What to Wear to a Mock Trial Competition

mock trial clothesReader H writes in with some questions about a mock trial competition coming up…

I’m a 1L participating in my first mock trial competition for my school. It’s in Las Vegas the first weekend in March. Not only do I
have to dress to compete, but for a welcome reception the night before the competition. Typically, I feel confident in my ability to dress appropriately for the occasion. However, I’m uneasy about dressing correctly in this situation. I just bought my very first suit, but I’m not sure what to wear with it. What are the rules for dressing at mock trial? Do I have to wear nylons — particularly in a hot climate? And if so, how do I choose the correct ones that won’t make me look frumpy? What shoes do you suggest? I plan on wearing the same suit both days of competition, but is it enough to change the shirt to change my look? Being a student and that I spent about $300 on the suit, I’d like to keep the rest of the outfit as cheap as possible … without looking cheap. What would you suggest for the welcome reception? Please help!

Wow, lots of questions. Good luck on the competition! In no particular order…  (Pictured:  gavel, originally uploaded to Flickr by bloomsberries.)


a) What to wear with your suit? Our answer here primarily depends on who’s going to be judging the mock trial competition. If it’s a local judge, or a partner at a firm where you would like to work, then go conservative. Yes, nylons. Yes, closed-toe shoes. And honestly, we’d focus on propriety rather than frump because it’s only a day or two. Go with the sheerest nylons you can find (readers, please feel free to shout out any suggestions) and the skinniest, highest heels (max: 3.5″) that you can walk in.  Next, focus on fit — make sure that your suit isn’t pulling anywhere — not across the shoulders, not across your hips; also make sure that it isn’t several sizes too big for you.  From there, you can either add a simple blouse to it with a collar, or perhaps a silk sweater tee (the likes of which Filene’s and TJ Maxx should have tons of for about $15 each) — we’d suggest a light blue, but that’s us.  If you have any necklace resembling a set of pearls, wear that one.

b) As for what to wear to the reception, we’d ask your older friends who’ve competed in this competition what the welcome reception is like, who attends, and what to wear.  If it’s future employers and judges, you might want to put your A game on and wear a suit (or at least a very professional-looking dress).  If it’s on the more casual side, we might suggest a shrunken blazer with neat jeans.  If money is really an issue, check H&M, TopShop, or teenage stores for a shrunken blazer-like look (be sure to buy a size big enough) — the quality won’t be great, but so long as it’s dark and sedated and doesn’t have any immediate threads hanging or other construction issues, it should be fine for one or two engagements.

Readers, any advice?

(L-0)

Comments

  1. I feel like we get a variant of this question every week (What do I wear to my summer job interview/to court/to meet a bunch of lawyers for coffee/etc?). Maybe a more user friendly way to locate popular post topics? Because I’m guessing I’m not the only reader who doesn’t really care to jump back into the sheer hose vs. no hose vs. tights, button down vs. sweater conversation again.

    • Maybe the reader doesn’t realize she’s really asking the same question–or just hopes the answer is different.

      That being said, one of my female mentors told me when I was a summer associate that as a young woman, you can never be too formal. And she was right. Go for the suit and read C’s earlier advice re interviews.

  2. I’d probably say just don’t wear anything sparkly, shiny or with an aggressive pattern. Solids in blues are your best bets to wear under your suit, while simple black pumps will be the easiest ( and cheapest) shoes to find.

  3. I might dial that heel down to 2.5″. I watch a lot of trials, and footwear can be particularly distracting if your gait is at all affected, especially since this is a mock trial where you will be moving around and not an appellate advocacy competition. Simple leather pointy toe pumps with a skinny heel by Bandolino, Nine West, or Enzo Angiolini should be affordable. Maybe wear a collared shirt one day and a silk sweater or tee the next. Hose that match your skin tone and are sheer. I like the Nordstrom brand.

