Staying Professional at the Metal Detectors

Opening of Levin Courthouse, originally uploaded to Flickr by nznationalparty.How can women stay professional at metal detectors — do they have more problems than men in this regard?  I’ve gotten two questions from readers who have both had problems going through the metal detectors at courthouses. First, there’s this one from Reader J:

Could you recommend some brands or styles of shoe that won’t set off sensitive metal detectors? I can make it through the state courthouse metal detectors just fine, but I think they’ve kicked the federal ones up a notch. It’s so embarrassing to have to take off my shoes to walk through, especially when surrounded by older men in suits who’ve gone through without a blip.

And then this one, from Reader A:

I am entering courthouses on a daily basis. I love the look for a black sleek belt with silver metal accents but am tired of being stopped at the security checkpoint either to remove the belt altogether or have the security officers scan me with a handheld wand to make sure it really is my belt and not a concealed weapon triggering the metal detector. Can you recommend a court appropriate yet stylish belt that won’t set off the metal detectors?

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I’m curious to hear what readers say.  I haven’t had to go through courthouse metal detectors too often, but when I have I’ve used the same trick that I use at the airport: I put my shoes, accessories, and other clothes (cardigans, jackets) in the first box that will come *out* the end of the metal detector.  That way, once I pass through security I can put my stuff back on while security may (or may not) take some time looking at the rest of my items.  It saves time, but also helps me feel like I’m dressed as soon as possible. (Pictured.)

I do have two specific thoughts for readers J and A, though.  For reader J, you may want to consider wearing fold-able flats into the courthouse, leaving your shoes in your bag until it gets through security.  For reader A, I’ll admit it, I was stumped.  A few dozen Google searches later, though, and voila: I hereby present BeepFreeProducts, a whole website devoted to metal-detector friendly belts.

Readers who deal with metal detectors regularly — what tips have you picked up?  Are there brands you love or brands you avoid?

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  1. No suggestions but wanted to share — if you think this is bad, try getting into a federal prison. Those are set off by the underwire or even just the little sliders on the straps of your bra. I had a very interesting morning trying to get in for a deposition. Did I mention that the (all male) team of about a dozen opposite and co-counsel plus court reporter were all on the other side of security watching this process? Wound up taking the thing off in the bathroom and going through bra-less with, yes, my poor little bra going through the x-ray on the conveyor belt while everyone watched and watched me who, everyone now knew, was braless. Yeah, so, that was awesome.

    • Dear lord! Could we request men’s underwear manufacturers to slip in some metal in their whitey tighteys just to even things out a bit?

    • 2/3 attorney :

      How awful, so sorry! You’d think the posse would have just turned around and stopped gawking. Rude!

      • Right? It was like they were rubbernecking at a traffic accident — they just couldn’t look away.

      • Pigs. I am guessing you were defense counsel because prosecutors are never treated that way. Can you imagine if they were.

    • I used to volunteer at a max security prison on a weekly basis, and had a Target bra that I wore successfully without ever getting beeped. It’s like the $13 cheap xhilaration bra? Either that though or it has to be a sports bra.

    • Wow. Awful. Maybe you could get one of those spanx bras if you’ll be doing this again.

    • That is terrible – and ridiculous that you had to go through it!

    • I have a special federal-prison-only wire-free bra.

  2. I try to wear shoes that won’t set it off, but I’ve resigned myself to being wanded, at least at the entrance. When we have to go through a second time before entering the courtroom (no joke – all you do is go through security, get on the elevator, and then go through security again – it’s worse than an airport) I take off my shoes just I would in the airport. Not fun, but it speeds things up, which to me, is the most professional way to handle it.

    Related note – yesterday I did not need to take anything off at security, but the man in front of me decided, at the last second, to remove his belt. He yanked it off just as I was placing my bag on the conveyor belt and thawked me upside the head really hard. This guy was, no kidding, about 6’7″ and 350 lbs. It REALLY hurt, to the point the security guards were startled and asked me twice if I was okay. My ear was ringing. But, I basically just had to suck it up and act fine, because crying in the security line would I suppose be the height of unprofessionalism. But it was my biggest test, to date, of trying to be “professional” when faced with metal detactor issues :)

    • Merabella :

      It sounds like you got your bell rung, ouch. I feel like in this situation crying was warranted. If a man had been smacked upside the head and had ringing in his ears no one would say a thing if he needed a moment.

  3. I haven’t had any personal horror stories of metal detector drama, but there have been times when I’m rushing to a meeting or hearing and the person in front of me makes the machine beep. So he takes off his watch. No go. Then the change in their pocket. Nope. Belt? Still no. Oh… could it be this chain that’s attached to my wallet? You think?

