What Not To Wear To Court

There are clothes you should wear to court. The items you should not wear or bring to court are the ones you should watch out for. In this article, we’ll cover the ‘don’t wear’ first and then load you up with suggestions about what you really should wear to court.

This article was originally designed for our custody lawyer clients, to be used in the South Carolina family court system. It will still apply to other types of courts in other areas. Regional differences do occur, e.g. snow boots commonly worn in Minnesota winters are going to raise eyebrows in Florida.

Does Your Appearance Really Matter?

Yes. I mean, heck yeah! Your appearance is the judge’s first clue to how you should be treated. Are you credible? Are you taking this seriously? Do you have a good attitude? For better or worse, all these questions are answered in less than 2 seconds by your appearance;

I don’t care whether it’s family court, criminal court, or even traffic court. There’s a judge and possibly a jury who are going to decide your fate, based in part, on your appearance. They will scrutinize you. So, it’s well worth your time to get it right.

Be sure to show this article to any others who will be coming with you to court. Their appearance matters as much as yours does.

What Not To Wear To Family Court In SC
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Your Overall Impression

Before we get into the details, let’s talk briefly about the overall impression you want to make. This applies not only to you, but to anyone you’re bringing with you to court. If the judge knows they’re with you, their impression rubs off on you.

Avoid

Here’s what to avoid. If any of the following words or phrases can apply to your appearance, you’re on the wrong track:

Biker, nerd, goth, hippie, homeless, blue collar in work clothes, tramp, bling, gangster, rebel (with or without a cause), grunge, sexual, disrespectful, foreign, gay (I’m trying to help, not offend; prejudice exists), unique, sleazy, dirty, predatory, tired, high, unkempt, drunk, gaudy, slutty, unemployed, convict, street person, come as you are, racy, under-dressed, addict, crazed, contemptuous or slippery.

‘Looks’ to avoid

Save those looks for another day.

Instead

On the other hand, the more of these words or phrase that apply to you, the better:

South Carolina Divorce Roadmap
business-person

Ordinary, decent, wholesome, business, formal (but not too formal), corporate, military, clean cut, pressed, conservative, polite, honest, pious, successful, appropriately attractive, respectable, boring, understanding, management material, thoughtful, caring, educated, conscientious, polished, poised, ready for church, concerned, taxpayer, solid, well groomed, professional, trustworthy, tailored, appropriate.

Good ‘Looks’

Those looks may not always be ‘you’. I get it. For court day, you can be different. It’s ok. It’s worth it.

If you read no further and just observed common sense and the above guidelines, you’ll be a model plaintiff, defendant, witness or support person. But this is important, so keep reading.

Now For The Details

Your appearance, and therefore your impression, go beyond just your clothing. We want to think about other characteristics like posture, behaviors, accessories, sounds and even smells. All these influence how others will see you.

Behaviors To Avoid

Completely refrain from: texting, coughing, sneezing, farting, smells of any sort, chewing gum, weird noises of any sort, crying, gesturing, rolling your eyes, talking, reading anything but related documents, whispering, slouching, staring at opposing parties, arguing, sneering, crossing arms or legs, sweating, being distracted by anything, laughing, fidgeting, etc.

Just freaking sit there quietly until asked to speak, boring as it is.

This applies to your guests too. Keep kids out of the courtroom unless your lawyer tells you otherwise. They would have to strictly adhere to these rules, which isn’t easy for kids. And in general, what goes on in the courtroom is adult business, and inappropriate for children. Judges don’t like having children exposed to what’s going on between the adults, whether the children can behave or not.

Getting Off For Good Behavior

These are the behaviors you want: Be alert, focused, display nice posture, pay attention, project confidence, remain quiet until spoken to, speak loudly and clearly when asked, address the judge as ‘your honor’, use yes sir & yes ma’am, be concise and to the point, don’t ramble. Never, I repeat, NEVER interrupt or speak over the judge.

Show Up On Time

Nothing about your appearance really matters if you don’t show up. In court, being late can be almost as bad as not showing up at all. The Judge may take your tardiness as disrespecting the court. You can be singled out for shabby treatment from the court. At best, you may get re-scheduled and waste everyone’s time. At worst, the Judge may rule against you or dismiss your case altogether. You don’t want that.

Hair

  • No blue hair, dye it normal-ish
  • No grease
  • Clean shaven
  • Consider a haircut. It grows back.
  • Lose the man-bun on top
  • Men – no ponytail, or tuck it down your shirt
  • Please. No mullet (do those still exist?)

Common Scents

Take it easy on any perfume, cologne, deodorant or anything that produces a noticeable smell. Some people get headaches or have other bad reactions to smells. You don’t want one of those persons to be the judge.

Jewelry And Accessories

No jewelry for men except wedding rings. No earrings, other piercings, cufflinks, necklaces, pins, bracelets, rings, or anything else.

Ideally, the same would go for women: no jewelry except wedding rings. I know some of you won’t accept this. If you must wear jewelry here are the rules.

