that comes across.
Stiff or uncomfortable clothes impact your posture and focus. The last thing you want to do is fidget and fuss and squirm.
You may not always know how long a certain procedure will take, but find out as best you can how long you’ll be there and dress appropriately. Again, an attorney should be able to offer advice in this realm.
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Be Well Groomed and Presentable
You’ll want to style your hair, or at least keep it tamed and in place. Shave, or if you have facial hair, make sure to neatly prune your beard or mustache. Brush your teeth, trim your fingernails, and wear deodorant.
Treat this like a job interview or a first date. You want to put your best foot forward and make a good first impression that lingers with your audience.
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Keep it Simple
Just like you don’t want to come across like a slob, you don’t want to appear ostentatious or flamboyant when you dress for court.
Keep the jewelry to a minimum. Avoid gaudy rings, necklaces, and watches. Don’t wear a hat. It’ll be distracting at best, and appear disrespectful or slovenly at worst.
Don’t overdress. Affectations and accessories are fine in other places, but may not be the best choice for a courtroom.
Keep your pockets as empty as possible. Try to avoid looking like you packed everything you own and just carry what you need. Bring your wallet and keys, and make sure to turn off your cell phone. Better yet, leave it in the car. You have other things to focus on anyway.
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Cover Tattoos and Remove Piercings
Especially in bigger cities, visible tattoos and piercings are increasingly common and accepted.
In your daily life, your friends, family, and boss may have no issue with this sort of self-expression. But cover them up when you dress for court.
You have no way of knowing if a particular judge looks at tattoos the same way as you do. Maybe there are full sleeves under that robe. Maybe there aren’t.
The point is, you can’t be sure. The same goes for appearing in front of a jury. You have no way of knowing how these people feel about this topic or how they’ll respond. Ignore this easy fix at your own peril.
It’s important to be adequately prepared for your day before the bench. How you dress for court and present yourself is an important part of that. Even if it seems like not much is going on, there is a great deal in play.
In a general sense, you don’t want your appearance or clothes to stand out. It should be your testimony and what you have to say that leaves the greatest impression. Be clean, be professional, be appropriate.
There are enough variables in your case that you have no control over, so take the reins when and where you can. Don’t leave anything to chance if you don’t have to. How you dress and what you wear to court is a factor you can manage.
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