Project Runway – Courtroom Edition


By: Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire

Like any other “date”, a court date often leads to the question, “What should I wear?”

Judges expect a conservative style of dress that indicates that you respect the court system and the business you are conducting there.  Dress like you are going on a job interview at a library or a bank or dress as though you are the principal of a school on parent-teacher night.  If you look in the mirror and hear your mother’s voice in the back of your head saying, “You’re going out in public like that?!?”, it’s time to re-think what you’re wearing.

When in doubt, err on the side of formality.  Safe bets for men are a sports coat and slacks or suit, collared shirt, and a tie, while for women, a pant- or skirt- suit, a business-appropriate dress, or a blouse and skirt or trousers are safe choices.  Dress shoes, not sneakers or sandals, should be worn.  If you wear a uniform for work, that may also be appropriate for court, depending on the circumstances.

You should discuss with your attorney the appropriate level of formality, since that may differ depending on the type of court proceeding it is, your role in the proceeding, and the expectations of the particular court or judge you will appear before.  Even if your lawyer advises that you can ditch the suit and wear less formal attire, here is a list of court fashion DON’Ts (each of which I’ve actually seen litigants—but never my clients!—display in a courtroom):

  • DON’T look like you are heading to the beach, the gym or your kids’ baseball game. Absolutely no t-shirts, flip-flops, sandals, gym shoes, tank tops, shorts, baseball hats, sneakers, or exercise gear should be worn to court.
  • DON’T look like you are heading to the club for cocktails and dancing. Avoid stiletto heels, tight or form-fitting clothing, plunging necklines, exposed midriffs, shoulders, and backs, and very short skirts.
  • DON’T wear clothing that reveals your undergarments, such as “string top” shirts or dresses or low-slung pants.
  • DON’T display body piercings and body art. Either remove body jewelry or cover it with your clothing.  Tattoos should also be concealed, to the extent possible, by your clothing.
  • DON’T wear clothing with offensive or distracting writing on it. You may also want to be mindful of whether the clearly indicated brand-name on your clothing carries any negative connotations in the community in which the court is situated, such as an association with gang activity.
  • DON’T look like you’ve just rolled out of bed. Be freshly washed and groomed.  This means clean-shaven or neatly trimmed facial hair, and hair which is clean (but not wet) and groomed, avoiding any distracting hairstyles or hair colors.  Your clothing should be clean and not overly wrinkled.
  • DON’T overdo the cologne or perfume. But also, don’t come to court smelling like cigarette smoke or last night’s pizza and six pack.
  • DON’T maintain an appearance or wear anything which shows your affiliation with any organization or political group. Exception:  If your religion requires you to wear a particular hairstyle, untrimmed beard, head covering or clothing, you may observe your religious practices in this regard.
  • DON’T make unnecessary noises with your clothing. Avoid wearing noisy jewelry or squeaky shoes or carrying loose change in your pockets.  Above all, make sure you turn off your cell phone before you enter the courtroom.
  • DON’T distract the judge or jury by wearing excessive makeup or jewelry or appearing with a manicure which features excessively long nails or distracting colors or ornamentation.
  • DON’T forget your eyeglasses. Even if you only need eyeglasses for limited purposes, bring them in case you need to read from an exhibit or see objects in the courtroom.  If you wear contacts, some courtrooms can be very dry, so if you are going to be in the room for an extended period, make sure you have glasses to change into or eye drops to help with any irritation.
  • DON’T dress uncomfortably. Even if you are more “dressed up” than normal, make sure you are as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. You don’t want any visible signs of discomfort being misinterpreted as something other than a too-tight waistband or a scratchy garment tag.
  • DON’T undermine your case by giving off the “wrong vibes.” For example, wearing expensive jewelry or pricy designer clothing is not a smart choice if your financial status is an issue in the case—such as when seeking a reduction in child support payments or when defending yourself in a debt-collection action.

As a final note, don’t forget that on entering the Courthouse, you will have to pass through a metal detector. It is important that you listen carefully to the deputies who monitor the metal detector and comply with their instructions.  Handbags, briefcases and everything else carried—including the contents of your pockets—travel on a conveyor belt to be scanned, and you will be required to walk through a metal detector or body scanner. The courthouse deputies will confiscate pen knives, pepper spray, nail files and anything else they think might be a weapon, so please remember not to bring those things to court with you.  In order to pass through the body scanner efficiently, you will need to remove objects from your person which contain metal, such as belt buckles, metal belts, steel-toed footwear, biker-chain wallets, and certain jewelry, so you may want to minimize wearing such items so that you can complete the scanning process more quickly.

The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur.  To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit or contact Lisanne L. Mikula, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected]


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