What’s “Suitable” Courtroom Attire?

collection of courtroom attire in storeThere was a time when there was no question about courtroom attire because the answer was so obvious – a suit or dress. That’s how people dressed throughout most of history. Men wore suits to the office, to church, for funerals, dances, and even walking the dog. Women wore dresses to work, school, parties and grocery shopping. So when it came time to dress for court, there was no question. But in these times of “Business Casual,” what’s the new standard for courtroom attire?

The short answer, according to Michigan Family Law Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler is, “I advise my clients to wear business slacks or dress pants, a shirt and tie and possibly a sweater – the same for women minus the tie.” But she also recognizes that the standard for acceptable clothing can vary according to the time of the day, court location, type of legal action and client resources.

Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

Wear clothes to court that will help you be taken seriously. You want people to respect the first impression you’re making. “Whether you plan to appear before a judge for a custody hearing or a felony, what you wear to court can possibly influence how the judge and jury view you,” according to the WikiHow article, “How to Plan Your Wardrobe for Court.”

The most practical way to establish oneself as an upstanding, trustworthy and responsible citizen is to wear professional work attire – a suit or dress and dressy, sensible shoes. Right or wrong, judges and jury members may see people as more believable if they are wearing clothing that suggests that they are well-employed. This is an easy choice for those who wear a suit and tie to the office every day.

Some industries still consider the suit and tie a standard uniform for successful employees. For example, the Michigan Business Professionals of America Dress Code states, “The purpose of the dress code is to uphold the professional image of the association and its members and to prepare students for the business world.” The BPA dress code suggests suits, sport coats and dress slacks for men and suits, dresses, skirts or pant suits for women. Those in sales or fashion may still find that a suit and tie is expected as well as those in Manhattan or Chicago.

So although the general advice still stands, “wear work-appropriate attire to court.” The term “Work appropriate” is a quickly-shifting term. In these times of Business Casual, the question of what to wear to court has emerged.

A times they are a changin’ for courtroom attire

“In a survey of 1,000 professionals, 34 percent said they never wore a suit unless they are seeing clients or have an important conference.

And that survey is of professionals working in offices in major metropolitan areas. That says nothing about schoolteachers, orthodontists, roofing contractors, and the like for whom a suit and tie would be impractical, dangerous or ridiculous. The survey also does not specifically address the atmosphere in Southeastern Michigan that might be drastically different than London’s Financial District. Here in Oakland and Wayne Counties, the “Big Three” have long dictated commonly-accepted work dress codes. Historically, many workers in this area have been either employed by GM, Ford or Chrysler or one of their direct or in-direct suppliers. Until very recently, dress codes for office workers at the automotive companies followed decades-old traditions. Suits or dresses were the norm.

In February 2014, however, Ford introduced new guidelines for employees, “Ford’s updated dress code policy will now include the option of wearing business appropriate jeans any day of the week for a more “relaxed business casual” attire,” according to @Ford Online.

Courtroom Attire: Putting on Airs

For those who don’t usually wear a suit, figuring out what to wear to court can be stressful. The legal experience can be intimidating enough without wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitting clothing. And wearing a suit that doesn’t suit you (pun intended) may even come across as false or stilted.

In a funny commentary by British journalist, Alan Tyers suggests that a business suit may not send the same message that it once did. “Unless you are actually going to get fired for not showing up in one, there are five types of people who wear suits:
1) Lads on work experience;
2) Men of flamboyant nature who enjoy the opportunity to peacock;
3) Bosses;
4) Old-skool older dudes;
5) Fools.”


To complicate matters further, wearing a suit to work may raise eyebrows. The truth is, many court appointments occur during the day – the workday to be exact. So for many employed people who are trying to fit a hearing into a busy career day, there may not be time to sneak home and change. Wearing a suit to work may also create problems there. Most people don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they’ve got a legal situation or that they’re taking time off for a personal matter. Worse yet, nothing screams “I’ve got a job interview somewhere else,” than showing up to the office in a suit when jeans are the regular attire.

Common sense and preparation are necessary when navigating unfamiliar clothing territory. Perhaps GM’s CEO said it best when she explained the company’s recent shift from detailed, management-driven dress code to a more employee-centric standard, “she decided to ditch a 10-page treatise on clothing and made it simply, “Dress appropriately.” She also suggested that employees keep an extra pair of dress pants in a desk drawer for unexpected meetings.

For the best advice on appropriate courtroom attire in Southeastern Michigan ask your attorney. Experienced Family Law Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler spends several days a week in local courtrooms. She’s seen some memorable outfits.

“One time, a client wore a low cut tank top and shorty shorts, displaying sleeves of tattoos and tattoos all over her legs also. Another time a client came to court wearing what was clearly a high school prom dress,” said Wayne-Spindler. “It was not well-received.”

As with any important meeting, courtroom expectations favor cleanliness, neatness and social appropriateness over the cost or formality of the attire. “I would much rather my client show up for a hearing in a simple, clean pair of khakis and sweater than an ancient, moth-balled and ill-fitting suit any day,” said Wayne-Spindler.

For more information about the legal process and courtroom attire contact the experienced Southeastern Michigan law firm of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000. Our family law attorneys practice in Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Livingston, and Genesee counties. We help clients in Milford, Michigan; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Commerce Township; Walled Lake; Waterford; Grand Blanc; Linden; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell and many more local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates