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What Should I Wear to My Court Appearance?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're being sued for no reason or innocent of criminal charges, you want a jury to find in your favor on the merits of the case, not what you happen to be wearing. Then again, if you listen to what criminal defense lawyer Harvey Slovis has to say, you'd be silly not to consider your courtroom attire.

"Glasses soften their appearance so that they don't look capable of committing a violent crime," Slovis told the New York Daily News back in 2011. "I've tried cases where there's been a tremendous amount of evidence, but my client wore glasses, dressed well and got acquitted."

What you should wear to court will often depend on what kind of case it is and what your role is, so here are a few considerations.

Criminal Suspects and Defendants

Step one is getting out of the prison jumpsuit and into a real suit, if possible. And this applies to male, female, and non-binary defendants. After that, you'll want to avoid any attire that indicates you're not taking the proceedings seriously (like pajamas, sandals, hats, and tights or yoga pants) and anything that could indicate your guilt (like crack jackets).

After that, it helps to look as professional as possible. And a pair of glasses just might do the trick. The Washington Post noticed a trend of criminal defendants wearing glasses in 2012:

Non-prescription "hipster" or "personality" glasses are on one hand simply a fashion fad. But they've also become something of a sensation in the District's courthouse scene: Attorneys say inmates trade them before hearings, while friends and family sometimes deliver them during jailhouse visits. Some lawyers even supply them themselves.

But, Mr. Slovis's assertions aside, do they work? Jury experts determined that defendants who wore eyeglasses received fewer guilty verdicts than those who did not, based on the perception that eyeglasses were a sign of increased intelligence. Just one caveat, however: the effectiveness of the glasses can depend on the nature of the crime charged. White collar crime defendants wearing glasses received more guilty verdicts, presumably based on the assumption that white collar criminals are smarter.

Civil Plaintiffs, Defendants, and Witnesses

Again, the name of the game is respect, for the court and the proceedings. After that, you want to convey credibility to the court and to the jury. There is some evidence that wearing clothes that are slightly oversized can help with that for both plaintiffs and defendants:

The common wisdom is that too-large clothing makes your client seem more vulnerable, less threatening and more innocent. F. Lee Bailey famously dressed Patty Hearst in clothing several sizes too large for her bank robbery trial, but she was still convicted. Hard evidence is scanty, but John T. Molloy's research found that in personal injury cases, at least, plaintiffs were more credible if they wore outfits one size too large.

As for witnesses, dress as comfortably as you can. A suit, if possible, and if not, as nicely as your wardrobe allows. And police officers, military personnel, or clerics may wear uniforms. As our own guide to being a witness says: "Your credibility as a witness is in some small degree judged by your clothing."

If you need help figuring out what to wear to court, ask your lawyer. And if you need help finding a lawyer, ask us.

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