  4. What not to wear in the backscatter x-rays: a blazer with metallic thread accents. I’m pretty sure I’ve walked through a regular metal detector with the thing on, no beeps. I’m sure my glasses have more metal in them than the sum total of the metal content of the threads. But my image on the backscatter xray at the airport lit up like a XMas tree. Something about the reflectivity? And, of course, they said I couldn’t just take off the jacket and do it again; now I had to have the extra-special pat-down. Ugh.

  5. Clerkette :

    Within two minutes of this post being published, I walked through courthouse metal detectors after a lunchtime visit to Costco with my perishables in my (apparently pretty large) purse, and wondered what the marshalls would have to say about my bounty. In case you were wondering, metal detectors are not set off by three pounds of bacon and five pounds of shredded cheddar cheese.

    • I had not just one but TWO corkscrews in my purse the other day! I really don’t know how I got two in there; I do (obviously) keep one in my purse in case of emergency. :)

      The worst part is that I then forgot to go back and get them on my way back out.

  6. layered bob :

    hmmm…. I’ve just resigned myself to being wanded at the courthouse – I walk through the metal detector and just keep going straight to the wand lady… although yes, it is MUCH worse for prison.

  7. I had a problem when I went to Tenneessee last month. The TSA guy at LGA (who was gross) insisted that I had something on. I told him I put all the metal stuff in the bin, and I did NOT have a wire bra. So after WANDEING me with this stick, he had a big lady take me to a room and look at me more closeley. It was humelieating b/c I had nothing they were lookeing for. I know they are tryeing to stop terroreists, but I am the last person to do anything bad.

    • What do you look like? I’d much rather have this happen to someone who looks like me–fair skin, blue eyes–than to people with a hint of olive in their skin &/or curly dark hair. They get the special treatment if they so much as cough! No need to tell a group of lawyers how unconstitutional and basically unfair that is. If a fair-skinned person feels humiliated after a fluke, spending your whole life being told you look like a bad person must be even worse.

    • I would not have gone anywhere. Strip me in public, pigs.

  8. Threadjack: Good things come to Supreme Court Clerks Who Wait?

    Separately, I do wonder if we’d find a similar pattern for people in i-banking and investment management. Rather than swimming up the associate —-> managing director salmon ladder, to go into industry, acquire very deep, specialized knowledge, and then move immediately into a senior role that is firmly on the managing director track.

    • This is similar to how I got my current position, but with an opposite move. I’m an accountant and spent several years working for firms (many of the years p/t from home while my children were small). When I decided to make the switch to industry I got a position without much trouble as a senior accountant for a large worldwide company, and now I’m operations controller for abusiness segment in my geographical area, the promotion coming only 1 year after getting hired at this company. Not to mention the 55% increase in my annual salary over my firm job in 2 short years. :) Way better than starting at the bottom and trying to move my way up.

      For accounting in my area, I think the issue is that there is a lack of mid to senior management type people out there. It takes a lot of work to start at the bottom, navigate company politics while bettering your education, etc, even in a company that prides itself on promoting from within.

      • Midwest CPA :

        I’m curious – how many years experience did you have when you switched to industry? I’m trying to make the switch and feel like 10 years in public might be the magic number? I have a few less years than that and am having trouble getting an interview even with a perfect academic record and personal recommendations from former (highly respected) employers. I have too much experience to go in as a staff accountant (and am even over qualified for most senior positions I see), but feel like I am not considered seasoned enough for a director of accounting-type job. Thoughts?

      • Awesome! Always glad to hear other stories of C-rp-r-ttes getting ahead in work and in life. :-)

  9. long term lurker :

    I am one of those types that always wears my suit jacket so sometimes I am less careful about a shell that shows bra straps, or is unflattering by itself. A few times airport security has made me ditch the jacket and I’ve been uncomfortable going through security. So wear a shell/top that you like by itself.

  10. Seventh Sister :

    My pumps with internal metal shanks seem to be the worst offenders. One pair has a kitten heel, the other has a spike-type heel. I figured I’d have to take off the spiky heels, but I didn’t know about the internal shank in the kitten heels until the court security guy showed me the x-ray.

    Apparently metal detectors sometimes set off differently because of the amount of metal in the floor. My suggestion is to just casually take off your shoes if you think/know they will set off the alarm, or, if you try to go through and it beeps, just try to stay calm and say, “Oh! it’s probably my shoes.” It happens. Unless it’s an “Up in the Air”-type situation, I doubt most guys even notice.

  11. My Cole Haan pumps always set off the metal detectors at the Federal Courthouse. However, the since the Marshals recognize me, they’re nice enough to let me proceed right through without taking my shoes off. They also loaned me an umbrella in the middle of a storm the other day, so I can’t complain.

