Legal and Judicial costume is defined as special occupational dress worn by
Judges and members of the Legal Community to mark their membership in this
Dress Code is a symbol of confidence, a symbol of discipline and a symbol of the
profession, a proud part of an individual’s personality for a professional. The
balance between maintaining Court’s decorum and permitting freedom in
individual’s lifestyle is most well defined in a Lawyer’s Dress Code.
The professional environment generally is marked by a code for dressing- in
terms of color, style. The American standards of Criminal Justice say that
because the Attorney is an Officer of the Court, he should support Court’s
dignity by following the Court Rules Of Decorum. Traditionally, English Court
regulated Barrister’s Dress Code in such a manner, that even the growth of
Attorney’s beard or cut of his clothes was subject to scrutiny. India in terms
of Lawyer’s Dress Code inherited the system after British Rule with minor
modifications with times.
Dress In The Early Modern Period
Legal and Judicial dress has its origins in royal and ecclesiastical history.
Prior to the early modern period, monks and other ecclesiasts were responsible
for the administration of justice in the European territories. By the fifteenth
& sixteenth centuries, this group was replaced by lesser nobility appointed by
European sovereigns. As direct servants of the monarch, they were charged with
the administration of sovereign law, and it was important for their clothing to
reflect the legitimacy and authority of the Sovereign's Rule. Therefore, early
Judicial and Legal dress borrowed heavily from the styles of the Church's legal
representatives, while reflecting the new era now defined by Royal Rule.
The history of the Black Coat dates back to 1327 when Edward III formulated the
costumes for Judges based on the Dress Code for attending the Royal Court. At
the end of the 13th Century the structure of the Legal Profession in Britain was
strictly divided between Judges; sergeants who wore a white coiffure wig on
their heads and practised from St Paul’s Cathedral; and the four Inns of Court,
divided into Students, Pleaders, Benchers (the ruling body of the Inn) and
Barristers, who were mostly hail from Royal and Wealthy Families. The attire of
these men kept up with the fashion of those times.
Vibrant reds and maroons gowns were fashionable in the 15th Century, spruced
with golden fabric and warmed with fur. Appearance wise there was a little
difference between Lawyers and the rest of Wealthy Society. This changed during
the 1600s when the glorious displays were repealed.
During the Fifteenth & Sixteenth Centuries, Judicial Dress varied considerably
between nations due to the decentralization of ownership and rule in Europe.
Ecclesiastical costume history, however, assured some general similarities in
basic Judicial and Legal dress among European nations. Judges of the early
modern period wore sleeved tunics, and over this, wide-sleeved pleated gowns or
robes made from cloth, wool, or silk.
This garment, previously worn by monks, was sometimes referred to as a supertunica.
High Judges might wear tabards (essentially, a sleeveless version of the
supertunica) instead. Judges also wore closed mantles covering the shoulders to
the middle-upper arm, and rolled hoods or casting hoods of the same fabric,
lined with miniver. For ceremonial occasions, some Judges wore a shorter cloak,
called an armelausa (in France, called a manteau), made from the same fabric.
