The Courtroom Setting
Court can be a bit frightening. The rulings made at court can have serious consequences. First impressions are hugely influenced by visuals, which means the commissioner, judge and jury will notice what you wear and how you present yourself. These images may subconsciously affect the outcome of your case.
Why Dress Codes Matter
There are a variety of places and settings in our everyday lives that require different dress codes – court requires a specific, professional wardrobe. Generally, conservative outfits are best as they show that you are taking the situation seriously. It is important that the clothing you wear does not distract from the testimony you give, or the decisions the court will make.
Treat the courtroom like a job interview, you are interviewing to keep your kids or for protection from an ex partner. Remember that being physically comfortable during testimony is important so that the judge and jury do not misread your body language.
What to Wear
You should aim to dress as if you were attending a mainstream job interview. Shirts should ideally have long sleeves and shoulders must always be covered. Button down shirts and blouses are ideal. Shirts with collars are best because they draw attention to face and away from the body. Shirts must always be tucked into pants or skirts and should fit properly so that no skin shows even if you move around. Clothes should be in good condition, ie. there should be no missing buttons, stains, or rips. Blouses and shirts should also be solid colored, generally try to avoid bold prints.
Wearing torn, dirty, or damaged clothes can make the judge or jury think negatively about you.
Calm, neutral colors are ideal. Some sources caution against wearing black as it can appear to be distant or authoritarian. This is a problem because you want to inspire sympathy in the jury, not put them off. Clothes should be ironed, clean, and fit well. Pants should match the jacket. Skirts should also be long enough to go past the knees when sitting down. Being physically comfortable during testimony is important so that the judge and jury do not misread your body language.
Grooming (Hair and Makeup)
If you have long hair, make sure that it does not cover your face and if you have facial hair, make sure it is equally groomed. There is no need to wear a specific hair style, it just needs to be out of your face and clean.
Dramatic makeup – Like piercings and tattoos, dramatic makeup can sway a jury or judge in ways that might harm your case. Keep makeup simple so that it doesn't distract from proceedings.
It's important for your hygiene to match your clothing, so sure to bathe before court. There is no point wearing clean, pressed clothes if you have poor hygiene. Make sure that your hair is clean. If your hair hides your face it might make the jury think you are trying to hide something. While it's important to be clean, it is a good idea to avoid strong perfumes or colognes as they can be distracting, and, like other wardrobe mistakes, they can inadvertently sway a jury's decision.
The following is not meant to be a conclusive list of what to avoid wearing, but it may serve as a good list of guidelines.
What to Wear
Plain button-down shirt or blouse.
Long pants or skirt.
Close toe shoes.
Sports jacket or sweater
What Not to Wear
No short skirts.
No see-through material.
No cargo pants.
No low-cut shirts.
No tank tops.
No strapless tops.
No crop tops.
No undershirts only.
No flip flops or sandals.
Clothes with large or obvious brand names on them.
Clothes with offensive language or symbols on them.
Clothes with large religious symbols on them.
Avoid denim, sportswear, sneakers/active wear shoes.
Keep accessories simple. If you are prone to sweating or have a cold, bring tissues or a handkerchief so that you can be comfortable if you testify. Avoid large backpacks, and large, fancy, or flamboyant handbags. If you bring a bag with you, keep it small and discreet. Whatever you bring with you will be x-rayed or at least examined when you arrive at the courthouse, so the less you bring with you, the faster your entry will be.
Do not carry anything that could be viewed as a weapon including knives and lighters as this will cause a delay and could lead to complications. The smoother your arrival in court is, the easier your testimony experience will be. Seattle's King County Courthouse provides a list of prohibited items for you to review before attending court.
You should not wear hats, large scarves, or sunglasses in court as these accessories hide your face and might make it seem like you are hiding something from the court.
Exception: it is perfectly ok to cover your hair or head for religious reasons, you can do it.
If you need to bring or wear something related to a disability, you can submit a request for accommodation. The King County Courthouse, has a (I can not make this up Note by Sart) not accessible web form that will let you make these request. Although they do have direct phone number and email where you can talk make a request.
Tattoos, piercings, and body modifications
Like clothing choices, piercings and tattoos can sway a court's opinion. While these markers are valid forms of self-expression, they can have a negative effect on the case if the judge or jury is more conservative. Neck and facial tattoos can be covered by makeup, while tattoos on the arms and legs can be covered by longs sleeves or pants.
You should also wear socks that match your shoes. If you have piercings, consider putting in small studs if you are worried that the holes will close-up. Consider using band-aids as cover if the piercings are still healing.
There is no need to buy new clothes for court. However, if you do not have clothes like the ones listed above, you can get them at little to no cost at your local thrift store, Good Will, for example, has several outlets across Seattle.