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How Should I Dress for a Court Appearance?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dressing appropriately is an important part of a court appearance, whether you are a witness, defendant, juror, or bystander. In most areas, a court has a basic dress code which people are expected to adhere to, but the dress code is usually fairly minimal. Taking the time to pick out appropriate clothing can be beneficial in the end, and it is worth carefully thinking out every garment that you will wear in court.

As a general rule, you should think of a court as a formal environment. Women should wear suits, simple dresses, or blouses and skirts, along with hose and a brassiere. Shoes should be low heeled and sensible, and never open toed. Men should wear suits or jackets and slacks when they dress for court, with no hat. Both men and women should remove coats before entering the court room.

When you dress for court, always avoid shorts or cut offs, t-shirts, flip flops, sneakers, sandals, damaged clothing, excessively revealing garments, stained garments, frivolous hairstyles, and heavy perfumes. While not explicitly banned in all court dress codes, these offenses will make a less than positive impression, and the judge may request that you leave the court and return more suitably dressed. Make sure to tuck your shirt in, wear neutral makeup if you choose to wear makeup, and that you look well put together. Also check to be sure that the clothing you select is comfortable, since you do not want to look ill at ease in court.

As a juror, you should wear in simple, neutral clothing. Navy is a safe, subtle color to choose, and make doubly certain that your garments fit well since you will be sitting for long periods of time. Dressing neatly for court indicates that you take the trial seriously, and it is a mark of respect to the proceedings. If you are a witness, the lawyer who calls you may have some suggestions for how you might best dress for court. Something like a subdued suit is always an excellent idea, because you want to project authority and confidence when you testify.

If you are the accused, you should dress for court simply and conservatively. Your lawyer may have additional suggestions as well. While the case cannot legally be decided on the basis of your dress, dressing in expensive, frivolous, fancy, or excessively casual clothing may not reflect well upon you. Of course, in some regions you may be restricted to jail-issue garments in court, in which case the decision will be taken out of your hands, but you should take the time to make your appearance neat, keeping your hair and nails trimmed and orderly.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Dovebelle — On Aug 18, 2015

The obvious rules are no cleavage, no t-shirts, and no shorts. Remember the "old days" when people would dress for church?

Litigants, after all, want the judge to rule their way. How about dressing the way judges do? No, not the robe...but if you think about it, many judges who don't "have" to wear suits, do. These are habits from the practice of law because lawyers, both male and female, still wear suits every day to court.

At the huge Stanley Mosk courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, many Los Angeles Superior Court judges at the county courthouse wear suits every day. Judges Kevin Brazile, Victor Chavez, William MacLaughlin, Marc Marmaro, Christine Byrd, Samantha Jessner, Elizabeth Feffer, Michelle Rosenblatt, Stephen Moloney, Lee Edmon (first woman presiding judge, now on the court of appeal), Presiding Judge Carolyn Kuhl, and Assistant Presiding Judge Dan Buckley. Some don't wear suits, or leave the jacket in the car, but the court leaders do.

So, litigants, take a clue from lawyers and the judges themselves. Wear a suit if you can but, if not, a shirt with a collar, jacket and tie, slacks, or a conservative dress are good.

By anon964862 — On Aug 07, 2014

I enjoy how it's not only acknowledged that courts and judges can be influenced by our clothing, but suggested that we wear certain outfits to send "the right message."

I'd like to think that a judge's knowledge of the law and access to precedents would be sufficient for making judgments, not his first impression based on what someone is wearing. Is a judge a trendy teenager or a respected, educated and neutral party?

If a person's suit isn't the expected shade it should have no bearing on the proceedings. If a person doesn't own formal clothes (many people have no need for them) and shows up in jeans and a nice sweater it should have no bearing on the proceedings. Likewise, if a defendant dresses in somber colors to make people feel he is more remorseful for his actions, it should have no bearing on the proceedings.

Courts are far from the impartial just proceedings that we typically imagine them to be.

By bluedolphin — On Mar 05, 2013

@donasmrs-- Dark colors are best for court in my opinion. I would wear black pants with a long sleeved shirt and suit coat. You can also wear a long formal black dress below the knees. Just make sure that it's not tight-fitting, that doesn't look nice. Never, ever, wear short skirts or open shoes.

Men should wear a tie and collared shirt and black suit. Both men and women should wear dress shoes.

By donasmrs — On Mar 05, 2013

I have child custody case and I want to make sure that my appearance leaves a good impression on the judge.

What kind of suit and what colors are best in this situation?

By fBoyle — On Mar 04, 2013

I'm interning for a law firm and went to court with one of our lawyers the other day. There was a lady there who had very high heels on with open toes! I could not believe it! That's so inappropriate.

I've even seen some people go to work at a federal agency that way. I have no idea what they're thinking. This is not a club or a cafe, it's an official public place. Dressing conservatively and professionally shows that you respect the establishment and the people who are present there.

By helene55 — On Feb 05, 2011

You should also probably dress in multiple layers. Like all municipal buildings, some court rooms might be too heated in cold weather and others might not be heated enough. Having a nice jacket or cardigan you can put on if it is warm, plus a fairly conservative, but light, top underneath if you want to take the jacket or sweater off, is a good idea.

By hyrax53 — On Feb 02, 2011

While a neutral color is probably not necessary, something conservative is a good idea. At the same time, it might even be a good idea for a witness to wear at least one item that is a bright or memorable color, so that what you say really will stand out from the massive amounts of information people hear at court cases.

By latte31 — On Dec 19, 2010

Women should wear a neutral colored business suit or pant suit with limited jewelry and makeup. The attire should really be conservative and subdued. Skirts should be at the knee and and dresses with plunging necklines would be inappropriate. Men should wear suits with ties and should be properly groomed when they address the court.

Anna Nicole Smith had a major makeover when she went to court over her late husband’s estate. She wore a conservative black suit and wore her hair straight.

Some defendants have been known to dye their hair a neutral color when going to court. Judges and juries really look down on people that do not take the necessary steps to follow appropriate court etiquette.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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