What To Wear to Court - A Style Guide

As you step foot in any court, you’re being judged.

You are being judged for the way you walk, for the way you speak, and you are especially for what you wear.

What should I wear to court?“ - A question that most of us have asked or will ask ourselves at least some point in our life.

You have to look as professional as you can for a court hearing. This stands true in situations where you’re representing yourself and when you have an attorney to defend you. Judges expect you to dress up conservatively and failure to ascertain this might even negatively impact their decision. Yes, that’s the power your looks can hold.

You may call this superficial but it's mostly science. Human beings have a very strong reaction to any visual stimuli. Based on initial impressions, we’re quick to make decisions and, we spend the next few minutes trying to look for clues to gather evidence for our conclusion.

what to wear to court
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Why you should be careful with what you wear to court

A couple of years ago, a New Jersey man wore a Nazi uniform thinking that it might just help him regain visitation rights with his two-year-old son. Well, as you might have guessed, the man and his wife lost the custody of their three children when an Appellate court ruled against them. Their verdict? The man and women posed a risk of serious injury to the children.

When asked whether his choice of clothes might have been a reason for the negative verdict, he allegedly said, “If they’re good judges and they’re good people, they’ll look within, not what’s on the outside.“ Well, look how well that turned out.

Even if you think that what you wear wouldn’t make a difference in court matters, the only place where this might prove true is in a perfect world. Sadly, the world isn’t perfect and judges are only human. Your judge will listen to you and consider the facts and laws but, there’s still a chance where your choice of clothing may just rub him or her wrongly. So, why take any chances?

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What to wear to court and look presentable

We’ve already stressed the importance of dressing professionally and conservatively whenever you are summoned to court. Opting for a solid charcoal or a navy suit with a white or light blue shirt is a traditional choice that is also approved by judges. Top it off with a coordinating tie and you’ll be good to go.

what should i wear to court
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You have to take into consideration the type of court you are going to as well. For example, in the case of a traffic court hearing, you can opt for a semi-casual attire, but for a civil court hearing, stick to wearing a full, bold color suit.

Read on as we discuss a few dressing tips the next time you go to court.

  1. Find out the dressing code of the court
  2. Wear fitted, yet comfortable clothes
  3. Follow a thorough grooming routine
  4. Remove any piercings and cover your tattoos
  5. Don’t wear clothing that would be categorized as beachwear
  6. Do not overdress or turn up in your birthday suit

Find out the dressing code of the court

You can find out about the courthouse’s dressing code by either calling or checking out its website.

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It’s better to take the dress code seriously as people found wearing inappropriate attire may be asked to leave the courtroom or courthouse especially, considering that many court dress codes are written by judges themselves.

The location of the court is also another determinant to help you decide the correct dress attire. The attorneys and judges in metropolitan city courts usually wear two-piece suits whereas, the attorneys and judges in small-town courts, or courts in rural areas prefer wearing jackets, dress shirts, and trousers.

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Wear fitted, yet comfortable clothes

While everybody likes to be comfy and roomy, judges aren’t really a fan of XXXL shirts or suits. Choose clothes that make you look neat and fits you well. Your main aim should be to look confident yet to be comfortable. Research found out that people judged a man wearing a well-tailored suit as more confident and successful in comparison to a man wearing the usual, off the rack one. The time they took to make this conclusion? Three seconds flat.

Oversized clothing tends to bring a negative image to the mind.

In addition to this, ensure that your pants stay around your waist and that your shirt is tucked in. If your pants have belt loops, don’t forget to wear a belt. And then again, make sure that all these fit you well. Since court hearings can take anywhere between a few hours to an entire day, you need to wear comfortable clothing to keep your posture and focus in check.

Follow a thorough grooming routine

Before you leave for court, brush your hair ensuring every strand is in place and, trim and groom your facial hair immaculately. Try to keep a basic haircut in a natural shade. You don't want to stand out in a court hearing.

what to wear to criminal court
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Going for the above hairstyle would be much better as opposed to having something more unusual like below.

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While there is no rule mentioning that your hair shouldn’t be long, but you never know if the judge has strict, traditional views regarding hair and would prefer seeing a man in short hair and seeing otherwise may unknowingly kick in his or her bias. Keeping this in mind, it’ll be better for you to go with short, or neatly tied hair. After all, precaution is always better.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth, take a shower, shampoo, and clip your nails. While putting on cologne is not necessary but, smelling good is always better. 

Remove any piercings and cover your tattoos

Tattoos and piercings can say so much about your personality. However, in some cases, it may be deemed inappropriate. A courthouse being one example.

A Courtroom No - Having Your Tattoos Out on Full Display

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Your judge may get a poor impression of you if you have too many piercings or tattoos. In order to avoid this, it’ll be better for you to take off any piercings or studs that you might have, and cover any visible tattoos. Since you’ll mostly wear long shirts and pants, you need to conceal tattoos on your face, neck, and hands with makeup, if possible.