    • Agreed. I wore flats to mine (with a pantsuit) and was complimented on the confidence of my stance. The judge (and actual local judge) commented that he suspected I had some stage experience (or athletics!) in my background because I seemed so physically confident. I don’t think I’d have gotten that in heels.

      If you can have stage presence in heels, go for it. But don’t choose the heels over the stage presence if you can’t pull off both.

  4. Instead of suggesting the highest heels a person can walk in, may I suggest a better standard would be the highest heels they can stand comfortably for 20 minutes in one spot in?

    Though here’s what I’d really suggest for clothes: wear what makes you feel the most proper and “lawyerly”. If in your mind heels are for “fun” instead of “business”, then you might want to consider wearing something else, even if it makes you look a little “frumpier”.

    Mock trials are probably the first time in your life that you will get to play attorney, and the speaking and poise habits are probably not ingrained yet. I’ve seen many, many 1Ls (especially women) do things like raise their voice at the end of sentences, gesture too much with their hands, stick their tongue out and say “gah!” if they stumble over something, giggle, mumble, and so forth. You -do- -not- -want- -that-.

    You need to be focused, collected, methodical, and thoughtful. Wear what makes you get into the mindset of serious business, within professional limits.

    • And practice! Standing up, in the shoes, being videotaped and/or with someone watching you for such mannerisms. Remember that when you are nervous, your perception of time changes because your heart rate speeds up – what seems incredibly slow to you, and like enormous pauses, are actually great from the perspective of your audience. So practice slowing down and taking time to think before you speak. This will make you seem more articulate and make it easy for your mock jury to follow what you’re saying.

      • I agree that having someone record you in action (while arguing) with a camcorder or smartphone video recorder is a great idea. I did this for my moot court competitions and realized that I had all kinds of nervous tendencies, e.g., patting my foot, saying “um”, poor eye contact just to name a few.

        Also, your conservative dress will give you confidence. The more you dress like a lawyer (as boring as it may seem), the more confident you will feel and it will come through in your argument, so make sure you feel good in what you select to wear.

    • Speaking of the practice…. This sounds weird, but be sure to practice in heels. I just competed in a moot court competition, and practiced in the weeks leading up to it in flats. I came straight from work to practice one day wearing heels and noticed that I swayed a little and my stance felt funny with the heels on. That distracted me and I had a terrible practice. Luckily, there was still time to log plenty of hours in the heels!

  5. If you’re wearing a skirt wear nylons – the best are Donna Karen the Nude collection. They last forever and you’ll need them for interviews anyway. They run about $20 and you can find them at your local Macy’s or Nordstroms.

    Closed-toe shoes are a must. Don’t even think about peep-toe. Stick with a basic black pump and nothing higher than 3 inches. Get something with a round toe if possible – they hurt less than pointy toe.

    White or blue knit top. I know its boring, but that’s the idea. You want people listening to you and not admiring your outfit. I recommend a knit top so you don’t have any button issues. Ann Taylor Outlet always has great knit tops and most department stores do too. Think ” short sleeve sweater” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Basic pearl necklace. Optional, but if you have it, wear it. If you don’t, you may want to think about investing in a good quality fake set from Macy’s – mine ran me about $35. You want something round and I find the real pearls in this price range are less attractive looking than fakes.

    Small earrings. Nothing too big or flashy. Small studs or hoops work best.

    And lastly, you’ll need all this stuff for interviews so don’t be afraid to splurge a little. Better quality stuff will last longer.

    • Just seconding the DKNY Nudes advice. In my experience, nothing compares. They are the reason I always frown when people say nude hose are ugly. These are not.

      • Third…and the DKNY Nudes come in Talls! Hooray for long-legged gals!

        • DKNY Nudes is simply the best out there. They are so sheer that you almost can’t tell you are wearing hose, it just looks like your legs are perfect. Unfortunately, they also tend to get runs pretty easily but I don’t care, I will continue to shell out the $$ for these. Love them!!

