Order In The Closet: A Guide For What To Wear To Depositions, Mediations, Arbitrations or Court

Updated on: 5/7/2019

courtroom fashionAccording to a recent post from Seattle.gov, Seattle is the seventh largest apparel-manufacturing center in the United States. It is also the fourth largest city for fashion designer employment.  However, GQ Magazine ranked Seattle number thirty-four on their 40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America list.  MSN Travel's list of worst-dressed cities in the world ranked Seattle number six. 

But it wasn't that long ago that a King County Superior Court judge was regularly criticizing the clothing of those who appeared in her courtroom.  In fact, her comments on a female attorney's pantsuit made headlines across the country proving that even in an ultra-casual city like Seattle, what you wear to court matters.  

Witnesses and clients often need help understanding appropriate attire for litigation situations such as depositions, mediations, arbitrations, hearings and trial.  That's why we created this easy-to-understand guide outlining what to wear and what not to wear in these situations. 

We are going answer questions about what colors and fabric patterns you should and should not wear to court.  We'll review and give specific examples of shirtspantsskirtsshoes and accessories/jewelry that are appropriate for the courtroom.  We'll tell you what clothing to completely avoid.  And we'll give you a CHECKLIST: Of What NOT To Wear

Is Justice Blind? Or Is There Courtroom Fashion Police?  Why Your Clothing Choices Can Impact Your Legal Case

We all want others to look past our appearance and judge us for who we are, not what we are wearing.  However, the unfortunate truth is that people frequently make judgments based on appearance.  
 
If you think that what you wear to important meetings during the legal process will not impact the outcome of your case you are wrong.  Mediators, judges, jury members and everyone else in a courtroom notice how plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses choose to present themselves.  
 
But It’s not fair.  It’s reality.  
 
You want to make a good impression.  And you want to win your case.  What you wear to a deposition, mediation, hearing or court appearance matters.  You do not want a arbitrator, mediator, judge or jury member to notice your clothing in either a good or bad way.  You want to dress in a way that shows them that you take your case and the legal process very seriously.    
 
Research has consistently shown that there is a type of cognitive bias known as the halo effect.  The halo effect causes our first impression of a person to influence how we feel and think about their character.  This means that if you think that someone looks ‘nice’ you are more likely to believe that they are well-meaning and honest.  
 
Knowing what to wear to wear is an important first step in being heard and persuading others to believe your side of the story.

Play It Safe: Dressing Conservatively

The general rule is to dress conservatively.   Dressing conservatively means your appearance is traditional or restrained in style.  It is a good idea to avoid being showy or drawing attention to yourself.  
 
Dressing very conservatively will help you seem more trust-worthy and will disassociate you from negativity that could contribute to what the judge or jury think about you.
 
Dress as if you were attending church, a funeral, a wedding, or a job interview.  Don’t wear anything too flashy or revealing. 
 
For some people conservative means ‘boring’.  Yes, we are asking that you look boring. 
 
Abandon the idea of looking trendy or ‘hot’.  Give up your personal style during depositions, mediations or trial. 
 
Appropriate clothing examples include:
  • Business Suits or Pants Suits – Matching jacket and slacks or skirt combinations.
  • Dress Shirt, Sweater or Jacket with Slacks or Skirt – A jacket with slacks or a skirt.  A navy blazer and coordinating trousers is also acceptable.
  • Ties - Non-lawyers do not have to wear a tie with a jacket or suit if they are wearing a clean, button-down shirt.  
  • Other – Dressy separates are acceptable. Jackets/blazers, tasteful tops or sweaters and professional blouses paired with a skirt or dress pants are excellent choices.

Colors & Patterns

Numerous studies have shown that clothing colors can have a strong psychological impact on how others see you.  
 
Pants, skirts, dresses, suits or jackets should be either black, charcoal (dark gray) or navy blue.  These dark colors give off a professional and sophisticated feeling.  One study found that people tend to associate the color blue with intelligence, trust, efficiency, and tranquility.  Brown is considered reliable, strong and stable.  
 
Dress shirts should be solid white light blue, or soft pink.  
 