Don’t wear beachwear to court

Beachwear includes shorts, sandals, tank tops, and T-shirts. Remember, you can either opt for formal business attire or business casual attire. Also, try to color coordinate your outfits. Team up blue pants with black shoes, or a grey suit with brown shoes. As you can see, these options complement each other yet manage to break the monotony giving you space to explore your personal style.

Do not overdress or turn up in your birthday suit

A courthouse is definitely not a place to show your fashion game. Turning up in a tuxedo with red satin lapels is as inappropriate as beachwear, even more so if you have a hearing in a rural area. So yes, no crazy vests or flower pocket squares for court matters. It’s always better to give a humble vibe instead of seeming pretentious.

As for a birthday suit, there was a case where a person turned up to court wearing only a backpack and beard. In the past, people have also dressed up as George Washington to make a statement of how their rights are being infringed upon. We kid you not. 

what to wear to a court hearing
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You should also make a point to not wear too expensive clothes. Recently, the New York Post did a feature gently rebuked a rapper Cardi B for turning up in power suits and Birkin bags that cost hundreds of thousands, but praised the legendary baseball player Alex Rodrigues, for his subtle and classy style. As mentioned before, it's better to be modest and if you do want to wear brands, go for basic, understated pieces. Try to wear appropriate, cautious clothing at all times.

Minimalize your jewelry and accessories

While there is nothing wrong with expressing yourself through jewelry or accessories, a court is not an appropriate place for it.

Adorn minimal jewelry pieces that can add integrity to your character. For example, a wedding ring shows that you are committed and a family man. You can also wear one or two other pieces that hold religious sentiments but nothing too flashy, for sure.

Judges can be 20 years your senior, and may not be particularly impressed by the extravagant display of gold and diamond chains, rings, or watches. From a logical point of view too, these are materialistic things that make you look wealthy. Flamboyance is, most certainly, not a look you should go for.

Now that we’ve spoken about jewelry, let us talk about the other accessories that a few of us wear. Hats, beanies, bags, and backpacks are all a no. While you can wear a hat outside the court, the moment you step inside you should remove it. Wearing hats inside can be seen as disrespect to the court.

Wearing the right socks to court

Not a lot of people pay attention to their socks and tie but, trust us, they are as important as any other piece of clothing. In fact, the only place where you can show a bit of your personality without being too wild is through your socks and tie. You can play around with colors and patterns. Just remember the key rule of coordination and you'll be good to go.

We'll discuss dress socks first. Since going to court is a big deal, you have to dress the part. So even if you like wearing novelty graphic socks, you need to avoid them here. You can go for the basic bold colors, and subtle patterns like stripes, Aztec, or small polka dots. You can visit sites like Soxy to help you get the right pair. 

what to wear to a court hearing

This Fun Red Zig-Zag pair of socks can look fabulous with a navy blue suit. Not only does it add color to an otherwise monotonous look, but it can also show a bit of your personality making you look self-assured.

what colors to wear to court

If you're thinking of wearing a grey shirt with brown shoes, wearing something like this pair of Grey Square socks can make a perfect understated statement. Minimal yet stylish.

what colors to wear to court

For your court look, a charcoal grey suit can be one of the best choices to make you seem humble and resilient. If you prefer a little pattern on a light base, this pair of Grey Striped men's socks should fit the bill easily. Or, if you would like to be a little more adventurous, you can go for these Light purple Polka Dots pair that can be a wonderful addition without looking over-the-top.

what colors to wear to court

How to choose a perfect tie to wear to court

For your tie, it's better to opt for simple and basic versions that can be categorized as business formal or business casual. 

The tie looks professional yet stylish complementing the outfit

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If you end up wearing a tie that has Santa Claus or pizza on it, the judge or jury might feel that you're not serious about the proceedings. Also, since you don't want to overdress, keep that bowtie reserved for black-tie events.

Pay attention to your pocket bulk

We have already discussed the need for you to wear fitted clothes. Due to this, you have to ensure that your pocket bulk is minimum. If you don't, it'll just look, for lack of a better word, tacky.

Many courts require screening which can be quite embarrassing and time-consuming if you have way too many items on yourself. 

Try to aim for light and functional. Just carry your mobile phone, keys and one or two things extra. Also, don't forget to put your mobile phone on silent!

Your choice of footwear matters 

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The correct shoes, in this case, would definitely be something that isn't open-toed. Dress shoes or loafers (in case of family court) would be more preferable to sneakers and work boots. Sandals, flip-flops, and flashy shoes are an absolute no.

what should i wear to court
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Wear clean shoes that are well polished. Now that we have also mentioned about socks, the shoes should complement them and, of course, your overall clothing too.

What colors to wear to court?

"What color should my court clothes be?" 

"Can I wear black shoes with a navy suit?" 

