Court dress

From Academic Kids

Court dress comprises two forms of dress: dress prescribed for Royal courts; and dress prescribed for courts of law.

This article deals primarily with dress worn in the courts of law of England and some other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Nations.


Court Dress in the United Kingdom

Where court dress is worn

Court dress is worn in all courts of the Supreme Court of Judicature and county courts. It is not worn in the magistrates' courts.

See Courts of England and Wales


Unlike in the United States, English advocates (whether barristers or solicitors) who appear before a judge who is robed must themselves be robed.

Junior barristers

Junior barristers wear an open-fronted black stuff gown with open sleeves and a gathered yoke, over a black or dark suit. A white stiff wing collar is worn with bands (two strips of linen about 5" by 1" hanging down the front of the neck). In addition barristers wear a short horsehair wig with curls at the side and ties down the back.

Queen's Counsel

Barristers who have been appointed Queen's Counsel (QCs) wear instead a silk gown with a flap collar and long closed sleeves (the arm opening is half-way up the sleeve). They also wear a court coat, similar to a black morning coat, instead of an ordinary suit jacket.

On ceremonial occasions, and when appearing before the bar of the House of Lords (nowadays this usually only happens when the decision of the House is given), QCs wear ceremonial dress (see below).


Solicitors wear the same collar and bands as barristers, but wear a stuff gown of the same shape as QCs, with no wig.


Generally judges in the Family and Chancery divisions of the courts wear the same black silk gown as QCs, as do judges in the Court of Appeal. All judges wear a short wig when working in court, reserving the long wig for ceremonial occasions.

Judges in the highest court, the House of Lords, do not wear court dress at all (although advocates appearing before them do), instead suits are worn.

It is in intermediate courts that try cases at first instance (with a jury in criminal cases) that court dress is the most complicated.

High Court judges

Lord Chief Justice

When dealing with criminal business at first instance in the winter, a High Court judge of the Queen's Bench division wears a scarlet robe with fur facings, a black scarf and girdle (waistband) and a scarlet casting-hood or tippet. When dealing with criminal business in the summer, the judge wears a similar scarlet robe, but with silk rather than fur facings.

When he tries civil cases, he wears in winter a black robe faced with fur, a black scarf and girdle and a scarlet tippet; in summer, a violet robe faced with silk, with the black scarf and girdle and scarlet tippet.

Circuit judges

A circuit judge (in the County courts or the Crown court) wears a violet robe with lilac facings. As well as a girdle, the judge wears a tippet (sash) over the left shoulder - lilac when dealing with civil business and red when dealing with crime. Ordinary day dress is worn beneath the robe.

Special occasions

On Red Letter days (which include the Sovereign's birthday and certain saints' days) all judges wear the scarlet robe for the appropriate season.

On special ceremonial occasions (such as the Opening of the Legal Year) judges and QCs wear long wigs, black breeches and silk stockings, and wear lace jabots instead of bands. High court judges in addition have a scarlet and fur mantle, which is worn with his gold chain of office in the case of the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chancellor and judges of the Court of Appeal have black silk and gold lace gowns.


Scottish court dress is very similar to English court dress, but there are notable differences. For example, Scottish advocates wear morning coats instead of lounge suits under their gowns, and wear white bow ties instead of bands. QCs and judges wear long scarf-like ties instead of bands.

The judicial robes are also different.


Court dress in many jurisdictions in Commonwealth realms such as Australia and the Caribbean is identical to English court dress. Many African countries that were formerly British colonies similarly continue to wear the dress, white wigs and all.

In Canada court dress is identical, except that wigs are not worn.


A court dress consultation is currently under way. Likely reforms include getting rid of wigs in the civil courts (but keeping them in the criminal courts), and making the dress of barristers and solicitor-advocates identical.

Court Dress in the United States

Formal court dress is a relative rarity in the USA. Generally, judges of both state and federal courts are free to select their own courtroom attire. The most common choice is a plain black gown which covers the torso and legs. Female judges will sometimes add to the gown a plain white collar similar to that used in academic dress. In 1994, Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist added four gold bars to each sleeve of his gown, but the change in his attire (he had been Chief Justice since 1986) was his own innovation and was inspired by a production of the operetta Iolanthe, rather than any historical precedent. Some judges eschew special dress entirely and preside over their courts in normal business wear

"Professional" attire is the norm for attorneys appearing in court, although with the gradual increase in the number of women admitted to the bar in the past half-century the term has been of necessity subject to some re-definition.

The most significant exception to the practice of non-ceremonial court dress is the United States Solicitor General. When the Solicitor General (or one of his assistants) argues a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, he (or she) wears late 19th century style dress, with striped trousers, grey ascot, waistcoat, and a cutaway morning coat, making him (or her) a very distinct sight in the courtroom.

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