Q: What should I wear to court?
A: Whether you’re appearing in court to fight a speeding ticket, discuss child custody or as a defendant in a criminal defense case, the same general dress and appearance rules apply. California family law attorney Dianna Gould-Saltman details the do’s and don’ts of court room appearance in this Avvo legal guide.
1. Above all, dress respectfully
You want to let the judge know the minute he or she sees you that you take this situation seriously. Don’t just dress as if you’re going to church or synagogue. Dress as if you’re going to your mother’s church or synagogue. Wear clothes that are modest, clean and which fit you well. Clothes don’t have to be new but they should demonstrate that you understand that this is a serious occasion.
2. Don’t dress to distract
If this court appearance is about something that is important to you — and it should be, why else would you be there? — you don’t want your appearance to divert the judge’s attention from your message. Wear clothes that are simple, tailored, neutrally-colored (with a few exceptions) and allow any focus on you to be about your message, not about your appearance.
3. Should I dress like a lawyer?
Probably not, unless you actually are a lawyer. Otherwise, it’s okay to dress like a civilian. You don’t want the judge to think you’re playing “dress up” and pretending to be a lawyer. That could be perceived as arrogance, which you want to avoid.
4. For the guys: What NOT to wear.
Starting from the top, unless you wear something on your head for religious purposes, no hats or caps. Court staff will probably make you take it off anyway. No dark glasses (like sunglasses) unless you have a medical reason to wear them. Minimal jewelry. If you wear earrings, take them out or wear a small stud. No bling! Expensive jewelry also says, “I’ve got plenty of money to give away here.”
If you wear contacts but own glasses, wear the glasses. Got long hair? In addition to coming in as freshly washed as possible, if you’re not going to cut your hair, wear it back in a ponytail. Long-sleeve shirt and tie with sports coat and slacks. No jeans. Need I say that it is never okay to wear pants so low a judge can see your underwear? It’s also okay to wear a long-sleeve shirt with a pull-over sweater and slacks. Shoes: dress shoes or loafers, polished. No tennis shoes, sandals or flip-flops. If you have tattoos, do your best to cover them because they can be a distraction (see step 2).
5. For the gals: What NOT to Wear
Again, we start at the top. Hair should be clean and simple. No hats unless for religious reasons. Makeup should be minimal. Foundation, mascara, lip gloss in a neutral color. No dark glasses but regular glasses or contacts are both fine. Minimal jewelry and what you wear should be small and tasteful. Dress or skirt and top are fine. Clothes should not be form-fitting and length of skirt or dress should be about knee length. Slacks or a pantsuit are also fine; not jeans, not leggings. Sweater or sweater set and skirt or slacks are okay. Nothing low-cut in the front and no sleeveless tops (Michelle Obama’s great arms not withstanding, this is not the place for it.) If you wear a skirt or dress, where dark or neutral pantyhose. Shoes should be flats or low (no more than 2″) heels. They should be in good, polished shape. Remember what I told the guys about tattoos? Same goes for the ladies.
6. When in doubt …
If you have a lawyer, tell your lawyer what you’re planning to wear and ask your lawyer if your choice sounds okay. Your lawyer will appreciate it, since it’s one less thing to worry about and the lawyer can then focus on your case.
If you have no lawyer, take a field trip to the courtroom where your case is going to be heard. Take a look around the room and observe who seems “dressed for success” there. Pay attention to how the judge responds to people as they come before him or her. Your case may not be won based on how well you dress, but you sure don’t want your case lost for that reason, either!
This guide was written by California family law attorney Dianna Gould-Saltman and originally appeared on Avvo. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Avvo. You can read more helpful questions and answers in Avvo’s free Q&A Forum.