Despite this basic attire, there was little consistency in color of Judicial
Uniform. James Robinson Planché summarizes this point well in his Cyclopædia of
Costume: "Information Respecting The Official Costume Of The Bench & Bar Is
Abundant; But, Unfortunately, The Descriptions Are Not So Clear As They Are
Copious" (Planché, P. 426). Royalty frequently dressed Judges in ornate, regal
costumes of scarlet and black, although vibrant hues of pink, violet, and royal
blue were also common. Color reflected royal taste, but also Judicial rank or
position, and Lower Judicial Officials wore different colors than Presiding
Judges. Justices of the peace, appointed on a local basis to police the King's
Laws and manage local affairs, wore lay dress associated with their middle-class
Upon the head, members of the early modern judiciary typically wore a coif, a
white circular lawn or silk cap, along with a black silk or velvet skullcap on
top. Such head coverings bore resemblance to academic dress, which signified the
possession of a doctorate degree. In fact, "The Order of the Coif" was a name
given to a group of British sergeants-at-law, a special legal class who
comprised the body from which High Judicial Offices was chosen. Judges often
wore another hat on top of the coif and skullcap, particularly in France and
Early costume for Lawyers, also known as Barristers, Solicitors, Advocates, or
Councillors, depending on the country, bore strong similarities to that of
Judges. During the Middle Ages, Lawyers were considered to be apprentices to the
Judiciary, which explain the likeness in dress. Like their Judicial
counterparts, Barristers in Britain also wore closed gowns made of cloth or
These garments, however, had raised, stuffed shoulders and elbow-length glove
sleeves. Even before Queen Mary's death, these gowns were predominantly black,
in accordance with the Rules of the Inns of Court that organized Barrister
Education & Membership. Like Judges, Barristers also wore coifs and skullcaps,
as well as white ruff-like bands around the neck. Solicitors, who unlike
Barristers, did not have the right to present in court, wore long, open black
gowns with winged sleeves, although by the Seventeenth Century, they had lost
their special dress and instead wore common business attire. French Advocates
wore wide, colored, bell-sleeved gowns, often in scarlet, with shoulder pieces
and chaperons like their Judicial counterparts. They also wore white bands and
stiff black toques called bonnets carrés.
Regulations Of The Seventeenth Century
Historically, Monarchs set out complex dictates on Judicial & Legal dress, which
reflected that individual sovereign's taste. By the Seventeenth Century, as
countries continued to centralize and codify legal order, it became important to
systemize the mélange of customs and traditions relating to Legal and Judicial
dress. This did not, however, result in a simple, concise, framework for
dress-in fact, the exact opposite! In 1602, France regulated, by royal mandate,
the dress of its Judges and Lawyers of all ranks. Although scarlet still
predominated, the Monarchy dictated the specific robe fabrics, colors, and
lengths for its Judges, Advocates, and Clerks. It even made distinctions for
colors by seasons and days of the week.
Britain had similarly intricate legislation, which resulted in complicated and
confusing dictates. According to the 1635 Decree by Westminster, the Monarch
became the exclusive Administrator Of Judicial Dress. From spring to mid-autumn,
it was mandatory for Judges to wear a taffeta-lined black or violet silk robe
with deep cuffs lined in silk or fur, a matching hood, and a mantle. Judges were
also required to wear coifs, caps, and a cornered cap on top. During the winter
months, the taffeta lining was replaced with miniver to keep judges warm.
Special scarlet dress replaced this standard costume on holy days or the visit
of the Lord Mayor.
There was no parallel code for Barristers' Dress at this time, and the Inns of
Court governed Bar Costume.
During the same time, Britain also regulated the Judicial Dress of the American
colonies. Settlers followed codes and ceremonies of British Law, and while
little has been written on Judicial and Legal Dress in the colonies, scarlet,
which was the ceremonial and traditional color for British Judges, was de
rigueur for the colonial bench. American Dress, however, did not mirror the same
level of British complexity, given the puritan and austere circumstances and
culture of the region.
Adoption Of Wig
Even the dignified and traditional dress of the Legal & Judicial system has not
been isolated from whims of popular fashion. The wigs worn by members of the
British Bench and Bar are perfect examples of this idea. Fashion has always
influenced its styles, from changes in sleeve to ruffs and sashes. Charles II
imported the wig from France in 1660, and during the Seventeenth Century, they
were a fashionable item for all gentlemen of wealthy and established social
classes. Made from human or horsehair, they sat very high at the Crown, and
cascaded in curls over the shoulders.
Judges and Barristers took to wearing these fashionable full-bottomed wigs with
their robes, no doubt under the recommendation of Charles II. By the middle of
the Eighteenth Century, wigs fell out of favor with the general public, but
Legal Professionals adopted the wig as a vital part of the Legal and Judicial
Uniform. In the early 2000s, High-Court Judges and the Queen's Counsel in
Britain and the Commonwealth continue to wear full-bottomed wigs for ceremonial
occasions, and shorter Bench wigs are customary for daily courtroom proceedings.
Barristers wear an even more abbreviated version of the Seventeenth-Century wig,
known as a tie-wig, which sits back from the forehead to expose the hairline.
