What to Wear for a Month in Court

Today’s reader mail comes from a reader who will be second-chairing a federal trial that is expected to last for more than a month…

First, do you think I should wear skirt suits every day or can I wear pant suits and save the skirt suits for days that I may actually get to examine a witness?

Second, how many suits do you think I need to keep on hand so that it doesn’t look like I am wearing the same suits over and over again?  Any suggestions for making the same suit look different other than wearing different accessories?

And finally, any suggestions on where to find nice looking suits in petite sizes without spending an arm and a leg since I will not need that many suits after the trial is finished.

A good friend of ours did mock trial in law school (and did very well), and passed along her (esteemed) coach’s advice:  wear skirt suits and be sure to cross/uncross your legs often if the other side is making a good point, and wear a lot of perfume.  See?  Golden advice.  Whoever says sexism is alive and well is just crazy.

In all seriousness, though, wardrobe during trial is one of those times where the guys really do have it easier, because we guarantee you that they’ll wear, at max, three suits and five ties throughout the entire trial and not give a second thought to it.  For you, though, we recommend sticking to dark suits, which, practically speaking, means we’d limit ourselves to three or four suits.  One black, one navy, and maybe one in brown or gray.  (If you’re prickly about your accessories matching, go with all black accessories and choose the gray suit.)  Where possible, we’d get both the skirt and the pants to the set — J.Crew, Banana, Ann Taylor, or Theory all make separates (and, we think, petites).  (For the petites question, we’ll be lazy here and link to our old post on professional dressing for petites for reference, as well as the blogs Petite Asian Girl ExtraPetite and Alterations Needed, both of which we have recently discovered and been meaning to point readers towards.)

In order to change up the looks, we’d recommend switching up the layers beneath the suit.  For example:  one day wear a collared shirt beneath the jacket; another day wear a jewel-necked silk t-shirt with a strand of pearls; another day wear a turtleneck with a brooch or a longer necklace (or, if you can pull it off, a silk scarf).  Your goal in dressing should be vanilla – you don’t want the jury to notice your clothes in either a good or bad way.  Absolutely avoid logo bags, as well as anything with sparkles.  (This includes jewelry — if you wear diamonds you may want to skip cleaning them; if your engagement ring is particularly large and blingy, you may even want to remove it.)  We’d even advise to avoid noticeable accessories, such as red-soled shoes like Laboutins.

As for skirts versus pants — we absolutely recommend wearing a skirt the first few days, if only until you get a feel for the judge and the lay of the land.  After that, go with your gut.  (We’re guessing pants will be acceptable, but take your cue from other, more senior women on your team or your opponents’ side.)

Finally, a note on undergarments (because, really, who else is going to say this to you?) — make sure your bras are not distracting.  I.e., avoid the quad-boob look, avoid lacy bras beneath silk blouses, etc.  Stock up on simple camisoles (we like Old Navy’s, honestly), as you’re less likely to wear them twice without washing them, and you’ll probably be too busy for laundry.  Along those lines, know that men can get away with dry-cleaning their suits only once a season because they wear boxers — if you can, wear boy shorts beneath your pants suits rather than thongs.

Before we turn it over to our readers, we also asked a friend who worked on a nine-month (plus?) bench trial, 3000 miles from home — she stressed comfort.  Her full response, below:

During trial, I had 2 black pant suits, a navy pant suit, a khaki-color pant suit, a dark green pant suit, a grey pinstripe pant suit, and 1 black pinstripe skirt suit.  I rarely broke out the skirt suit though — with the long court days, followed by the long nights prepping for the next day, I much preferred the relative comfort of a pantsuit.  And as the weeks wore on, I actually took the khaki, navy, and dark green pant suits out of the rotation because it took too much energy figuring out what shirt and shoes to wear with them.  (Admittedly, 99% of my work wardrobe is black, white or grey, so it takes a considerable amount of time for me to coordinate with any other color.)  To that end, I would suggest sticking with colors and pieces you already feel comfortable with, rather than getting things that are different just for the sake of diversifying the trial wardrobe.  Otherwise, on top of all of the trial stress, you’ll find yourself wondering if your outfit looks weird.

She also asked her colleague to weigh in:

I think I just had a black, gray, and beige pants suit, and a black skirt suit, but agree it was never as appealing to wear the skirt suit. I think part of that is that we were working in a borrowed office in a different city and so we were hopping into cabs, and then not getting home to change at all– just returning to the office to work all night in whatever we wore to court that day.

