What to Expect When You’re Expected in Court Part III: What NOT to Wear.

April 1, 2019
Laura E. McGarry

This is the final installment in a three-part series about courtroom procedure and etiquette. The previous posts in the series are: How Do I Get There? and Who Are These People?

Last summer, I wrote a blog about a continuing education class featuring the film “My Cousin Vinny.” One of the funniest parts of the movie is when Vinny shows up to court in a classic 1980’s maroon tuxedo. The tuxedo would have been ridiculous at a fancy event, and was certainly ridiculous in a conservative courtroom in rural Alabama. Vinny’s inappropriate courtroom attire brings us to my final topic in this blog series: appropriate attire and other courtroom etiquette considerations.

Regardless of why you are in an courtroom, it is important to maintain decorum and respect for the process and those involved. This begins before you even enter the courtroom. If you are allowed to bring a cell phone into the courthouse, turn it off. Don’t just silence it. Turn. It. Off. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a cell phone go off in a courtroom and watched it’s red-faced owner frantically turning it off while mouthing “I thought I silenced it!” In the quiet of a courtroom, a blaring cell phone can be disruptive and embarrassing.

Next, remove any chewing gum, mints, chew tobacco, or anything else you may have in your mouth and dispose of any beverages and food. Most courthouses prohibit these things in the courtroom. You should also remove anything from your clothing and bags that may be loud or distracting in the courtroom.

One of the biggest concerns clients have when appearing in court is how to dress appropriately. Your clothing should show that you take the matter seriously and that you want to be judged on the merits of the case, not on how you appear. As a general rule, aim for clothes that are professional and conservative (and as an ode to my mother, not wrinkled!).

While you can’t go wrong with a well-fitting suit, there are other clothing options that will allow you to exude professionalism and confidence when you enter the courtroom. Think of outfits that you would wear to a nice family function, church, or work. A good rule of thumb is that if you look at a piece of clothing or an outfit and are concerned that it might not be appropriate for court, that’s a good sign that you should choose something else.

Before we get to what you should wear to court, let’s discuss what you shouldn’t wear. While not comprehensive the following is a list of things NOT to wear to court:

  • Workout clothing;
  • Tight or revealing clothing, including too short dresses or skirts, or anything with sequins, glitter, etc.;
  • Clothing that exposes bare arms, shoulders, midriffs, or legs;
  • Loud prints or vibrant colors;
  • T-shirts (especially those with inappropriate text or logos);
  • Jeans;
  • Hats;
  • Flip flops or other opened-toed shoes; and
  • Athletic shoes or sneakers.

You should also refrain from wearing an excessive amount of jewelry, makeup, or accessories. It is important to exhibit good hygiene and refrain from using too much cologne or perfume. You’ll want to make sure your hair is neatly groomed and away from your face.

For men, appropriate courtroom attire can include a suit and tie or dress pants and a long-sleeve button-down collared shirt, perhaps with a sports coat.  Shirts should be tucked in.

For women, appropriate courtroom attire can include a suit, long pants or a skirt with a blouse or sweater, or a dress that covers your shoulders.  Skirts or dresses should fall at or right above the knee.

If you still aren’t sure about how you should act or what you should wear to court, check with your lawyer. If that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can follow my courtroom golden rule: If you wouldn’t wear it, say it, or do it in front of your grandmother, don’t wear it, say it, or do it in court.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.