Legal Dress In The Early 2000s
The styles put into place in the Seventeenth Century for the Legal and Judicial
Community have persisted in their basic form, although styles for sleeves,
collars, and accoutrements like wigs and bands have changed, according to lay
fashion and monarchial taste. Central Governments rather than Monarchs regulate
legal and Judicial Dress, and complex and confusing directives, in principle,
continue to exist.
In Britain, Judges, Barristers, and Court Clerks sitting in High Courts are
generally required to wear black silk or stuff gowns over suits, and a short
bench or tie-wig and bands. Black robes for Judges account for more of their
dress than in previous times, and High Court, District, and Circuit Courts
prescribe their use all or much of the time.
More frequently, colored mantles or sashes denote the type of case and Court a
Judge presides over. Scarlet robes remain reserved for ceremonial occasions, as
well as for some High-Court criminal cases in winter. Violet is also used for
certain cases according to season and Court. Judges may be called to add or
remove cuffs, scarves, mantles, and hoods of varying color and fabric at
different times and seasons.
These Rules, however, are frequently amended and discarded in practice by Judges
in particular, who may dispense of their wigs or robes, either due to weather or
due to special circumstances, such as cases involving children. Barristers'
Dress remains more clear-cut, and in Court they continue to wear black silk or
cloth gowns, tie-wigs, and bands, depending on the seniority of their position.
Solicitors and lower court officials do not wear wigs. Justices of the Peace,
now predominantly confined to name only, do not wear any special dress.
Why Judges Wear Black
Free use of color in Judicial Dress lasted in European countries until the late
Seventeenth Century, when the black robe, which many consider to be the
traditional Judicial color, became the preferred color for daily Judicial Dress.
France adopted black as the color of dress for its Judges, and historians
believe that the British tradition of black robes began when Barristers and
Judges adopted mourning dress for Queen Mary II in 1694.
Although High Court Judges eventually reverted back to colors of scarlet and
violet, it remained for Barristers, Lower-Court Judges, and Court Clerks in
Britain. By the Eighteenth Century, American Judges had followed suit, though as
a symbol of liberty from British control over the American colonies.
Like Britain, France has also retained its complex guidelines for members of the
Legal Profession. French High Court Judges traditionally wear bell-sleeve cloth
or silk black gowns and heavy draped manteaus lined with rabbit fur. Over the
coat, they also wear fur shoulder pieces upon which they hang national medals.
Like Britain, this full dress is not always abided by in daily practice. For
ceremonial occasions, High-Court Judges may wear scarlet robes. Lower-Court
Judges wear similar robes in black or scarlet with black satin cuffs. Unlike
their British or American peers, these robes button down the front, and have
trains that can be tucked up inside the robe.
Additionally, they wear black moiré belts and epitoges, or shawls tipped in
ermine or rabbit, along white cloth fichus. They also continue to wear black
toques. Although French Advocates wear business attire outside of the courtroom,
they still wear black robes like their Lower Court Judicial counterparts in
court trials. They can, but rarely do, wear toques as well. French court clerks
wear dress similar to Advocates, but this depends on the formality and level of
Other European countries follow similar national judicial-costume history, and
even the European Community's High Judges wear distinctive scarlet or royal blue
Judicial robes, although this is governed by tradition rather than written
statute. Lawyers and Advocates presenting at the European Courts of Justice wear
their national legal costume, whether it be plain dress or robe.
Unlike in Europe, both national and local Governments regulate Judicial and
Legal Dress in the United States and American legal costume is confined only to
All levels of the Judiciary wear long, black, cloth or silk gowns with
bell-sleeves and yoked necklines. They wear no wig, special headdress or collar,
although male Judges are expected to wear a shirt and tie underneath their
robes. There is no specific dress code for court clerks appearing in Courts,
although professional dress is assumed or required. Justices of the Peace, now
largely succeeded in authority by organized lower-level Courts, wear lay dress
Black and white is a symbol of the Legal Profession throughout world barring few
exceptions. Black color generally has many different overtones. Like every
color, it has both positive and negative connotations. So, on one hand, it
signifies death, evil and mystery while on the other hand, it signifies the
strength and authority.