Ah, the glamorous life of a lawyer.  Readers, any other advice on how to dress for a month+ in court?

Pictured:  The Good Wife, which we’ve been hearing amazing things about but have not yet watched.

(L-0)

Comments

  1. Am I the only person who find skirts/dresses more comfortable then pants?

    • I’m with you, anon. I find pants terribly uncomfortable and usually don’t wear them more than once every two weeks.

    • anon - chi :

      Nope – I am much more comfortable in a dress than in pants and a blouse. I am not sure this would apply to a suiting dress, however, because the reason my dresses are comfy is that they tend to be made of really soft materials and are unstructured, so it’s the comfiness-equivalent of PJs. Suiting dresses seem to be more structured/binding.

      I might go with mostly pants suits also for a month-long trial if only because you may be too tired/forgetful to shave your legs at appropriate intervals, and because it’s still very cold in most parts of the country.

      • I would also vote for skirts over pants.

        An added bonus is I need to dry clean them MUCH less often. It’s not a matter of boy shorts, either — I find pants lose their shape after 3-4 wears max, the knees and ass sag, etc., but with a skirt an iron will make it look as good as new in just about under 3 min (also — much, much easier to iron!).

      • I like wearing skirts when I don’t have to wear pantyhose, but seeing as this is a trial, I’d probably go with the pantsuits and only one skirt suit. It’s just such a pain to have to worry about whether you’ll have enough pantyhose to last the month. I don’t live in an area where they’re needed outside of trials and don’t want to end up with 20 pairs I’ll never use when I’ll typically be fine with 2-3 pairs.

        • Another option (only if you want to wear skirt suits) is to stock up on hose from a store with a good return policy, keep the receipt, only open the packages as you need them, and return the ones you didn’t need after the trial ends.

        • Anonymous :

          Exactly. You don’t want to worry about emergency pantyhose runs during trial.

    • I definitely do.

  2. C, any suggestions on good brands of boy shorts that don’t show? I love how comfy the gap cotton ones are, but they only really work under jeans.

  3. Don’t forget to mention pantylines! I am utterly shocked at the number of women, of all ages, who don’t consider good fitting underwear- or simply don’t care! I think a whole article on this problem would be acceptable.

    • Please. Please. With brand suggestions of underwear that is not a thong and does not show lines, AND does not move around. Some of the “edgeless” varieties have nothing to hold them in place, thus they bunch up all over the place completely defeating the purpose.

      • I have had good luck with Victoria’s Secret microfiber bikini or hiphuggers. I have, as we say, a little extra junk in the trunk, and they do not budge at ALL on my body through a 30 hour shift at a trauma center. I forget I’m wearing them, which is the best endorsement I can think of!

    • I don’t think it’s that women don’t care, it’s more that it’s hard to really know which ones will work when you can’t try them on. I know I will buy a pair that looks good only to find out that it rides up/won’t stay in place, doesn’t quite fit right, or falls apart after 2 wears. I have some that are the same style as the myskins one posted above, but they do not stay in place when I put the pants/skirt on.

      • Anonymous :

        I reccomend OnGossamer. They are a little spendy, but I have found that the bikini style panties do not show under anything (including white pants), are light weight and stay in place.

        • I second. Have been a loyal OnGossamer girl for YEARS. And still have undies from years ago. They are made out of stretchy nylon, so they last and last and last. I would say that their M/L runs a bit smaller than other brands, so if you have junk in the trunk…this is not the brand for you.

          Also, I completely love On Gossamer for working out. They are mesh, hence breathable.

          And for anyone that hates mesh–this is not the scratchy cheap mesh you see on other brands. It’s whisper soft and thin. So fantastic. I love OG!!!!

          Nordy’s and Bloomie’s carry it, as well as lots of boutiques and my fave online undies site, http://www.herroom.com.

    • newassociate :

      or headlights! court is the time for smooth, lined t-shirt bras. everyone will notice if you’re looking cold. also, nude bras, not white, under light colored tops. you never know how the light is going to hit you.

      try on your tops in a variety of light conditions before you go. just last week i chased a partner down the hall before she left the building for court – her black sweater had become a bit worn, clearly showing her white bra underneath. i’m sure it looked fine when she left her house, but the overhead fluorescent lights miss little.

