Dress for Court and Why It Matters

By Grayson Cannon

The Sumner County Courthouse.

Does how you dress for court even matter?  Some recent events have brought this issue to the forefront for me.

Professional Groups Can be Informative

One of the little things I do to enhance professionalism and my knowledge of the law is to join various practice groups.  Sometimes these are internet message boards, or Facebook groups, or groups that actually meet in person.  This lets me network with other lawyers who practice in the same areas I do. It’s a great way to learn.

On Facebook, I belong to a statewide group of female attorneys.  The group name is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the lawyers there are very serious and smart people.  A recent lengthy thread in this Facebook group involved thoughts about how female attorneys should dress for court.  In particular a jury trial was involved, and the initial poster was seeking input about whether she should wear pantyhose for the trial.

Responses were all over the place.  They ranged from simple yes or no answers, to ponderings about why we even have to ask this kind of question in 2017.  The consensus, however, was that the attorney should definitely wear the pantyhose.  Some of the reasons involved the idea that the attorney might be judged negatively by members of the jury for not covering her legs.  As a result, her client’s case might suffer.  The majority of posters suggested that it was better to be neutral and very conservative in dress when presenting a case in court.   Dressing in a self-expressive way might detract from what the attorney was trying to present.

The Same Principles Apply to Our Clients

Most of you reading this may wonder, “So what does this have to do with me?  Does it matter how I, as the client, dress for court?”  The answer is a resounding YES.  The same issues that make it appropriate for attorneys to dress conservatively for court appearances apply to our clients as well.  It’s fine for you to have ink, piercings, and exciting hair color in your personal life.  In court that stuff is all a potential distraction.  The judge or jury do not know you.  They are going to be getting an impression of you based on a first look.  While you probably have a great personality and everyone in court would just love you once they got to know you, you do not want to have to make them work for it.

Why dress for court is important is that you want to create a neutral ground.  You don’t want your appearance to detract from the story you are there to tell.  You want your words, your testimony, to be heard and appreciated.  Every female lawyer who posted on that thread was distressed that it should even matter whether your lawyer is wearing pantyhose.  We all hate the dadblamed things.  But, almost everyone acknowledged that in court, we are judged by how we look.  If our look is too distracting, our client’s case and message might suffer.

Therefore, appropriate dress for court also matters a lot for our clients.  A blog post we did in 2015 covers some basic rules for court appearances: https://phillipsandingrum.com/2015/09/18/how-should-i-dress-for-court-seven-things-to-know/ but above and beyond that, you should know that plain, conservative dress for court goes a long, long way.  So, dust off those church clothes that your mama or your granny would have approved of.  Folks at the courthouse will, too!