5 Tips For Dressing Appropriately in The Courtroom
It may seem trivial to say how you dress could determine whether you win or lose a case, but the research shows that it takes less than seven seconds for a person to form an opinion based on how you present yourself. People look at your appearance, body language and how you are dressed and instantly make an evaluation. In the courtroom, a good first impression can go a long way.
Whether you enter a courtroom as a defendant, plaintiff, witness, defense lawyer or prosecuting attorney, how you dress makes an impact on a jury or judge’s attitude toward you. The goal is to look appropriate and nonthreatening while not distracting from the case.
Courtrooms command a certain style of dress, and it’s important to dress for expectations. The judge and jury want to know who is in charge. The attorney should always look a bit more refined and polished with a certain air of authority about him or her. The client should be polished too, but typically a bit more understated.
Below are some commonsense tips we’ve put together for dressing for success in the courtroom.
1. FIT IS IT
This one transcends the courtroom and honestly applies to all professional settings. Fit is important, your garments should not be too big or too small. If the clothing is poorly fitted or low-cut, it can undermine credibility and look unprofessional. We recommend that skirt or dress hem lengths fall at the knee or mid-calf. Make sure pants are tailored to the right length to avoid looking sloppy, tripping and/or having to wear extremely high heels to accommodate the extra length.
2. KEEP IT NEUTRAL
Regardless of location or subject matter, ask your client to avoid bright colors such as red, pink and purple. We recommend sticking to a more neutral alternative such as navy, charcoal, white and/or light blue. Bright colors can be offensive to some judges or jurors and give an unintended impression. Additionally, colors are often associated with social issues and can easily be misconstrued inside a courtroom.
3. SUBJECT MATTERS
Consider the subject matter of the case when planning what your client should wear. If your case is related to a financial matter, attorneys should advise defendants to dress down, and not overplay brand names or cutting-edge styles. By wearing expensive clothes, jewelry or accessories, your client could give the wrong impression and potentially influence the outcome of your case. Dressing a domestic violence survivor vying for child custody in a floral print dress and cardigan sweater versus a power suit should play more sympathetically with a judge.
4. CONSIDER A TRIM
Grooming is important and can present a positive first impression. Clean your hair and clothes before court, brush and style short hair, and refrain from dying hair bright or unnatural colors. If you have long hair we recommend securing it up and out of your face, fidgeting with flyaways can be distracting and come off as sheepish or insecure. Consider a haircut, and trim excess facial hair before making an appearance.
5. GO CONSERVATIVE
When in doubt, it’s always best to reach for a traditional or conservative outfit. Keep tattoos and body piercings covered up and/or remove piercings if possible. Wear professional, closed-toe footwear such as pumps, loafers, and oxfords. Minimal jewelry and accessories, simple earrings and a watch create a polished and responsible look.
The biggest concern of not dressing the part is not being perceived as honest. Wearing the wrong clothing in legal proceedings can absolutely make a difference in perception—this applies to both the attorney and the client. The impression is important to the judge, jury and audience.
Dressing the part includes being aware of dress codes and presenting yourself appropriately. Legal settings offer different challenges, as often the jury is a diverse group of individuals deciding the fate of your client, based on subtle nuances, including nonverbal behavior and dress. It’s important to discuss and prepare for ways that style and appearance can influence your verdict.