  6. Yes to hose. Keep whatever you wear under your suit simple. No one’s going to knock you for being too conservative, but the main thing is that you don’t want to be too flashy. In my experience, what students wear to these competitions tends to be more conservative/plainer than what most attorneys and students wear in real life. I, personally, would avoid wearing 3.5 inch heels. I would go for the 2.5-3 inch range. You need to be able to move around the courtroom easier and don’t want to look like you’re walking on stilts (but if you can comfortably walk in 3.5 inch heels, then go for it).
    To the OP, this wouldn’t happen to be the PAD mock trial competition would it?

  7. I heard a terrible story from an adjunct professor a few years ago about a wardrobe situation and a mock trial participant. This participant tended to get a red rash on her neck while speaking (probably out of nervousness or just a physical reaction). It didn’t affect the substance of her presentation, but after a round of the mock trial, a judge commented on the red neck and stated that it was “distracting” and that she should have worn a turtleneck. The participant went home during lunch, changed, and came back wearing a turtleneck in order to finish round two. I heard that she was very embarrassed and it sounded like a terrible experience.

    So, if you get a red rash from public speaking, try to cover it up. Apparently there are some judges that get distracted by things like that.

    • What a jerk of a judge! Calling out a law student for a physical condition (one that she may not have even been aware of) in front of a group of people? Shame on them!

      • that is awful! A similar thing happens to me with my irish skin. Its not even a real rash, its just a blotchiness of the skin when I get nervous (which happens when I have to public speak, but has gotten much better) Nothing you can do about it! Poor girl.

    • I know people who get rashes from their chest upward, including their faces. I think there’s only so much you can do in that case since you can’t very well cover up your face. That judge just seems like a jerk who needed to get over himself.

      • associate :

        I’ve judged a few competitions where this has happened. I’d like to think that I’m not a jerk, but it is distracting. While I’ve never called someone out on it in public (that part was jerky), or counted off for it, if it happens to you I’d wear a high neck. I’ve also found that juries are much more “distractible” when it comes to those things, so it is probably realistic advice.

  8. These are the best pantyhose I’ve ever found:
    http://www.barenecessities.com/HUE-Clear-Control-Pantyhose_product_Hue5972_,search,.htm

    They’re durable and comfortable. If you’re Caucasian, I recommend you get the natural shade.

    But in general, the lower the nylon content the more comfortable hose will be. A higher spandex or lycra content will make them more stretchy, less run-prone and less itchy.

    Wear basic pumps, ones you can comfortably stand in for an hour and walk half a mile in. You don’t need your feet aching.

    I’d wear a modest LBD to the reception, with simple jewelry. LBDs are the most versatile because they’re appropriate both for work and for cocktails. If your LBD is sleeveless, I’d bring a cardigan and slip it on if people are dressed more in business attire than cocktail attire.

    • anon - chi :

      I would find out from people who went last year whether the reception is more business-formal or more like a cocktail hour. If the men attending will be in suits, I would recommend doing the same. If not, a conservative LBD is appropriate.

  9. I did a lot of mock trial and moot court in law school, and the rule was that you dressed for those competitions as conservatively as if you really were in court, so, like Corporette said, yes to pantyhose, yes to closed toe heels etc. One caveat on shoes – do not wear high heels if you are not confident in them. I once did a mock trial competition where a woman on the other side clearly was not confident walking in her 3 inch heels, and her “insecure body language” came up when the judges gave us feedback.

    As for the receptions – my law school was very competitive, so everyone showed up for such receptions in suits. I would wear a pantsuit to those types of events and save the skirtsuit for the competition rounds.

    Good luck on the competition.

    • I have served as a mock trial judge and I agree that the same protocol you would use for interviews applies here – a suit, nylons (if it’s a skirt suit), moderate heels, and nothing that suggests you have a date afterward. Good luck and have fun!

  10. Another comment on shoes – the point is not to be fashionable, but to be professional. I’d rather err on the side of “woman older than me” than “trendy” for shoes in a moot court competition.

