Sartorial Tips from a Lawyer: What to Wear to Court
March 17, 2015: Update on “Sartorial Tips from a Lawyer”
Since I wrote this post in January 2014, it continually ranks #1 readers’ favorite article (occasionally it’ll slip a notch or two, then pops back up to #1). This makes my wife laugh as she needs to double-check my mixing of blues and greens as I’m color blind (I discuss this in the post).
Also, I have a new sartorial tip to add: This week one of my court appearances was suddenly pushed up a few hours. I didn’t have time to drive home and change out of my Nuggets sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, nor was there time to park and shop at a nearby mall. So I dropped by a Good Will and picked up a shirt and slacks for $10, and an Oscar de la Renta jacket for $15 (looked new, too…must be an interesting story behind that jacket). Also got a tie and dress shoes for another $10 or so. I’ve paid more for lunch than I did for this business-suit re-do.
Didn’t know the green in the jacket didn’t quite mesh with the blue shirt, though.
Now onto the article…
Sartorial Tips from a Lawyer: What to Wear to Court
As my friends and family know, I’m a decades-long fan of the Grateful Dead, but I know better than to wear tie-dye to court. Court is not a concert — it’s a place of respect and seriousness, a venue where persons appointed as magistrates or judges officiate in the administration of justice.
In other words, it’s not the place to wear a trippy, mind-bending tie.
First Impressions Count
According to a 2009 article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a person’s clothing is a top factor in how he/she is perceived by others, along with other traits such as a firm handshake and good posture.
The below sections on dressing appropriately and choosing colors are useful for both men and women. The rest is geared to men because that’s what I know. For the female readers, I suggest checking out attorney Dianna Gould-Saltman’s article “What Should I Wear to Court?”
I’ve read several lawyers’ blogs where they recommend dressing as if you’re going to your mother’s synagogue or church, or to your grandmother’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I suppose they’re using the mother/grandmother angle to reinforce the idea of respectfulness, modesty and cleanliness, all of which are good guidelines.
I read another lawyer’s blog in which he counseled young lawyers to dress sedately, but once they started getting a few gray hairs, they could dress however they wanted for court. Uh, not true. I have more than a few gray hairs, and I’d never dress any way I want for the courtroom unless I want my case to be treated any ‘ol way the judge wants. Doesn’t matter if you’re twenty-six or eighty-six, first impressions still count.
Choose Suitable Colors
Confession time — I’m blue-black color-blind, meaning I can’t distinguish well between blues, blacks, browns and greens. This means I rely on my color-astute wife to help me pick out clothes for court. When we started dating, she mentioned I was a “fall” person, which made me think she viewed me as some kind of fall guy until she explained I looked best in fall colors, like muted yellow, green, etc. As she explained, wearing the right colors helps a person look healthier, younger and refreshed. Who knew?
My wife suggested I include a color chart in this post, which is below. For those of you who like to read the fine print, yes, this is a color chart from TheChicFashionista.com. May I add that just as real men eat quiche, real men also aren’t intimidated by the word fashionista.
Charcoal, Navy and Blue
In general, these are the best colors to wear to court. They’re not as severe as black, and they complement many colors of shirts and ties. Many years ago at trial college, an instructor claimed that blue was the best color to wear to court because blue connoted “the truth.”
Caveat: Never Wear Brown
The same trial college instructor lectured us that credible trial lawyers should never wear brown to court. Why? Because used-car salesman wear brown suits, so wearing a brown suit connotes the image of a tire-kicking shyster. Hence, I’ve never worn a brown suit to court.
Avoid Bright Colors
A lawyer’s appearance should be a subtle, professional message, but if you wear a bright colored suit, you become a distraction. Or worse, a joke. You’re not a crayon, you’re a lawyer. Oh, and avoid white suits, too, as they connote “drug kingpin.”
Select the Right Tie
I have some Jerry Garcia ties, but I don’t wear them to court. I also have a Broncos blue-and-orange tie, but I don’t wear it to court, either. Again, your goal in court is not to dress like a distraction or a cartoon or a rabid sports fan.
I have a variety of solid, dark-hued ties that I rotate with my suits and shirts. A salesman at a men’s clothing store also helped me match some patterned/striped ties with shirts and suits. A rule of thumb: Select patterns/stripes that are tastefully scaled and modest.
What About Shoes?
Keep it simple: Black or dark brown lace-ups. Another lawyer said to never wear square toes, so I’ll toss that suggestion in here, too.
To Shave or Not to Shave
Again, I like keep it simple — I always go to court clean-shaven. For those of you more creatively inclined in the facial hair department, check out this article on The Lawyerist: The Gentleman Lawyer’s Guide to Facial Hair.
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