Jewelry should not be flashy or make noises when you move. For this reason, you should not wear a column of bracelets that jangle against each other as you move your arm. A simple, single pair of post earrings would be acceptable. No dangling, flashy earrings or large hoops that would draw attention.You should also remove loose change from your pockets. Anything that makes a loud noise as you walk should be removed.

Large, flashy necklaces that draw attention are also a bad idea. So are gaudy rings. Any jewelry that appears expensive, even if it is inexpensive costume jewelry, is a bad idea, especially if money is at issue. If you owe money, it looks like you’re wasting money. If you are due money, it looks like you don’t need it. I have a “dinner ring” that has 9 rows of 15 small rhinestones on each row. I bought it at a department store on sale for $9.99, but it looks great! I’ve had many people comment on it, because they think it’s real. This would be a bad accessory to wear, whether I was being sued or suing someone in court.

The less jewelry you wear, the better. Other than a watch and a wedding ring, you probably don’t need to wear any other piece of jewelry.

Accessories and Other Items

Purses – No large, obnoxious purses. Ladies, you do not need to brig everything in your closet or cosmetics drawer. You are going to court, not on a date. Pare down to what you really need: your wallet, car keys, and maybe a lipstick. But don’t expect to pull out your lipstick and use it in the courtroom. The courtroom is not a dating pool. You won’t find a match.

Phones – Many courthouses now don’t even allow you to bring your phone into the building. That is the best practice. Simply leave it in your car. If you are allowed to bring it in and can’t bring yourself to part with it for a couple of hours, turn it off. Don’t just turn the ringer to vibrate. I had one client who thought he’d turned his ringer off, and his phone rang in court. He received a dirty look from the judge and promptly turned the phone to vibrate. When the phone rang a second time, the judge confiscated it. I repeat: if you can’t bear to part with your phone and leave it in your car, turn it OFF.

Games and Other Devices – Don’t bring them. They simply are not appropriate.

Reading Materials – Sometimes, you will find you have to wait for the court to call your case. If you know you will be waiting outside the courtroom, it’s ok to bring a book. But if you will be sitting in the courtroom where the judge can see you, do NOT bring a book or anything else to read, even while the judge is hearing another case. It is distracting to the judge and you don’t want her to think you are being disrespectful.

Brief Cases and Backpacks – A tidy briefcase is appropriate to carry your court documents. Be sure your documents are organized in a manner that enables you to find anything you may need at a moment’s notice. A backpack is not appropriate. Do not use a backpack as a substitute for a briefcase or a purse, and do not come in dragging a piece of carry-on luggage as a substitute, either.

Entertainment

You could be in court waiting for a long time for other cases to be heard. Your instinct is to have a supply of books, magazines, electronics, etc. along to make sure you stay entertained. And, of course, you want a backpack or large purse to haul it in. Resist. Leave all that stuff at home. Yes, you may get bored but you’ll make a good impression while you’re there.

Jewelry should not be flashy or make noises when you move. For this reason, you should not wear a column of bracelets that jangle against each other as you move your arm. You should also remove loose change from your pockets. Anything that makes a loud noise as you walk should be removed.

The less jewelry you wear, the better. Other than a watch and a wedding ring, you probably don’t need to wear any other piece of jewelry.

Phones off, not on buzz, off.

Tattoos & Piercings

If you have tattoos, cover them where you can. I realize every tattoo has a personal meaning to you, but like it or not, not everyone shares your feelings, and some people make snap judgments based on appearances. That’s why we’re writing this article, right? Don’t give the judge a reason to pre-judge you before he hears your case.

If you have piercings, remove them. The same reasoning applies here as applies to tattoos. A single pair of simple, tasteful earrings is acceptable, but again, no large, “look at me” earrings. If you have “gaged” your ears so that you have large, drooping holes, try to find simple, flesh-colored earrings to fill them so they don’t attract attention.

Footware

You want to wear shoes that complement your clothing. No sneakers, sandals, flip flops, or worn out work boots. No high or spiked heels. Open-toed shoes are generally inappropriate. As stated before, you are not searching for a soulmate, this is not a bar or a speed dating event.

Shoes should be shined with nice looking laces. Women should wear closed-toed shoes, with a low heel. Personally, I tend to wear suede or leather-like cowboy-style “booties” with my pant suits, because I have a medical condition that necessitates my wearing special insoles. My shoes complement my clothing, and they look professional. And while on that note, if you wear shoes that require socks, as I do, be sure your socks match each other and your clothes.

Clothing

Be sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle-free, and, fit well. You want to be comfortable, but not casual. Look professional, as if you are going for an interview.

For men, suits are preferred. Sport jackets are ok in a pinch. Ladies have more versatility. Pants suits, skirt suits, a nice dress – all are acceptable. Nothing low-cut, skirts and dresses should be a reasonable length – about knee length – and never show “too much” skin. Sleeveless shirts are not appropriate. Short sleeves are ok, but long sleeves are best. High heels are discouraged. You risk tripping and falling, and as stated before, this is not a dating pool. Choose a pair of closed-toe shoes that compliment your outfit.

