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” (or lack thereof). What you wear sends messages about who you are to others, and can empower you to be your best self. Dressing for success in court can indeed help your side. So, how should you dress?

The short answer is: 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. And you need not drop a ton of money on new clothes, but if it makes a difference in how you look and feel, spending a bit on the perfect outfit can pay off.

Here are our dos and don’ts for the next time you get dressed for court. While some of them may seem like common sense or a bit too conservative, it’s best not to draw possibly negative attention to your physical appearance. As much as judges try to refrain from biases, first impressions do 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:

  • Close-toed 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 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 if what they are wearing might be a factor.

Do review your wardrobe at home for what you already own that might be appropriate. What you wear to work, interviews and other important meetings, church or other more formal settings might be perfect for court, 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 that 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, 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.

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. One or two simple accessories, tops.

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, too.

Want more help dressing for court? Read this related article.

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