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Friday Frills: The Jabot (or Neck Doily)

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

You've probably noticed, at some point, that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wears a frilly lace collar with her robe, as did Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

I always assumed that the collar was just part of the uniform. After all, every woman in Supreme Court history (at that point, all two of them) wore them. They look a bit funny, almost British, but what exactly are they? And why do some of the female justices wear them?

It's Called a 'Jabot'

Last week, Black's Law Dictionary Editor in Chief and legal lingo master Bryan Garner tweeted a draft for "jabot," which will presumably be included in the next edition of the authoritative dictionary.

According to Black's a jabot is a "frill of lace, tulle, chiffon, or the like fastened at the neck and worn over the front of a shirt or costume, today esp. over judicial robes by some judges."

Justice Ginsburg gets the nod for popularizing the accessory, and much to the delight of Prof. Josh Blackman, his slang term "neck doily" is included in the draft as well.

Why Neck Doilies?

Thanks to C-SPAN (and Michelle Olsen for the links), we can hear, directly from the Justices, where and why their collars came from. Ret. Justice O'Connor's explanation is like the time your grandmother told you about the first time her and the other gals were able to wear pant suits -- it's fascinating. Justice Ginsburg (at 0:47) explains that there is a practical consideration, as the neckline of the robes is designed with male justices in mind.

Notorious RBG Gets Bling

The famed female justice, known colloquially as the Notorious RBG (in reference to the rapper, of course), changed things up in late 2012, and began to rotate in more ostentatious collars than her usual fare.

Instead of white and frilly, one piece of neck gear was gold and shiny. For those unfamiliar with decade-old rap slang, we call this "bling." And earlier, Prof. Blackman, who has a running series of posts on the "neck doily," presented Court artist Arthur Lien's sketch of another bling doily, this time from Banana Republic.

Kagan and Sotomayor Don't Do Frilly

Naturally, you're probably wondering whether the tradition will live on. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no, as Justice Kagan isn't a fan of the jabot. Again, thanks to Prof. Blackman, we have her response to a question about her abstention from neck doilies:

"I think you just have to do what makes you feel comfortable. In my real life I'm not a frilly, lacy person. Some of the things people wear just struck me as not something I felt comfortable with. I have, on occasion, worn a white scarf under my robe. I have worn that for all of our pictures and my investiture. I wear pearls a lot. I think the robe is a symbol of the impersonality of the law."

As for Sotomayor, according to Slate, she received a jabot as a gift from Justice Ginsburg, but seems to prefer a simple higher collared shirt underneath her robe.

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