    I do find that it’s a bit awkward when they allow frequent attorneys/court employees to proceed through security despite setting it off while making others get wanded, take off shoes, etc.

  12. I am assuming that woman with the question is in a state that does not offer Secure Pass? I practice in NY State Court and I have a pass that allows me to completely bypass the metal detectors and just walk on in after showing my Secure Pass to the court officer. I do not know if they are available in federal court, but using them sure makes my life a whole lot easier! I can’t imagine having to put my files (and shoes, or watch, belt, etc) into the metal detector or having to wait on that long line every morning!

    • Equity's Darling :

      It’s the same here, we have our Law Society Cards that you just show to security. I haven’t gotten my new one since being called (so my student-at-law card is expired now), and I’ve been avoiding the courthouse like the plague because I don’t want to deal with security. Hopefully my new card comes soon.

    • I am a banana. :

      In CA state court, you get to skip the long line with your bar card, but the metal detector awaits!

      • I am a banana. :

        (Except in Santa Barbara, where the courthouse has no security and is in the middle of a garden and for those reasons alone is probably the best courthouse in the whole entire world.)

    • That used to be the case in D.C. but a few months ago they put in new security procedures and now all attorneys have to go through the search. The worst part is that we cannot bring in water.

    • Sugar Magnolia :

      We have this in my Midwestern city as well. You just go to the chief judge’s clerk and get a pass.

  13. I have been felt up by so many TSA agents, under the laws of many countries I’d be engaged to at least three of them.

  14. Diana Barry :

    There are some courts in my state that let you show your bar card and waltz right through the metal detector – even if you set it off they won’t wand you. I also always wear pantsuits and flats to court (when I go, not often!).

  15. Sydney Bristow :

    Don’t forget to consider your hair clip. I was going in and out of Congressional offices in DC one day and set the detectors off every single time. No belt, underwire, etc and I took off my shoes and jewelry. The security guards couldn’t figure it out what it was (because I asked since it happened repeatedly). At the end of the day I let my hair down and realized that I’d been wearing a big metal clip to hold my hair up. It was completely visible to everyone all day but none of the security guards or people I was with ever noticed that it was the clip that was setting off the detectors.

  16. Security Line :

    I have a separate bag that I keep in my car that contains only my minimal necessities for court. I don’t use the bag for anything other than the security line court days. The bag is a Swiss Army “airport friendly” bag – with special pockets for my laptop in case my bag gets searched. That way I don’t accidentally bring “contraband” into the courthouse and I get through the line quickly. The bag is not very cute, but it serves its purpose.

    I generally wear flats through security and keep my heels in my bag until after I make it through the line. I don’t wear belts or watches on court days. I also try to avoid metal hair clips or any other jewelry. I’ve considered shopping for airport friendly shoes, but they are rather ugly.

    I also try to be pleasant too security personnel that I see frequently. I’ve observed that if they see you regularly and they “like” you, then they are less harsh with you in the event that the machines beep. (Especially the federal courthouse!). In one particular county courthouse, I will go out of my way to a specific door of entry because there usually only one, female guard at that door and she is much more like a grandma with a wand, then a burly security guard.

  17. Maine Associate :

    I have never had an issue with my shoes and court security. I will consider myself very lucky. I wear Sofft and Naturalizer.

    • I’ve had problems with my bra setting off metal detectors at certain federal courthouses. I often wear sports bras to those courthouses because I’m sick of dealing with it.

      I don’t worry about shoes. I just make sure they can slip on and off quickly and my toes aren’t in need of a pedicure before I go. Inevitably the men get caught up with something too – a cell phone in their suit pocket or a belt or something, so I’m rarely the only one holding things up.

  18. The metal detectors in my building aren’t usually super sensitive, but there are a few things I’ve learned:

    * silver and gold don’t set it off. Some costume jewelry does. I’ve had good luck with Ralph Lauren jewelry NOT setting it off.
    * make sure your coat, dress, skirt, arms, etc., don’t get too close to the sides. Sometimes that can set it off.
    * some people seem to get through better by extending their arms in front of them, so there is less metal going through at once.
    * don’t put your foot down in the threshold, but step all the way through. Might have something to do with the shanks and heels, but not sure.
    * some belts set it off and some don’t. I wish there were an easy way to figure that out other than trial and error. And I wish I could remember from week to week which ones were successful. Silly mommy brain!

  19. attiredattorney :

    I’ve found that the “naked” scanner at the airport always picks up the edges of spanx legs at thigh level under skirts, almost always warranting a pat-down. Definitely another reason to wear pants for air travel.

  20. A smile and a friendly hello to the deputies get you a long way. Always make friends with the gatekeepers… and they’ll wave you on through regardless of the shoes/belt/earrings setting the machine off. Especially if they remember you from last time.