Save your old worn out clothes for another occasion. Sporting attire is for sporting events. Tuxedos and evening gowns are over the top formal. Nothing unusually stylish, nothing with words on it, not even your name or your employers name, nothing with an image of any type, and no tee shirts.

Absolutely NO:

  • Shorts (men nor women)
  • Pajamas
  • Hats (except for religious requirements)
  • Halter or tube tops
  • Low cut blouses (contrary to what you might think, showing a lot of cleavage will NOT help you win your case, particularly if you have a female judge!)
  • Sundresses
  • Sweat shirts/pants
  • Yoga Pants
  • Skin tight clothing
  • Leggings
  • See-through tops
  • Flip flops
  • Hoodies
  • Clothing that exposes your midriff or underwear
  • Ripped or torn jeans
  • Baggy pants that fall below your hips (deliberately or otherwise)
  • Clothing with an emblem or wording that promotes illegal or inappropriate activity
  • Clothing that depicts or promotes violence, sex acts, illegal drug use or profanity
  • Miniskirts or anything sexy or provocative
  • Sunglasses
  • Tattoos and Body Piercings (if you have them, cover them)
  • Dirty clothes

Here is a list of what to wear to court if you are a man:

  • Button-up shirt with a collar
  • Nice pants
  • Tie
  • Sport jacket, or
  • Business suit

Here is a list of what NOT to wear to court if you are a man:

  • “Wife beaters”
  • Muscle shirts
  • Hats
  • Unusual hair color or style
  • Clothes with words or names on them

Here is a list of what to wear to court if you are a woman:

  • A simple dress;
  • A skirt and nice blouse;
  • Dress pants and a dressy top;
  • Any kind of suit jacket over pants, a dress or a skirt; or
  • A business suit.

Ladies, your court date is not a first date.

Keep your clothes conservative and modest. Dresses, pant suits, dress skirts with professional blouses work best, just remember to keep it on the traditional side.

What Women Shouldn’t Wear

You’re not going out on the town with your girlfriends, so leave the more fashionable outfits in your closet.

Don’t wear anything too tight, too short, or too revealing. While you might think wearing more suggestive clothing might help things, it will in most cases give the judge and jury the wrong impression.

Keep makeup and jewelry to a minimum. Flashy diamond earrings or that statement piece necklace might be a fitting look for a fancy dinner with your significant other, but in court not so much. This is especially true if your case pertains in any way to finances. If you’re asking the court for money or to avoid having to pay money, you don’t want them to look at you and think you clearly have enough.

Colors

Colors make a difference. Be sure to choose the right colors. Get help if you’re color blind or are known for questionable taste in colors.

No Patterns or Bold Colors

Remember, we’re going for the conservative look. This isn’t the time to attract attention with something wild.

You’ll do best with subdued hues. Solid or lightly patterned browns, greys, whites, and dark blues are good.

Men’s dress shirts should be white or blue. Button down is good if you are not wearing a tie. Just wear a nice tie if you possibly can.

Men, if you’re wearing the recommended suit, go dark rather than light. It has a more serious implication. Lighter colors are seen as more casual.

Dark grey or navy blue are better than black. The judge’s robe is black as a sybol of power and superiority. You don’t want to be in competition with the judge.

Best Colors for Women

The number one rule for women is: Don’t dress to distract.

Keep it simple. Similar to the color palette described for men, dark pants suits and dresses are preferred. Try to stick to dark grey and navy blue.

Don’t go for black as it gives the impression of power not humility.

Don’t wear anything bright or bold. While staying so traditional and conservative might seem restrictive, it will make the judge take you seriously.

Remember, the courtroom is a serious place and it’s vital that you respect it.

Makeup

Be super conservative with your makeup. Use light makeup. No false eyelashes. No unusual looks.

Other things to avoid

Kids; leave them at home.

In Conclusion

Whether we want to admit it or not, much of our communication is non-verbal. Sometimes our appearance speaks louder than our words. Books are judged by their covers.

You will have a judge and you will be judged. You want that person on your side. Being repected by the judge make s an enourmous difference.

So, for best results in court: dress for success. Have I used enough cliches yet?

Citations and Useful Articles

https://www.minicklaw.com/what-to-wear-to-court/

https://www.greghillassociates.com/what-should-i-wear-to-court-what-should-i-bring-to-court.html

https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/what-should-i-wear-to-court-and-a-few-tips-on-what-not-to-wear-to-court

https://www.lynchowens.com/blog/2016/september/what-is-proper-dress-and-or-attire-for-a-court-h/

Kathy Dailey Hubbard, Esq.

Kathy is the lawyer in our office. Clients love her. She graduated from Whittier Law school in Costa Mesa, CA. She is a licensed attorney in South Carolina and Colorado.