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.


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  1. You said you did not want to spend alot of money. Le Suit does not cost more than $100.00.

  2. I am a public interest attorney with a gross salary of $2,750 a month. I have a trial for in impoverished client and plan to wear pants, because I don’t own a skirt suit (due to recent weight loss) and can’t find one in my area in a size 16 that I can afford. I simply don’t have the luxury of paying $200 for a suit to wear once.

    What bugs me is that the judges who would balk at someone’s choice of pants vs. skirt might be defeating the “justice for all” by requiring poor litigants and their attorneys of similar modest means to buy clothing for court they can’t afford. This smacks of elitism to me. It’s also blatantly sexist to hold women to a different standard. For a FEMALE judge to refuse access to the court over clothing disgusts me. She should be ashamed.

    • Try ebay. I am a 20-22W and find some really good deals that way. Type in “16 suit” (or 16w suit) and see what comes up. People who lose weight often put thier slightly worn clothes up on ebay. It’s like a thrift store online, and I love it. Also, Lands End sometimes has suits on clearance for reasonable prices. I probably have some in storage that are 16w’s. I’d be happy to send one if you are in desperate need– as a public defender, I know how that goes.

    • I don’t think the judges who have those standards go at it saying “Hahaha, I’m going to make this arbitrary rule!” But I think it goes more to respecting the court and the law. The female judge I was talking about is pretty women’s-lib in her own right, but she’s still old-school in terms of how you show your respect for the court. I don’t think she holds women to a different standard, as she expects the men in her courtroom to also dress appropriately. I’ve heard of her noticing if a man’s shirt isn’t ironed or if he’s not wearing proper shoes with his suit. To her, it just looks like you’re not taking your case seriously if you don’t dress appropriately. And if you don’t take your case seriously, why should she (or he)? Which, honestly, is a pretty fair conclusion to come to if someone isn’t dressed appropriately for an occasion.

      • A Different Liz :

        My problem with that attitude, and I’m not trying to argue with you because I know it’s the judge who holds the beliefs, but I simply do not understand why I have to expose my legs to show my respect for the court or to be considered appropriately dressed. If Elena Kagan, as the Solicitor General of the United States, can argue in front of the SCOTUS in a pantsuit, a pantsuit is appropriate courtroom attire.

        Also, it’s one thing to notice what one considers to be inappropriate attire, it’s another thing to send someone home and continue a trial because of it. I’m curious, does she send men with wrinkled shirts and/or what she considers to be improper shoes home?

        • She does send men back as well.

          If she doesn’t make a usual practice of sending people home (both men and women), then she has done it more than a few times in the past. But if she’s not going to send you home, she’s definitely going to at least tell you she doesn’t appreciate your choice of wardrobe/lack of ironing in open court. Talk about embarrassment…

        • Now that I think about it, sending people back and continuing their cases if they’re not appropriately dressed, happens a fair amount of time here where I go to school. The area is very conservative, with old conservative judges. Most of the smaller county judges are relatively lax about wardrobe, but the next county over and the federal judges are pretty uptight about what you wear in their courtroom. A couple of the ALJs that I deal with in the Clinic in which I work will reschedule a client’s SSA benefits hearing if the client isn’t dressed appropriately at the hearing (no mini, bare shoulders, jeans, t-shirts, gym shoes, etc). I agree that this line of thinking is pretty antiquated, but if it’s the judges rules, what do you do?

  3. One word of advice (from an 8 week trial) — pack at least 1-2 suits that fit a little (or a lot) loosely especially if you tend to gain weight quickly. We constantly ate at trial during every break and then from the end of trial until 2 am every night, and excercising was one of the first things to go.

    I had 5 pants suits, 3 with skirts, and it was just enough. I also stocked up on silk shells at Banana Republic that were on sale so I had a ton of colors to wear under which helped vary the look.

    If you are going with mostly skirts, buy 20 pairs of stockings in advance so you don’t have to worry about them ripping or having the hotel wash them.

    • Seriously? Get a tiny bottle, put some woolite in it, and wash them out in the sink. I do this every single night with my stockings. Takes 20 seconds before I brush my teeth. Buying twenty pairs is ridiculous, IMO. Four or five pairs, maybe.

      • Haha. I’m trying to see myself lasting with 4-5 pairs over a month and I can tell you it’s not going to happen. I always manage to snag them or get runs, so I’m lucky if they last more than 2-3 wears at best. With my track record, I am not willing to spend a ton on them. I’ve been known to run them while putting them on.

        • Wow, I guess people are just different in how they wear them! I have worn the same pair of black hose for a few months now, a couple times a week, just washing them by hand. I tend to wear one pair until it runs, that way I don’t have an overflowing drawer. I buy the Nordstrom brand.

  4. I go with Lands End. I get one jacket and two skirts because I feel like the jacket stays clean longer than the skirts do. I don’t wear pants because they never fit without tailoring, and I don’t like to go to that much trouble. Shirts and accessories are the easiest way to look like you are not wearing the same suit every day. But don’t kill yourself trying to buy a ton of suits– 5 is probably plenty. I buy a lot off ebay. Please let us know what your actual experience is. Remember, you can order off the internet with overnight shipping if you find you don’t have enough.