    • YES. Was just thinking this. I would wear Spanx footless tights under pants if I was going to be in front of a jury all day. They’re more comfortable than the Spanx shapers, but take care of the VPL.

  4. Don’t underestimate the power your clothes have to distract. Recently I observed a federal trial where the plaintiff’s attorney (who was phenomenal, BTW) wore black patent leather Mary Jane style pumps with four-inch heels (she was tiny), and a conservative pantsuit that was a tad too short in the legs. I kept looking at her shoes and thinking, gee if her pants were a little longer I wouldn’t notice her shoes that much. Also her gait was a little stilted. On the second day the first thing I did was look at her shoes. They were lower-heeled and blended nicely with her suit, and I never looked at them again. I tend to be non-conservative with my footwear, so this was a wake up call for me– at least for in-court situations.

  5. A suggestion for expanding your wardrobe for a trial without stockpiling suits that you don’t need the rest of the time: simple sheath dresses in the same colors as your suit jackets. A black sheath dress with a black blazer is the easiest outfit to plan and then you have a very multi-purpose dress for your life outside the courtroom.

  6. If you need to buy several suits for this trial, try local consignment shops. They tend to have gently-used brand name/designer clothing for low prices.

  7. I would have 5 suits or jacket/dress combinations ready. This is what I pack when I try a case out of town of any length. On a personal level, I don’t like to repeat 2x in a week — and don’t forget if you are on your feet trying a case A LOT of people see what you are. On a practical level, you want to have plenty of options when your suits are being cleaned and or pressed. If you are anything like me, you won’t be able to avoid perspiring when you are examining a witness or when the judge starts asking hard questions or when your senior partner is whisper shouting “Give me the document now!”, and you never want to appear in court in an outfit that isn’t perfectly clean and pressed.

    I have many many navy suits, and several black, all a bit different in terms of fabric or styling, and will also wear gray, a flattering brown, or a subdued check to court. Pretty much anything but bright colors. I personally always wear skirts, but pants are OK in most courtrooms — although I would check this out with colleagues, particularly if your judge is older or from a more conservative region.

    If you are second-chairing a month long federal case at this point in your career, chances are you will have other suit wearing occasions in your future. If you buy conservative well made clothes, you can have them for several years.

    Only you know your career path — but I would say that a female litigator will rarely regret an investment in the kind of “serious” “grown up” clothes you wear to court.

  8. Talbots had basic petite suits in black and brown on deep discount a few weeks ago. I don’t see it on the website, but you might get lucky in an actual store.

    • They JUST took their sale/clearance off of an additional 50% off, so two dresses I bought for under $40 are almost $80 again. So unfortunately that might not be AS good a deal. But I do love Talbots!

  9. I just want to reassure everyone here. You CAN wear black with navy. That old bugaboo came from men’s wear, a world in which navy is often so dark that it’s close to black. And men are way more often than women to be color-blind (this is true). I believe the “rule” developed to protect men from mixing up blue and black. And don’t worry, I have nothing against men. Gave birth to one, after all:).

  10. Conventional wisdom when I was trying cases (about 15 years ago) was that if you were defending a large corporation in front of a jury, you should not dress too “corporately.” So we all had brown or beige suits, maybe light grey, but avoided navy or black. Sheath dresses with jackets also worked well for me. If it is a bench trial, navy or black are more appropriate. Check with a clerk, if you can, before wearing a pant suit to court. I recall asking a clerk in federal court once if I could wear pants in her judge’s court. She (while wearing a pant suit herself) said, “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

    I’m so glad to be in-house now, where pants are more the rule than the exception.

  11. All the advice you have been given so far is on target. Whatever you do, dress in the same shades and tones the men wear. I once wore a red (expensive) blazer to federal court and spent the whole day feeling radioactive (and unfortunately calling attention to me and my client in a sea of black and gray). Trust me you do not want to stick out. I would decide the pants vs skirts issue after you have been on trial for a few days. Keep in mind that Federal Court is far more formal and conservative than state court. I tried cases in Federal Court all over the country and wore pants in Raleigh NC in the summer because opposing counsel wore searsucker suits (the theme is blend in and don’t distract with your clothing). I once had a lawyer argue in front of me wearing a top that was way too short and everytime she raised her arms I got a view of her bare muffin top. Not a pretty sight and it was distracting in a bad way.