  11. I agree with above, except for the “highest heels” thing. I wear 2.25 inch heels because you need to stand up sit down, walk around and I want to be able to do that.

    However, I wear jewel tone shells/ sweaters/ knit tops. They look better on me, and only a small part shows at the top of my jacket. I figure dark green, burgundy, a jewel tone blue, or even purple probably isn’t terribly distracting and adds just a tiny bit of personality.

    If you feel comfortable, you might want to consider thigh highs instead of full on nylons. Here’s why: in my mock trial experience the trial is long with only 2 breaks. During those breaks you want to confer with your team, but you also want to use the bathroom. So does every other person. If you can get in and out more quickly without pulling up and down stockings, you might be less flustered.

    Don’t wear anything you have to fuss with, because the “jurors” are sitting their noticing everything. That means, hair, jewelry, and clothes.

    Practice walking in your shoes to be sure they don’t “squeak”. That happened to me and was really distracting during my argument.

    I’m pretty sure when Attorney says “small hoops” she means hoops that just go around your earlobe. Not 1 inch or larger.

    HAVE FUN!

    • If you wear thigh highs, please please please try them out at home, with your skirt suit, in super bright lighting, to be sure that the band at the top of the thigh highs doesn’t create a slight visible bulge/line at the top of your thighs beneath your skirt suit. Yes, I’ve seen this happen. Yes, it looks really tacky.

      • I wouldn’t wear thigh highs unless you are comfortable with them, otherwise you’ll spend all day thinking about whether they are slipping down or not.

        As difficult as it is to surreptitiously pull up a pair of knee highs under slacks, it is impossible to yank up your slipping thigh highs. You will, however, make yourself unforgettable if they fall…

      • Absolutely! Don’t wear anything you need to fuss or worry about!

        Also, I’d say if your skirt is so tight it reveals the band on your thigh highs, either you bought the thigh highs at Fredericks of Hollywood or your skirt is TOO TIGHT!

        • Test the thigh highs for at least 30 minutes of walking before using them in court. I made the mistake of wearing brand new thigh highs to federal court on the Gulf Coast one time (95 degrees in September), and they were around my ankles before I made it from the parking lot to the building!

          Take an extra pair of pantyhose or thighhighs with you in your briefcase just in case you get a run or have a similar problem.

      • Also: The quicker-in-the-bathroom thing only works if you wear your underpants OVER the garter belt (assuming you’re doing the garter belt thing–I always do because I have skinny legs and they fall down otherwise). Sexy? Not really. But, um, that’s probably not your top concern in a mock trial.

  12. I find that I’m more comfortable in a sleeveless shell than a button-up shirt under a suit. Especially if you get a little sweaty when you’re nervous, a button-up shirt will not help you cool down. Just don’t take your jacket off if you’re in a sleeveless shirt!

  13. I agree with the others for the trial. I think sheer black hose are okay as well if you have black shoes. Think comfort in your shoes (I use about 2 or 2.5″ heels at most).

    Reception – I never went to one of those, but you want something that would be office appropriate in a firm. Blouse and skirt, blouse and trousers, suit, or office-appropriate dress (classic wrap or sheath should work). OR If it’s casual, I like the suggestion in the post of a casual blazer, but I would not go with jeans – instead maybe khaki or black pants.

  14. Having competed in a mock trial competition years ago, I agree that you should keep it very conservative – classic black pumps, the sheerest nude nylons you can find, a white or blue blouse (or shell if, like me, you can’t seem to find a button-down that doesn’t flash everyone), and pearl studs and a simple pearl necklace. I love the previous poster’s suggestion that the test for your pumps should be which pair you feel most comfortable standing in for 20 minutes or more. The last thing you want is to be in the beginning of your closing argument, thinking about your screaming pinky toe! Personally, I prefer round toe shoes for any time I need to stand for a long period because they are most comfortable. This round toe pair (the Jessica Simpson Henri) is both affordable and comfortable. http://tinyurl.com/yzyk7rb

    You will likely be judged by prestigious law school alumni (or if not alumni, local attorneys or judges or maybe even professors who don’t know you yet). You want to make a good impression, not just in terms of competing to win the mock trial but in case there is a prospective employer involved.

