Illinois Bar Journal

December 2016Volume 104Number 12Page 40

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From the Discussions - Do I have to wear a suit to court?

Q. What are the rules if any governing courtroom attire requirements for lawyers?

(From the ISBA main discussion group)

Donald E. Ray, Rockford. Can someone please send me a link to any articles/statutes/local rules regarding courtroom attire requirements for attorneys. For those who want to know, I do like wearing a suit - just not every day in court.

ISBA lawyers respond

Fred Nickl, Chicago. When I used to make multiple appearances every day, I would see hundreds of attorneys in a single morning. The variety, or more appropriately the lack of variety, was noticeable.

The men that wore a sweater vest in lieu of a sport coat, or in the colder months kept their parka on to hide the lack of a suit jacket, really stood out, and not just to me - you could feel eyeballs all around the courtroom turning and silently wondering. Many of the judges were too busy to notice, but some did.

I would save the non-suit business wear for client meetings, etc.

James J. Ayres, Sr., Chicago. In the past some lawyers wanted to wear turtlenecks, Nehru jacket, etc. The trendsetting lawyer became the discussion of all the judges. Many judges and lawyers perceive that as being disrespectful to the process.

It was explained to me when I was a new lawyer that serious business is being conducted in the courts. The judge wears a robe. The lawyers wear suits. Boring? Yes. We shouldn't let fashion cause us to be the focus. We're the advocates. Our clients' cases should be the focus.

Kristy Hoeksema, Hoffman Estates. I, too, believe attorneys should wear suits to court. I believe this should apply equally to men and women. There are some variations in how a man's suit and a woman's suit generally appear. For instance, a man should wear a tie with his suit. A woman does not need to do so. However, generally, women have the option of wearing skirts or pants with their suits.

However, I do not believe this gives women a license to wear almost anything in black, throw a sweater on top, and call it courtroom attire. A sweater is not a suit coat, a dress is not a suit. [Neither] stretch pants nor a short skirt [is] courtroom attire. (However, a dress with a suit jacket would be acceptable in lieu of a skirt and blouse.) In my observation over the last 25 years, women's clothing has become less and less standardized in court, and often less professional.

I believe the courtroom and the judge deserve our respect and others "should" take their cues from us. We, as a profession, should display a professional image. I am not a fan of the "dressing down" that is done more often, in my observation, by women than men but at times by men, too.

Donald P. Shriver, Rockford. From the Fourth Circuit [and aimed on nonlawyers]:

When entering a courtroom, an appropriate dress code will be observed by all
participants, including litigants, witnesses, jurors and spectators.
The following is NOT appropriate dress:
Notwithstanding the above, if a Judge determines your attire is not
appropriate and you are a participant, your case may be continued, or you
may be asked to return in proper attire.


A number of IBJ articles address this topic:

Adam W. Lasker, Courthouse Couture: Jefferson County's Dress Code (Oct. 2013),

Karen Erger, The Appearance of Professionalism (June 2014) (a superb article about the challenge for women of choosing the right professional attire),

Helen W. Gunnarsson, Dress for Courtroom Success, Not Distress and Handling Sartorial Emergencies (Aug. 2009), and

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