How do I dress for court?
Most people who have to go to court are nervous about what to expect. Walking into a courtroom is an intimidating experience. The last thing you want is to be called out or even excluded because of something you’re wearing. Remember that first impressions are based on appearance. If you’re dressed inappropriately for court it will be noticed.
A general rule of thumb is to dress as if you were going to church or out to a nice restaurant. You don’t have to go overboard — it’s not a formal occasion so a suit or dress is not required. Many lawyers advise their clients about proper attire for court.
If this is your first time in court and you don’t have a lawyer, there are a few simple dos and don’ts that will make your experience less traumatic. Much of this is common sense and should not surprise you.
Before you enter the courthouse leave your gum and cigarettes outside. If you’re under 18, you shouldn’t be smoking anyway, but that’s another matter. Dress appropriate for the weather – the judge and staff have done so and expect you to do woundedthe same. Don’t wear flip-flops or go barefoot [this has happened, especially in the summer months]. No tank-tops or strapless outfits. Many courts keep large T-shirts at the front desk to hand out to the public when too much skin is showing. Mid-riff shirts, tube tops and miniskirts should be left at home. Some courts frown on the wearing of jeans and baggy pants, especially those that expose undergarments.
Remove your hat, iPod or any electronic devices. Make sure if you’re allowed to keep your cell phone with you that it’s turned off. You may have to go through a metal detector and security when entering the building. You may be given additional advice from the security guards. Don’t bring any food or drink into the courtroom. Gang colors and insignias are usually prohibited due to security and in the interest of witness protection. You can always call the court in advance and ask about their dress code.
The goal regarding dress is to maintain decorum and security. Courts are places where serious business is conducted. Appropriate respect and dignity is expected throughout the proceedings.
In an extreme case of how important appearance is when in court, consider the 2010 trial of 24-year-old John Ditullio in Florida. He was charged with a double stabbing that killed a seventeen year old and wounded a woman who survived the attack. While waiting for his trial, Ditullio was tattooed while in jail. He had a large swastika on one side of his neck, barbed wire across an eye and a crude comment on the other side of his neck. His lawyer argued that he couldn’t get a fair trial with these tats apparent to the jury. The judge allowed him to cover them up with makeup – the county paid a cosmotolegist $125.00 each day of his eight-day trial. He was found guilty of murder and attempted murder. At his sentencing he refused the makeup stating that “I wanted the jury to see me.” Ditullio was sentenced to prison for life without parole and 15 years for the attempted murder.