How to Dress for Court 101

Chris Brown facing charges of felony assault in 2009. Chris dressed and acted conservatively in court.

Part 1 – Party to the Case – Plaintiff/Defendant

If you have the misfortune to be either a Plaintiff or Defendant in a civil or criminal trial, it is important to spend a few minutes planning your attire. You are already investing a good deal of time and money into these proceedings and now is not the time to disregard such a simple yet important part of your presentation. How the judge or jury perceives you is one of the many factors that will influence a final decision. We can argue all day about whether as a society we should form opinions about people based upon appearance, but that’s not going to change the fact that we do.

With that in mind, lets talk about what you should wear to court.

1. Whether you find yourself in Miami, Florida or Portland, Maine, the courtroom is a formal setting with conservative standards. You will need to dress yourself accordingly.

2. For men, a dark suit, white shirt and tie is best. If you don’t own a suit, slacks, a white shirt and a tie will do just fine. But remember the key word here is conservative. I was recently involved in a criminal trial where the defendant was wearing a very expensive grey suit with a loud orange tie. He pretty much looked like an organized crime boss from South Beach and I can guarantee that the judge and jury took notice of it. 

3. For women, wear a dark suit, dress or blouse. Avoid spike heels or open toed shoes. If you are wearing a dress, pantyhose are strongly recommended. Wearing a bra is strongly advised, as well.

4. Comfort is important here, too. I know that many of us don’t wear suits everyday and it can be a little awkward putting one on. It’s important that you look comfortable and at ease while in court. I would suggest wearing it around for a couple of hours prior to trial to make sure you’re comfortable wearing it around.

5. To reiterate the importance of dressing conservatively, lets talk about a few things NOT to wear: (a) lots of jewelry, (b) strong perfume or cologne, (c) revealing clothing, (d) loud colors, and (e) conspicuous hairstyles. These may some obvious to some and less obvious to others, but these are all things that you should not wear in court. They are distracting and will give the impression that you don’t respect the proceedings.

In a nut shell, you don’t want to call any extra attention to your outfit either because of how nice/expensive it looks or because of how informal it looks. You are in court to make a good impression and while a couple of the jurors might appreciate your taste in diamond-studded Louis Vuitton handbags, it probably won’t help persuade the judge and jury to find in your favor. In fact, if you are a victim seeking money damages, showing off your wealth is not going to help your cause. Likewise, if you are being charged with a  crime, dressing informally or in a trendy fashion, will give the impression that you’re not taking the proceedings seriously.


Preston Clark is a licensed attorney and entrepreneur based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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