How to Dress for the Courtroom – The Importance of Proper Clothing when meeting a Judge or Lawyer

We want to believe people see us for who we are inside as person; that others can see beyond our appearance, and not judge us by our cover.

The Fact is we as human being respond very strongly to visual stimuli – we make snap decisions in less than a few seconds and then spend the next few minutes trying to confirm our initial impression.

Read the above sentence again – it’s that important.

looks do matter

In the pictures above, which man would you be more likely to listen to let alone approach you without reservation?  Obviously the man on the right is going to be given at least 30 to 90 seconds to make his case – the man on the left?  I’ve already made a negative snap decision.  I admit the above example is an extreme case.

Nevertheless, any citizen subject to law should consider what he wears when meeting a courtroom judge, a lawyer, or other government official who has to make a decision concerning them. Hopefully you won’t be standing trial for a felony charge, however even in traffic court a man should not neglect what clothing he wears as judgments are made and rendered.

Wearing appropriate clothes to court also pays respect to the integrity of the judicial system.  The United States is one of the few countries where participants in civil proceeding have a lot of flexibility in their dress – however that does not give us the freedom to dress as we please.

Note that judges can and will throw you out for dressing inappropriately – so take the time to select clothing that shows the judge, lawyers, and the legal clerks that you care about the laws and your rights.

how not to dress for court

What should a man wear to court?

The general rule is to dress conservatively. Depending on why you are summoned to court, a solid charcoal or navy suit with a white shirt and coordinating tie will pass any judge’s standards.

Find yourself in a rural area attending traffic court – then consider a sport jacket with slacks and slip-ons with no tie. A men’s navy blazer and coordinating trousers is also acceptable, and shows the lawyers and judges present that you are mature enough to take their court seriously.

A Man's Guide To Style

If you are being represented by an attorney, then listen to what he or she has to suggest and work with them to ensure you dress appropriately, especially if attending court outside the United States. Dressing down to seem innocent or dressing up to disassociate yourself from negativity could contribute to what the judge or jury think about you.

If you have a large number of tattoos consider strongly covering them with long sleeve clothing, even if they are military related.  The judge will see your military service on your presented record – you can’t assume the jury will be able to see what they are from 20 feet away.

10 Proper Male Dressing Tips for Court

my cousin vinny court suit1. Know the court’s dress code - Either read about it on the courthouse’s website or call and ask; no excuse for ignorance here.  And there is a difference between large city and small town courts.  Judges and attorneys in rural areas may only wear odd jackets, dress shirt and trousers around town and in court.  Judges and attorneys in a metropolis like New York City or San Francisco will more likely be wearing 2 piece suits.

2. Be sufficiently groomed - Make sure your hair is brushed, and if you have facial hair it should be groomed and trimmed. Brush your teeth, wash your hands and please trim your fingernails. There is no need for cologne or aftershave; a judge will not make a decision based on how you smell assuming you showered and do not reek of alcohol.

3. Wear comfortable, fitted clothing - Some of you gentlemen might like the space that XXXL shirts and pants may have to offer, but to the law and the judge over-sized clothing brings negative imagery to mind. Wear your pants around your waist. Tuck in your shirt. Wear a belt. And make sure that your clothing fits you.  A simple visit to the court may take only an hour, while major procedures may last all day. Being comfortable in your clothing will better your posture and keep you focused.

4. Cover any tattoos and remove removable piercings that you wear to scream you are a non-conformist – Your friends, parents, and even boss may not have an issue with these – but a conservative judge 30 years your senior may.

5. No beach clothing - Do not wear sandals, shorts, and t-shirts to court. This is not the beach of San Diego or Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

6. Avoid excessive jewelry - Keep the jewelry to a minimum – your wedding ring and perhaps one or two other simple pieces that haver either religious or personal meeting.  In the United States, judges are not impressed by the display of gold on your fingers, neck, or wrists.  In general keep all necklaces, earrings, nose rings, tongue or eyebrow piercings, gaudy rings and high priced watches out of sight.

7. No hats - If you go to court in winter you can wear a hat outside the courthouse, but once you enter remove your hat. Wearing a hat indoors is a sign of ignorance and worse disrespect. No baseball caps, no cowboy hats, and no top hats.

8. Minimize pocket bulk - Try to avoid looking like you’re expecting to be convicted and have brought all your worldly possessions with you.  Many court houses now require screening and for you to leave many items outside – avoid the hassle or embarrassment by packing light and making sure anything that can be construed as a weapon or just doesn’t need to go with you stays at home.  And turn your cell phone off!

9. Do not overdress – You need to be sensitive to appearing too dapper; no one like a man who tries to appear above others.  Clothing such as a black tie ensemble does not belong, and if in a rural area you’ll want to even tone down your suit if you wear one at all.  No pocket square or vest -do not outdress the judge and lawyers.  Keep it simple, clean, and a manner that says nothing about you is pretentious. Do your homework and know the environment before you step into the court.

10. Never wear a costume or try to enter the courtroom naked - I do not make this stuff up – apparently this English fellow appeared before a judge wearing only his backpack and beard.  Other court attendees have tried dressing as the founding fathers to better make their case about how their rights are being trampled.   Save the birthday suit and George Washington outfits for other occasions – a costume only alienates you.

A Man’s Guide to Dressing for Court – Conclusion

I’m going to say this again -we respond strongly to visual stimuli and make snap decisions that heavily influence our final decisions within seconds of meeting someone. You are judged before you open your mouth.  Dress accordingly.