  12. i clerked for a federal district court judge for two years. i would recommend a black suit, a charcoal grey suit, and a navy suit, and then just mix up your shirts — button downs versus silk sweaters. as long as you’re not wearing the whole exact same outfit every day, or an outfit that attracts attention in any way (weird colors, styles, etc), you’ll be fine. i vote for pants over skirts, as long as you’re not in front of an old male judge in the South.

  13. Omigosh! I love this blog for work ideas and was so surprised to see my blog referenced here … thanks so much, ladies!

    I’m totally with the comments on skirts / dresses being more comfortable. I am not a lawyer but I work long, long, days, and would much rather be in a dress with jacket or skirt suit. Living out of a hotel for the next 5 months, I packed my Theory basic suit separates and a bunch of silk blouses.

  14. Ahh, one of the great benefits of wearing Robes in court!!

  15. Looking for vanilla petite suits? Talbots. Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalbots. Talboooooooooooooooooooots. I’m an apple shape and can’t wear most of their pants, but their skirt suits were a staple for me when I worked as a staff attorney at an appellate court.

    • Odd that you mention that their pants don’t fit you, being an apple – I’m more pear-shaped and I simply cannot buy pants there. No size or style fits me. I wonder who they *do* fit?

      That said, I love Talbots and rely on them for other basic staples – just not pants.

  16. North Shore :

    I’ve worn pantsuits in federal courts all over the country, but I just made a few phone calls recently to make sure pants are ok before the judge who is trying one of my cases next month. It would NOT have been ok with the judges where I clerked.

    I’m petite, too, and rarely wear suits outside of the courtroom, so I try to stock up on really basic suits at the nearby outlet mall. I’ve found some great deals on Jones NY Petites, Banana Republic petites, and others.

    Make sure you tell the hotel that you are going to need more than the 3 puny hangers they have in the closet. I usually ship a bunch of my clothes & shoes along with the document boxes, because it’s too much to carry. And good luck!

  17. I did a month long trial, but it was in my own town. I wore a skirt every day (and always have, ever since a juror commented post-trial once that she didn’t think a lady lawyer should wear pants– she was 80 and was trying to be nice *sigh*– and since the jurors are the deciders, I have felt since then that there is no need to even risk putting off anyone). Anyway, SEPERATES are the key. Buy things that you can mix and match. While I may have worn the same navy skirt 6 times, it was paird with a different jacket and shirt each time. For jewelry — skip the bracelets and rings. You will find yourself playing with them. 3 simple necklaces should do it. Also, may part of the country is rather rural, so here, I make sure my suits are nice, fit well, and look good, but don’t look like they cost a lot of money (juror perception again). As for underwear– Well I vote thong. I know some people consider thongs skanky, but really they are the most comfortable underwear there is, no pantylines, and no tugging. Trust me this body is not wearing thongs for sex appeal.

    • Amen! I’ve heard jurors complain about lawyers who look, basically, “too good” – it just gives the perception that the lawyer is a fat cat getting rich off of all these cases rather than caring about the justice of their client’s cause.

      Corporate lawyers mostly interact with other lawyers and high-up execs and its easy to get insulated and really believe you live in a world where Banana Republic is the “cheap” option. Not saying you have to wear shiny polyester suits with worn-out elbows, but you don’t want to stand out for all the wrong reasons. Something like a Laboutin pump or a LV bag (not saying you were planning to show up in court with either) just screams all the wrong messages to jurors.

  18. some advice that has not yet been mentioned: keep the receipts and tags on anything you end up buying special for this. the VAST majority of cases settle, and literal “eve of trial” is the most popular time!

  19. I have bought several petite suits at Macys and been very happy. Banana, Ann Taylor and JCrew have nice suits as well. Just, please, make sure that you actually need a petite. It looks awful when your suit pants or sleeves are too short. A good tailor should hem pants for around $15.00, jackets are much more expensive.

  20. Thongs are not ‘comfortable.’ I get all the other stuff, but no way are they ‘comfortable.’ Tolerable, maybe, if you don’t have sensitive skin, hemorrhoids, or any number of very common ailments people don’t like to talk about, but many people suffer from.

    • LMAO about hemorrhoids…. the mere thought of hemorrhoids + thongs = yow! That said, thongs just are not hygenic to me. Period.

Add a comment.

Questions? Check out our commenting policy. Tech problems? Please report it to the tech team.