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7 Tips for Dressing for Success in Court

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Find out what colors work best for judges and juries.

You’ve heard the saying: don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.

Lawyers in private practice generally want the same things: to make their law firms safe and successful, and to do a great job for their clients.

To that end, clothes can make a big difference, as fashion designer and legal consultant Brenda Swauger knows all too well.

“As a high-end custom clothier/stylist, I’ve advised both attorneys and their clients on how to dress for any situation, including legal proceedings,” she writes in this ABA Journal piece. “Sometimes I am brought in specifically to consult in cases to ensure no mistakes are made. I start by asking my clients what their personal style is and how they would plan to dress for the occasion. Once I’ve gotten a feel for their preferences and comfort level regarding color and design, we will jointly decide on a clothing strategy.”

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The courtroom is a theater, and what the actors wear – including you, your client, and your witnesses – will have an impact on the judge and jury.

“It’s important to dress for expectations,” Swauger says. “The lawyer should always look a bit more in charge, polished, professional and put together and have a certain command about him or her. The client should always be polished, too but typically a bit more understated.”

Here are six tips on dressing for success from the ABA Journal piece:

  1. It’s all about location. “City court attendees dress more traditionally than those in suburban courtrooms. If attending a court hearing in an urban environment, opt for a solid dark suit—either navy or charcoal—with a white or blue shirt and coordinating tie for men. If court is in the suburbs, it’s still recommended to wear a jacket, but you can also appear appropriate if you opt for a dress pant, white or blue shirt and tie.”
  2. Avoid bright colors. “Stick to navy, charcoal, white and light blue. Bright colors can be offensive to some judges and give an unintended impression.”
  3. Be conservative. “When in doubt, chose a traditional or conservative outfit. Keep tattoos and body piercings covered up and/or remove piercings if possible. Wear professional footwear and, of course, leave sandals at home.”
  4. Present yourself professionally. “Women clients and attorneys should consider wearing a pant suit, dress or skirt and shirt. Clients should never wear shorts, T-shirts or hats, and they should empty their pockets of excessive items that can make noise or draw attention.”
  5. Make it fit. “If the clothing is too tight or low cut, it can undermine credibility. I recommended skirt or dress hem lengths fall at the knee. Make sure pants are the right length, so as to avoid tripping and/or having to wear extremely high heels to accommodate.”
  6. Keep it simple. “It’s best to keep accessories to a minimum, including jewelry, scarves and patterned shoes. I suggest small earrings, and if married, only a wedding ring.”
  7. Dress to match the type of proceeding. “The biggest danger of not dressing the part is not being perceived as honest. If your case is related to a financial matter, attorneys should advise defendants to dress down, not to overplay brand names and cutting-edge styles. By wearing expensive clothes, jewelry or accessories, you could give the wrong impression, ultimately even affecting the outcome of your case. Dressing a domestic violence survivor vying for child custody and supervised visits in a floral print dress and cardigan sweater versus a power suit should play more sympathetically with a judge.

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