When it comes to our court clothes, we have to take into account the colors as well. For a court hearing though, the darker the suit, the better. Here are the reasons why you need to take the color of your suit into consideration:

  1. The color you opt for can help you to be seen in a specific manner.
  2. Every color can denote a psychological message being a visual stimulus.
  3. Every color has its own set of positives and negatives
what to wear to family court

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If you opt for light-colored suits in blue, green, light grey, maroon or any other similar colors, you might not look as formal. 

Avoid Wearing Light Colors for Court Hearings

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You might be thinking that black would be perfect for court, right? Well, it isn’t.

We know black is the darkest color on the market. But, it is also a color that may seem imposing and domineering which is the exact opposite of what you should be going for. The best colors for men are navy blue or dark grey. Not only do they look very sophisticated, but you can also look serious without looking authoritative. Team up your suit with a basic dress shirt in white or blue. These colors are both safe and versatile. 

Here's a breakdown of colors for your court attire.

For Your Suit

Suitable Colors

  • Navy Blue
  • Charcoal 
  • Chocolate Brown
  • Dark Grey

Avoid Wearing Bright Colored Suits

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Unsuitable Colors

  • Green
  • Maroon
  • White
  • Pink
  • Yellow
  • Blue

For Your Shirt

Suitable Colors

  • White
  • Blue
  • Light Pink

Unsuitable Colors

  • Red
  • Fluorescent
  • Bright Yellow
  • Hot Pink

For Your Shoes

Suitable Colors

  • Brown
  • Black

Unsuitable Colors

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • White
  • Light Tan

For Your Tie

Suitable Colors

  • Black
  • Light Pink
  • Grey
  • Blue
  • Dark Silver

Unsuitable Colors

  • Red
  • Orange 
  • Yellow
  • Lime Green

For Your Belt

what to wear to a court hearing
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Suitable Colors

  • Brown
  • Black
  • Tan

Unsuitable Colors

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • Orange

What should you wear to a traffic court?

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If you decided to defend yourself in case you got a traffic ticket, you may have to make a run to the court. Where your attorney can do it on your behalf but, if you decide to represent yourself or just choose to attend with the lawyer, you have to follow the correct clothing etiquette of the court. The perfect way out would be to strike a balance between not looking too casual turning up in jeans, and not looking way too dressy coming off as a show-off.

Here are a few Traffic Court Do’s and Don’ts to help you get a perfect balance.

Traffic Court Do’s

Traffic Court Don’ts

Wearing trousers and a button-up Shirt

Wearing jeans with a T-shirt

Wearing dress shoes or loafers

Wearing flip-flops

Wearing a tie

Not wearing a tie, or wearing a bowtie

A minimalistic watch

Watches from luxury labels or embedded with diamonds

A jacket or blazer

A three-piece suit

Generally, traffic courts are less formal in comparison to the other courts. Men, especially, need to find out the correct attire since even statistics prove that they are more likely to get a traffic ticket than women. Well, it is what it is.

Try to wear trousers or slacks that are well-fitted making you look polished and confident. As for the color, if you cannot get your hands on black trousers (which is quite a rare occurrence), you can wear khaki trousers instead. Try to avoid white trousers since it tends to look a bit too relaxed.

Ditch your T-shirt and go for a button-up shirt that can either be a solid color or have a pinstripe design. Again, don’t wear a shirt that has cartoons on it or is fluorescent. The latter should be avoided since not many people are a fan of bright colors which may just include your judge.

Coming to shoes, basic dress shoes in the usual colors of black, brown, or deep navy would be appropriate. We would personally advise you to pair black pants with brown shoes since they can help you look formal without being too dressy.

If you're above 21, you can also come to court wearing your work clothes. This will give the judge the impression that you're a productive citizen which might help him or her rule in your favor.

What should you wear to a criminal court or family court?

You may be visiting a family court for a child custody case or divorce. As these are quite delicate matters, the need for you to make a good first impression on the judge becomes even more important. We are not saying that you need to worry excessively about how you look, but the correct clothing etiquette can increase your chance of a favorable verdict.

what colors to wear to court
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The basic rules remain the same. You have to be professional and formal clothing with moderate accessories and jewelry. We’ve compiled a list of criminal and family court do’s and don’ts below.

Family/ Criminal Court Do’s

Family/ Criminal Court Don’ts

Two-piece suit, jacket or blazer

Clothes with drug references

Darker colors having a serious vibe

Clothes with explicit graphics or humor

Trousers or dress pants

Shorts or jeans

Dress shoes

Flip-flops or Sandals

Well-groomed hair, preferably shorter

Unusual hair colors  (Blue, red, orange, green)

Takeaway thoughts

These are a few pointers to keep in mind when you go to court next. Basic solid colors that look conservative along with proper grooming can help you make a good first impression on the judge. Carry yourself with confidence, and you'll be good to go. Best of luck!