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Courthouse Codes

August 17, 2010

Kent County Delaware’s Superior Court judges made up a dress code for court.

Micah J. Yarbrough, a professor at Widener University School of Law, questions the dress code.  “These rules don’t operate in a vacuum: There are cultural differences that come into play.”

One of the rules is that pants waists can’t be worn below the hip, potentially exposing undergarments.  As Yarbrough points out, “It’s coming up on a line between what society evaluates as appropriate. If you’re wearing baggy clothes, adults like us don’t like it.  But then it becomes a judgment value that has nothing to do with appropriateness for a hearing.”

I think we would all agree that it’s in your best interest to dress conservatively if you need to go to court for any reason.  But shouldn’t it be up to the individuals to decide what that is?  …also, not to say that all people who appear in court have broken the law… but some have, and doesn’t it seem silly to try to get those individuals to follow these rules of dress when they obviously have ignored other, more important rules? hmmm…

Superior Court Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. said that the judges have received numerous complaints about inappropriate clothing “from both inside and outside the courthouse.”  As he noted, “When someone is coming in on a serious matter, you don’t want them wearing pajamas.”

True.  You hope that they don’t wear pajamas.  You hope that they take their appearance in court seriously enough to don a respectable, clean, and maybe even coordinated ensemble.  But, as we all know, you can hope for a lot of things.

Aside from the cultural differences that Yarbrough pointed out, it seems like the clothing that an individual wears could potentially tell a lot about how they feel about the reason they’re in court.  …or it could be purely circumstantial…

“Are you mocking me with that outfit?!”

22 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2010 8:41 am

    The high powered attorneys and judges who frequent the spa where I work are always dressed to the nines.
    (But they talk like sailors on their cells!)
    When in Rome…

    I have to admit that after I was mugged and sitting on jury duty the defendent was “down dressed” in street clothes and I just knew he was guilty.

    I was excused from the jury pool.

    Always a good idea to own a tie.

  2. August 18, 2010 8:47 am

    People everywhere still judge others based on their clothing, hairstyle and accessories. It’s the truth. That’s why it’s important to use those judgement to your advantage in some situations and be sure to be purposely expressing yourself with lothing, hairstyle and accessories. Unless you’re just hanging out at the Wal-Mart.


  3. thefrenchchick permalink
    August 18, 2010 8:48 am

    For most judges, it is a respect issue. The one time that I had to appear in court, the judge was dealing with many individuals who did not care why they were there or what they were wearing. He actually had me stand there, after my judgement, as he explained to the rest of the room that this (my conservative skirt, blouse & pumps) was how one should dress for a court appearance.

    And although it shouldn’t matter (the whole blind justice thing), my respectful attire probably got me a lighter fine than others who showed their disdain for the legal system by wearing ratty clothes and talking back to the judge.

    Congratulations on making Freshly Pressed.

  4. August 18, 2010 9:32 am

    Last time I had jury duty, I figured some people dressed like slobs in the hopes they would not be picked for a jury.

  5. August 18, 2010 9:35 am


  6. August 18, 2010 10:21 am

    If the person due in court dresses inappropriately, so be it. This certainly does relay an important message to the court officials. Common sense is free. Great post!

  7. cappy permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:22 am

    Ok, I saw the still from that video on the Freshly Pressed page and HAD to read the article.
    That is such a hilarious scene 🙂
    Interesting post!

  8. August 18, 2010 1:00 pm

    I love that movie and that scene is hysterical. You can tell a lot about a person the way they dress, in the court room and out.

  9. August 18, 2010 2:49 pm

    I’m an attorney in Georgia. Before we go to court, I ALWAYS tell my clients what to wear. Like it or not, looking like what the judges and jurors consider to be a respectable citizen is never going to work against you. And as a lawyer, I wouldn’t mind having a set of rules to point to!

  10. August 18, 2010 4:47 pm

    Like that video! So typical that we make judgements about how we dress, not always accurate though!

  11. August 18, 2010 5:17 pm

    In the courtroom (and outside, for that matter), dressing appropriately is important towards making a good first impression. Also, I agree that dressing appropriately is a matter of respect shown towards the judge and the judicial system. We may not like some of the laws or situations we are in that end us in the courtroom, but it’s no way to disrepect. Great post! LB

  12. August 18, 2010 6:23 pm

    Great post.

    Dressing the part cannot hurt. I have always told my coworkers they should wear dress clothes with collars to court. They thought I was just being extra until the judge and attorneys commented on how I always look like I’m going to court.
    One attorney suggested a do a class for my fellow social workers on what to wear and what not to wear to court.

    Shirts or blouses with a collar and buttons, a belt, a tie, closed toe shoes, and try to stay away from red shirts or suits. These things will help you look professional and believe it or not, more believable in court. : )

  13. August 18, 2010 7:17 pm

    When I was sixteen, I received a speeding ticket. I had in fact been speeding and deserved the ticket. I fully expect to have to pay the ticket, but when I showed up for my court date in a suit and tie, the judge was impressed. He commented that young people never dressed that way for court and subsequently dismissed my ticket.

  14. Jim Hagen permalink
    August 18, 2010 7:56 pm

    There are different kinds of judgments you make about people based on how they are dressed. Most of them are inappropriate except for one. You can tell if a person is aware of their surroundings and trying not to show that they are ignorant and antagonistic.

    You dress appropriately for a job interview, court or a funeral by being sensitive to the situation and the other people there.

    Too bad people find it necessary to regulate good taste.

  15. August 18, 2010 8:56 pm

    When our judiciary spends time, not balancing the scales of justice, but instead issuing immaterial mandates, it’s an unfortunate loss for our entire country.

    This vaguely reminds me of the Wisconsin attorney who was close to being held in contempt for wearing an ascot to court!

  16. August 18, 2010 10:05 pm

    LOL— the video is hilarious!

    We do not follow the jury system in the Philippines, still clients are told to dress up to show respect and to give a good impression.

    For lawyers, the importance cannot be stressed enough. The audience can’t always follow what is going on in the courtroom, so how lawyers appear matter a lot. Arguments are in English in our country— after throwing in the legal jargon, lawyers might as well be speaking Martian. One time, we could hear people giggling because they could see the underwear of a lawyer peeking above her pants.


  17. August 18, 2010 11:11 pm

    I work in a courthouse and here anything goes (except for the attorneys – for the most part). It’s unbelievable what I’ve seen – including pajamas and t-shirts with anti-cop, pro-drugs and other inappropriate and insulting statements on them, to lots of bare skin. But, there’s much more than “dress” involved in the statements these visitors and defendants make at court. Some bring their babies and small children in hopes the judge will be sympathetic. It makes for a great childhood experience watching your parent led away in handcuffs. Some come to court already soused or flying high. Some are filthy. Others make sure to have raunchy conversations on the elevator so they can offend the rest of us. I’ve thought of keeping a diary on what I’ve seen and heard. It’s so amazing. And, while it’s good that attorneys often advise their clients to dress appropriately – many don’t have attorneys or care about the advice. But, that’s their decision. You can’t legislate/dictate good sense.

  18. Jared permalink
    August 18, 2010 11:21 pm

    You should wear what you like while still being professional. Court is a serious matter, and you should attempt to put your best foot forward whenever going.

  19. August 19, 2010 7:27 am

    You cannot get around the fact that most people judge others by the way they are dressed, however, I do not want a judge to dictate this, it is an individual freedom no one should dictate!

  20. August 19, 2010 10:48 am

    I firmly believe that someone’s first impression (whether good or bad) is made within 5 seconds of them meeting the person… and that first impression will not budge for a very, very long time. First impressions are everything, and it’s definitely in your best interest to dress nicely when you go to court.

  21. sayitinasong permalink
    August 22, 2010 2:20 am

    Hear hear on dress codes!

  22. August 22, 2010 9:25 am

    Great Post !!

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