White is associated with pureness, honestly and perfection.  Light blue and soft pink are calming and reassuring colors.  
 
Avoid neon colors and flashy patterns.  Avoid colors that represent passion and emotion such as red, yellow, purple and orange.  

Shirts

Acceptable shirts include dress shirts, button-down shirts. Collard shirts.  Sweaters (turtlenecks, crew, V-neck and cardigans), vests (worn with long-sleeved shirts), knit tops, and collared polo shirts.
 
Only wear long-sleeve shirts unless your arms are covered by a sweater or jacket.  Repeat, no bare arms!
 
No tight, sheer and low-cut clothing of any style, sweatshirts, muscle shirts (aka wife-beaters), t-shirts with words, graphics or pictures, spaghetti straps, open backs, midriff, tank tops, or halter tops.
 
Women should not show any cleavage or wear anything that could be considered alluring or sexy.
 
what shirts to wear in court

Pants

Slacks or dress pants are acceptable.  Excellent choices include khakis, linen blends, silk or twills.
 
No jeans.  No sweat pants.  No tights or tight pants.  No shorts.  
 
Wear your pants around your waist---no sagging pants. Tuck in your shirt.  Men should wear a belt.

Skirts

A well-fitting skirt with an even hemline.  Hem should fall at or just below or above the knee.  Don’t show more than a few inches of thigh. 
 
what skirts to wear to court  

Clothing Condition

All clothing should be clean, pressed and wrinkle-free, without holes, patches or frayed areas. If possible, stop by the dry cleaners beforehand.

Clothing Fit

Avoid over-sized or form-fitting clothing.  Make sure that your clothing fits you.  Being comfortable in your clothing will better your posture and keep you focused.
 
Repeat, absolutely no skin-tight pants or leggings.  

Shoes

You should wear dress shoes or closed-toe heels in conservative colors (black, brown, gray, tan).  Again, women should wear hosiery or tights with skirts.  Shoes should be in good condition.   Acceptable footwear includes thin to medium sole leather shoes, loafers, any updated style with a low or stacked heel. 
 
No open-toed shoes or sandals---even in the summer.  Avoid athletic shoes, thongs, moccasins, flip-flops, platform heels and footwear that is worn or in poor condition. 
 
what shoes to wear to court 

Socks

With pants or slacks wear dark socks in mid-calf length so no skin shows when you sit down. 
Hosiery should be sheer, tan, nude or another light color.

Accessories & Jewelry

Scarves are acceptable.  Jewelry and accessories should be tasteful and kept to a minimum.  Do not wear expensive watches or jewelry.  You do not want to draw attention to yourself.  You want to be taken seriously.  No sunglasses in the courtroom.

Personal Grooming

A clean, neat, well-groomed hairstyle is a must.  Avoid wild, untamed or overly teased styles.  Absolutely no unnatural hair colors such as pink or blue, etc.  No juvenile styles such as pigtails, etc.  

Tattoos & Piercings

Completely cover any tattoos and remove removable piercings.  Although there is nothing wrong with them and your friends and family may have no issues with tattoos and piercings, officers of the court and members of the jury may not feel the same way.  

What Clothing To Completely Avoid

If your great-grandmother would be shocked, then don’t wear it.  
 
Avoid neon colors, tight-fitting clothing, and low-cut blouses, especially anything that shows cleavage.
 
No undergarments showing (boxers, bras, panties, slips, etc.)
 
Try to avoid clothing or bags that display designer logos.  
 
No distracting displays of skin.  No bare arms.  No cleavage.  No thighs.  No bare legs---panty hose with skirts.  
 
CHECKLIST: What NOT To Wear

No bright, neon colors.
No flashy patterns.
No distracting displays of skin.  No bare arms.  No cleavage.  No thighs. 
No short skirts.
No sweat pants.  
No tights or tight pants.  
No shorts.  
No clothing with holes or patches.
No open-toed shoes or sandals.  
No expensive watches or jewelry.  
No visible tattoos or piercings.
No undergarments (bras, underwear, etc.) showing.

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