Dos and Don’ts for What to Wear in Court

You're probably familiar with the career advice, "Dress for the job you want regardless of the job you have." What you wear sends a message about who you are to others. Your clothing can empower you to be your best self. Dressing for success in court can indeed help your side. So, how should you dress for divorce court?

The short answer: Dress in whatever makes you feel good about your case.

You need to look polished yet comfortable. For some, that means business attire. For others, it's more casual. You don't have to spend a lot of money on new clothes, but if it makes a difference in how you look and feel, spending a bit on the perfect outfit could pay off.

Here are our dos and don'ts for the next time you get dressed for court. Some of these tips may seem like common sense or a bit too conservative, but it's best not to draw possibly negative attention to your physical appearance. As much as judges try to refrain from bias, first impressions matter, and even subtle physical cues can send strong messages.

Do follow these general style rules

For those who identify as male:

  • Shoes with socks
  • Long pants (wear a belt if they have belt loops)
  • Tuck in collared shirts
  • Pants must be worn at waist level

For those who identify as female:

  • Closed-toe shoes
  • Knee-length or longer dress or skirt or long pants
  • Blouses, sweaters, or casual dress shirts are the best tops

Dos for everyone, regardless of gender

Do scope out your judge's courtroom before you need to appear

How are others in the courtroom dressed? You may want to dress more conservatively than usual, depending on what others are wearing. Pay attention to the people the judge seems to view most and least positively, and scrutinize whether what they are wearing could be a factor.

Do review your wardrobe at home

Look for what you already own that might be appropriate. What you wear to work, job interviews, important meetings, church, or other more formal settings might be perfect court attire, too.

Do consider what you're appearing in court for

If you're seeking spousal support, don't come outfitted in designer duds and expensive accessories. If you're appearing for the first time, err on the side of subdued, conservative attire so you appear as neutral as possible. Even judges have biases, and a loud print or revealing cut might penalize you.

Do ask anyone attending court with you to abide by a similar dress code as you

A judge may also form impressions of you by the company you keep.

Do show up well-groomed

This means neatly groomed hair (on your head, face, and body), subtle makeup, no body odor or strong scents, and clean, trimmed nails.

Don't wear any of the following, or you will likely be asked to leave the court

  • Shorts or above-the-knee skirts
  • Hats or hair curlers
  • Halter, tube, or crop tops
  • T-shirts and most sleeveless tops
  • Revealing, see-through, or sheer clothing
  • Clothing that reveals underwear
  • Ripped or torn clothing
  • Clothing with words, symbols, or anything else that may be seen as inappropriate or offensive

Some more don'ts

Don't spend more than you can afford

If you don't have anything appropriate but lack the funds to go shopping, ask a friend who is your size to borrow some of their clothes. You may also qualify for programs that can set you up with lightly used clothing such as Dress for Success. Or, go the sustainable route and try a clothing rental service like Armoire or Rent the Runway.

Don't dress in clothing you feel uncomfortable or awkward in

You want to be your authentic self, so don't pretend to be someone you are not. If you don't like high-heeled shoes, flats are just fine. If suits and ties make you cringe, opt for a nice sweater or button-down shirt instead. Also, wear clothes that fit. Too-tight or baggy clothes are a don't for court appearances.

Don't forget to wear clean, wrinkle-free clothes

If you show up looking messy, a judge might wonder about your ability to take care of other adult responsibilities, too.

Don't reveal piercings or tattoos

We know! We love you to be you. But you never know if the judge might view them negatively.

Don't pile on accessories

Wear one or two simple accessories at the most.

Don't rush

Allow plenty of time to get dressed and groomed before court. You don't want to change your mind last minute and need to do a total outfit change or get frazzled and sweaty. Ideally, you should have time to relax and mentally prepare.