The black color was chosen because of two reasons. Firstly, colors and dyes were
not readily available back then. Purple signified royalty and thus, the only
abundant fabric color left was black. However, the main reason behind wearing a
black coat is because black is the color of authority and power. Black
represents submission of oneself. Just like priests wear black to show their
submission to God, lawyers wear black to show their submission to Justice. The
color white signifies light, goodness,
The color white signifies light, goodness, innocence, and purity. As a legal
system is the only hope of Justice for a common man, the color white is chosen
to represent him. As the Indian system is influenced by its British Rulers due
to their reign, the Advocate’s Act of 1961 makes it mandatory for a lawyer to
wear a black robe or coat with a white neckband on top of it in the continuity
of the same. Lawyers both the sides- Petitioner and Respondent wear a similar
Dress Code. The significance of the color also highlights that law is blind. To
say that it is only based differentiates on the weight of evidence and not on
any other factor.
There has been considerable debate since the mid-1980s about the relevance of
traditional legal and judicial dress in modern society. The United States and
many European countries have relaxed regulations regarding such attire,
particularly for judges, and judges have had the ability to exercise their
individual judgment in such matters. Judges in Britain have chosen to dispense
with wigs and robes upon certain situations when they want to convey a feeling
of equality to laypersons, and Muslim and Sikh judges wear their turbans instead
Modernization has also included the exercise of individual judicial tastes as
well. In 1999 American Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist chose to wear a
robe decorated with gold stripes on each sleeve at the Impeachment Trial of
President William Jefferson Clinton. Justice Byron Johnson of the Idaho Supreme
Court in the United States chose to wear a blue robe, rather than a black one
when he sat on the bench. Although both examples are American, they reflect the
questioning of relevance of judicial and legal dress in the early twenty-first
century, and how it relates to the role of judges and lawyers in community
Another example of modernization is the ongoing debate regarding the relaxation
of legal and judicial garb in the United Kingdom, and specifically the
abolishment of wigs. In 1992, and again in 2003, the judicial system in Britain
debated the redesign of judicial and legal dress in order to be more relevant to
society. With this has come the question of whether to retain the wig.
In addition to being a visual guide for members of the legal profession to that
of their peers, the image of judges and barristers in their traditional
occupational dress for society reminds the public of the dignity and gravity of
the law, and the impartiality of the judicial system. It also acts as a disguise
to protect judges and barristers outside of the courtroom, as well as a tool for
downplaying differences in age and gender.
Hence, the decision to retain, relax, or disband with legal and judicial dress,
extends beyond a discussion of the physical garments. Current debates about
judicial dress are also deliberations over the function of governments and
tradition in the structure of civil life, and the role of a judicial
representative in the modern execution of justice.
A Lawyer is an Officer of the Court and he/she should strictly follow Court’s
Decorum. And yes, uniform do matters! Whether in the Court room or in Video
Conferencing?. One cannot visualise a Police Officer without uniform or an Army
man on the border wearing jeans and t-shirt even if the climate requires them
The Dress Code expresses sanctity and commitment of the Lawyer towards Judicial
institution and enhances their responsibility for the profession. Wearing
appropriate cloths in a Courtroom is extremely important. The Judge in the
Courtroom can refuse audience to a Lawyer if he dressed up inappropriately. This
is the reason why not only Lawyers but every individual who participate in the
Court should follow a certain “Dress Code”.
Law has a great deal to do with appearance. It is important that the Lawyer can
pick up the trust of the client, the Judges, and the Jury. It is appropriately
said that the early introduction isn’t the last however rather the enduring
impression thus it is basic that the expert dressing empowers a Lawyer to pick
up that trust and confidence from the client, the Judges, and individual
Lawyers, Jury and the general public at large.
The black color is perceived as a symbol of dignity, honor, wisdom, and Justice.
As Lawyers and Judges need to continue these values and maintain grace and
dignity black is prescribed for them. Black or White, they have a symbolic value
which is called in the jargon of the Corporate Sector as the concept of Power
Written By: Damini Singh Chauhan - University of Jammu.