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Dressing for court: What message are you sending?

Whether you are showing up for traffic court or are a party in a civil suit, your appearance in court is important. What message are you sending while wearing a drug paraphernalia shirt while defending yourself on a possession charge? If you are dressed in a tight low-cut dress and you are a defendant in an alienation of affection case, it is highly doubtful that the jury will take pity on you. If you are claiming that you are impoverished, a designer outfit may sway your peers against you.  Men and women alike can follow simple guidelines to minimize the risk of negative presumptions by a judge or jury.

  • First and foremost, make sure that your clothing fits and is in good condition. Judges and jurors notice pants falling off a man, or a woman who squeezed into a skirt two sizes too small. You want to ensure that your clothes are clean, free of stains and holes, and it appears that you gave some effort in preparing for court that day.
  • Another matter of importance is your hygiene. Shower that morning, comb your hair, and shave off that morning stubble. You don’t want to cloud the courtroom with a fog of fragrant perfume, but a nice clean smell is ideal.
  • The courtroom is not a place for fashion, political, religious, or other personal statements. You may find your athletic shoes or leggings comfortable and stylish, but leave them in your closet. Jurors are made up of a wide variety of people from your community and may not all share your political affiliation or your passion for Duke Basketball.
  • If you choose to accessorize, keep it simple. Your wedding band and watch are fine to wear. If you are a woman, your hoops should not dangle to your shoulders. One pair of small earrings is ideal. Remove excessive piercings for your court date and keep your hats at home- they aren’t allowed on your head anyways. If you have visible tattoos, try your best to choose an outfit that minimizes the distraction.
  • A good rule of thumb is to wear what you would wear to an office job- business or business casual dress. Don’t overdress- a suit is fine (if that is what you normally wear to work), but a prom dress is not. Women should wear heels or flats, men should wear nice shoes and socks. Attorney Nat Smith states he has, “seen a lawyer with no socks and a rumpled jacket,” in the courtroom. This is unprofessional and was noticed by others. Flip-flops, 6 inch stiletto heels, and any shoes you could comfortably run in are probably not good choices.
  • If you have any doubts about your outfit, contact the court yourself. They will inform you of any dress codes that they have. If you are represented by an attorney, they will offer you advice on how to best present yourself to the judge and jury.

Above all, remember that your time in court is brief and your case is important to you. Your appearance should reflect how much you care about your case.

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