    Good luck to you!

    cornerofficechic.wordpress.com

  15. I like a short sleeve jewel-neck thin sweater under my suits. Professional, but then I don’t have to worry about one collar fighting another between my jacket and my coat. I agree that a little bit of color (jewel tone) or pastel would work well. It also can make finding the right necklace (I agree with pearls) easier because it’s such a bland top. The trick, I think as everyone has mentioned, is that you don’t want people noticing your clothes — they should be noticing your arguments. So plain plain plain is the way to go.

  16. Trial Team Veteran :

    I’ve competed in mock trial competitions before. I’ve always worn a suit to the reception and it has served me well. I’m also a fan of a beige shell under black or navy suit or a black shell under a gray suit. I echo the notes above that plain might be the way to go.

    You should look professional and polished. The MOST important thing is to have comfortable shoes. You don’t realize now how much you will be on your feet. I learned my lesson by choosing a slightly more fashionable/less comfortable shoe. After the weekend was through I was hobbling. For the next competition, I spent under $50 at DSW and walked away with comfortable and professional shoes. Fashionable they are not, but I walked away from the next competition without injury.

    Good luck with the competition, and don’t forget to have fun!

  17. Echoing what everyone else has said about dressing conservatively. My 1L year a girl in the mock trial competition had points deducted for wearing hot pink stilettos.

  18. Absolutely wear a suit to the welcome reception, most everyone else will. Good luck!

    • Anonymous :

      Ditto the comments above and good luck! Don’t forget to pack a few emergency items in your bag: extra hose, tissues, aspirin, granola bars in case your competition schedule has you missing a meal, you get the idea.

  19. I have been a trial attorney for quite a while- DON’T wear high skinny heels- You want to present yourself professionally- this is not a fashion contest. In 3 1/2 inch heels you won’t be taken seriously- trust me. Wear a 1 1/2 to 2 inch closed toe pump- think conservative. Save the high heels for a date.

    • Agree with this. The advice on wearing the highest heels you can stand is way off. Stick with low, comfortable heels, for the sake of your feet and to be taken seriously.

      • 100% agree. I can’t believe the advice to wear heels at 3.5″. Maybe some women wear these heels all the time, but I sure don’t. And it’s not a “New York” thing because I am from New Jersey, went to college and law school in NYC, and not every woman I know wears 3.5″ heels. Regardless, I cannot imagine that anything above 2.5″ would be comfortable for an entire day of up and down.

  20. I went to Nationals in moot court and served as a mock trial witness for a couple years. Now I judge moot court and mock trial multiple times a year. I have three tips to add.

    One is to wear a long sleeved blouse or shell. Many of the judges will be old men (sad, but true) and they want to see the flash of cuff at the wrist.

    Second, avoid bracelets or anything else that jangles or that could get caught on something. I saw a competitor get her trial binder caught in her bracelet a couple years ago and I am pretty sure that she wanted to sink into the floor.

    Finally, if you are short (like I am) and will be speaking from a podium, consider bringing a small step or riser to stand on. You will not be effective if the judges cannot see you and often standing next to the podium (my usual strategy) does not work for layout reasons and prevents you from reading your notes or resting your binder on the podium. I used a folding step when I was in law school and would stash it (set up) under the podium before the competition round started, pull it out with my foot when I got to the podium and stepped up onto it. I got about another four inches out of it, which was enough for me to be seen, and it had the additional benefit of preventing distracting stances or foot movements.

    All that said, at my last regional moot court competition, the airline lost my luggage and my partner’s luggage. We argued our first two rounds in sweats and still advanced. Go figure — and carry on your key materials and at least one suit, just in case.

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