COURT APPEARANCES is a regularly recurring column dedicated to providing men – both pro-se litigants and those represented by counsel – with helpful tips for courthouse customs, processes and decorum.
The past couple of decades have ushered in some fairly sweeping changes with respect to the manner in which men dress. In the wake of the “casual Friday” work-wear movement of the 1990s that eventually led to a more permanent “business casual” dress code, many men have little to no need for a suit or a tie, save for the occasional wedding or funeral (and recent observations of both suggest that even that fashion convention is going by the wayside).
Notwithstanding society’s more relaxed approach to attire, even in the business context, a trip to the courthouse should always be considered an occasion warranting formal business dress. Courthouse business is serious business and the court always deserves the utmost respect; your personal appearance is a reflection of the respect you should pay.
If you are scheduled to appear in court, a suit and tie is the preferred attire. A conservative sportcoat and complementary, conservative slacks are an acceptable substitute. Regardless of what you may see in magazines or clubs, a sportcoat and jeans is not recommended courthouse attire. Suits of solid navy or dark gray work well as the coats can be paired with complementary dress slacks in order to extend a wardrobe over a multiple-day string of court appearances.
Although it is not necessary to ensure your suit is in synch with the cutting-edge fashion trends, dated fashions such as “leisure suits” or some of the exaggerated lapels (both narrow and wide) of the 1980s do not convey an air of seriousness. Versatile, “three season” suits can be found for reasonable prices at retailers such as Dillards, JC Penney, Macy’s, Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx . For the extremely budget-conscious, consider thrift shops. These resellers of “gently used” clothing often wind up with some exceptionally good quality garments at very low prices.
Shirts should be collared (but not “polo” style) with solid white or light blue being the most appropriate colors. As you will also be wearing a tie, do make sure that you can button the shirt’s top button and still remain comfortable both standing and seated. Ties should be subdued in color and pattern. While “novelty” ties may be a big hit at certain social gatherings, they do not communicate the appropriate attitude for court. It’s hard to go wrong with a solid or striped tie in shades of red or blue. Extremely wide or narrow ties should be avoided.
As for shoes, black, dark brown or cordovan dress shoes are perfectly appropriate with any darker colored suit or coat/trouser combination. Lace-ups are preferable, but leather loafers would also be acceptable. Under no circumstances should sneakers or canvas slip-ons such as Vans be considered. And, yes, a conservative pair of clean cowboy-style boots are perfectly acceptable in certain regions. You will be the best judge of that particular custom. Don’t even consider sandals of any variety.
Grooming is also extremely important as even the best dressed man is going to be viewed skeptically if otherwise unkempt. Your hair should be clean, combed and neat – regardless of length. This goes equally for facial hair. Hands, especially fingernails, should be clean. Exposed tattoos and piercings, while growing in acceptance within certain segments of society, aren’t enthusiastically embraced by those responsible for upholding our judicial system. Use your best discretion with regard to how much you can and should conceal or otherwise remove for court.
While these tips should be considered as musts for appearances in front of a judge, they should also be taken into consideration for other courthouse appearances such as filing documents. The courthouse is an important fixture of the American justice system and isn’t that worthy of small tribute?
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