I hear all the time from people who want to know how to dress for a court appearance. Some are plaintiffs, some are defendants and some are witnesses. You want to dress well to make a good impression and you want to be comfortable.
In general, “business casual” is the best choice. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed, so a suit may not be necessary, but it is better to wear a suit than to wear clothes that are too casual. Remember, how you dress in court will affect how your words are heard and may affect a judge’s or jury’s decision.
A jury has to sit all day in the courtroom and they notice everything. A run in your stocking, an odd tattoo, a rip in your clothing, the jury will see it and that may not be good for you. The judge and jury will use your appearance to assess your character. Does your outfit make you look guilty? Does what you wear make you look trustworthy?
Court is a place of serious business and you appearance should be serious and business-like. You are not dressing for a wedding, a nightclub or a casual gathering with friends. You never want to provoke the reaction, “Are you kidding me?” Consider these mistakes that have actually happened:
- The woman seeking an increase in alimony did not help her case as she arrived in court looking like a million dollars bedecked in jewels, with extravagant nails and flashy clothing.
- The teenager appearing for a speeding ticket only made the judge angry by wearing sandals, sunglasses and a t-shirt extolling his ability to drink.
- I had a client show up wearing a t-shirt with spaghetti straps (a.k.a. a “wife beater”) and had to send him down the street to buy a shirt.
- A woman showed up wearing a skirt so short and tight that the jury didn’t hear a word see said (and that was not a good thing).
Most people dress fine for court, but sometimes I look a poor clothing decision and wonder, “Didn’t your parents teach you how to dress?”
I offer some specific guidelines, but here are a few questions to ask yourself as you prepare to go to court?
- Does this outfit make me look trustworthy?
- Does this outfit make look respectable?
- Does this outfit make me look guilty?
As is so often the case, you know the right thing to do
The Right Clothing Choices for a Man Who Must Appear in Court
For a man, you can never go wrong wearing a suit, though it is generally not necessary. You can wear nice slacks and a long-sleeved, collared shirt. You might want to wear a sport coat. Do not wear jeans; khakis or dress slacks are fine. Do not even think of wearing shorts and make sure you wear a belt or suspenders. Dress shoes are a good choice; avoid sneakers, sandals or anything too casual. Please comb or brush your hair and trim your beard. Keep the cologne and jewelry to a minimum and you want to remove any piercings before showing up court. While more and more people have tattoos, you would be best served to keep them covered while in court. Unless you need to wear headwear for religious purposes, leave the hats at home. Do not wear anything too tight or too baggy and yes, pull up your pants.
The Right Clothing Choices for a Woman Who Must Appear in Court
For a woman, wear flat shoes or ones with a very small heel. Avoid sandals or any open-toed shoes. A suit would be fine, though you can wear a dress or skirt and blouse. Skirts and dresses should be modest; nice slacks and a blouse are fine. The courtroom is not the time to feature cleavage and keep the amount of visible skin to a minimum. If you wear a dress or skirt, then you need pantyhose. No spaghetti straps, off-the-shoulder wear or sundresses. Keep your hairstyling reasonable and do not wear clothing or a style that will call undue attention to you. Make-up is okay, but keep it to a minimum. Make sure your nails are neat and polished, though you do not want any attention grabbing nail polish design that would have the jury staring at your fingers.
The keywords that should guide your fashion decisions are conservative and serious. If you pick something up that would be labeled sexy, slinky or provocative, put it back down.
What Not to Wear to Court?
Part of making a good impression means not making a bad impression. That simple idea does not occur to some people I have see in court. It may seem crazy, but I have seen people wearing torn clothing, dirty clothing and t-shirts with suggestive sayings. I have seen women in skirts so tight and short that a newspaper could not print their picture. I have seen men with enough piercings to set off metal detectors and women teetering on heels as high and spiked as daggers. I have seen men with shirts open to the navel and stinking of foul cologne. I have seen women with rings on each finger and make-up I was afraid would melt in the court. Some have dressed so slovenly that judges have made them change their clothes and juries have stared with their mouths open. What were they thinking? Why would they want to dress that way?
Here are some other suggestions on what not to wear:
- Save the sweatsuits for the gym.
- Outlandish dress á la Lady Gaga is fine for the stage, but not the courtroom.
- Leave the sandals, sunglasses, flowered shirts and shorts on the beach.
- Jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, slippers and the like are fine for hanging out with friends, but not for court.
- Madonna can show off her underwear, you should keep yours under your clothes in court.
- You may have a body worth of the Jersey Shore, but please keep it covered in court. No bare bellies, no sleeveless shirts, no bare shoulders, no cleavage and no bare legs.
Remember, your appearance will set a tone for how the jury and judge will hear your words. Dress to impress and to establish your credibility as a good citizen.
Here are some final questions to consider as you look in the mirror before leaving for court:
- Does this outfit make me look guilty?
- Will this outfit help people trust me?
- Would this outfit make my mother proud?
You know what to do.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you or a loved one has been hurt due the negligence of another, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney. I would be glad to answer your questions and assist you. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.
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