    For hose, I would bring enough for each day of the trial. I have never been able to wear a pair of nylons after washing them. They never fit right or they run. And the last thing you will want to do is wash your nylons every night.

  5. Just FYI: I once heard an attorney tell me that after a trial, a juror complained that one of the female attorneys wore a different suit every day. “It’s not a fashion show,” said the juror. It’s something to keep in mind.

    • I absolutely agree with Nerb’s comment. You never want to alienate a juror by rubbing their nose in the fact that you can afford to have a new designer suit for each day of trial.

      • Jury Consultant :

        I am a jury consultant who has talked to hundreds of actual jurors and surrogate jurors about these types of issues. Here are some basic findings from post-trial interviews and pre-trial jury research: 1) Jurors tend to connect more easily with attorneys who dress nicely and attractively in court. They expect that ALL attorneys can afford nice, well-fitted suits, and they believe that all attorneys should care about how they look in court. This includes hair styles as well as clothing. 2) Accessories are usually the main issue. Fancy cuff links on men, huge diamond rings on women, and bags that scream “expensive, high-end designer” can annoy and distract jurors from their jobs as fact-finders. 3) Jurors never criticize male or female trial attorneys for dressing “too blandly.” However, they do notice when a female attorney is trying to push the envelope in the courtroom. Jurors are very skpetical of attorneys and are sensitive to manipulation. Jurors will assume that a female attorney wearing bright/bold colored suits with short skirts and high heels is trying to manipulate (or in the worst case scenario, “seduce”) the male jurors. This can have a very damaging impact on jurors’ perceptions of her crediblity. 4) It’s always best to help jurors focus in on the theme of your case and your best evidence, rather than the bling of your ring or the tag on your bag.

  6. I’m with skirt suits. You might check around with other women in that jurisdiction. Our federal judge (female) believes women attorneys should wear skirts in court and they need to be conservative. You can change the blouses you wear and make it with 5 suits and vairous conserrvative scarves/pin combinations. Jurors notice men’s ties; they’ll notice you. Be sure your shoes are not scuffed and you have an extra pair of hose. I snagged my hose on a sliver on counsel table. When it wasn’t fixed, I brought a small piece of sand paper the next time and filed it smooth. The court security officer had a good laugh when he saw me on the floor early in the morning buffing away. I learned later the clerk told the judge who had no objection to my self help method.

    • I love that you had sandpaper. I’m assuming you weren’t out of town on that one? If you were, I am in awe of how well-prepared you were! :)

  7. All of the other advice is good so far. I personally prefer skirt suits for federal court, as it seems more formal, but that’s just my preference.

    One piece of advice that has NOT been mentioned: check the local rules and standing orders for the district in which the case in being tried! I argued before the 7th Circuit a few months ago, and while they do not have a “dress code” per se, the local rules strongly suggest that only dark colors such as black or navy are appropriate, conservative ties, etc.

  8. I mentioned this debate to my fiance last night, who is a prosecutor in a very prominent office & appears in court daily. He was absolutely floored to hear this was even an issue!

    Apparently the majority of women at his office wear pants to court, even on the high-profile, “really important” cases. Same for opposing counsel. In fact, when a woman does wear a skirt suit, the result is to draw more attention to her because she tends to stand out among all the pants & it “looks less serious.” His also said that while he never thought about it before (men really are so lucky!), that it seemed to him that if there was any reason behind the preference for pants suits in his office is that they appear less dainty & therefore tougher and more professional. He also thought that among younger people a pant suit is probably seen as more professional & formal than a skirt suit, and not less. He’s never heard of jurors complaining either way.

    Just something to consider. Maybe, if time allows, it would be a good idea to come to the court in which you’re trying your case & walk around to take a look at what most of the women are wearing. If everyone is wearing pants, a skirt really will stand out, and perhaps should, thus, be avoided.

    • Interesting and helpful perspective. I have always felt that I looked and felt more powerful in pants. My husband has said that I look more powerful also (without my biasing his view). I see the skirt as “hobbling” me and forcing me to spend time thinking about what body parts are showing, etc. Now that you mention it, I guess I do see a woman who wears a skirt as either dressing to please others (therefore not confident), or more fashion-conscious (not a bad thing normally, but not necessarily what you want to convey in court).

      I might wear skirts some days anyway, just to stretch and mix up the wardrobe in a long trial and because they are more forgiving of weight gain, but I’d always want to wear pants on days when I had something important to do/say.

    • I agree with your fiance. As a federal prosecutor, I find that many of my female colleagues wear pants as the default, though they may wear a skirt at openings or closings. But when you are in court every day, eschewing pants altogether would be silly, and would certainly stand out to jurors.

      I think there is also a difference between criminal and civil trial lawyers. Civil lawyers are, or are at least perceived, as being really removed from the jury pool, fighting over money. Looking too well-dressed is not going to help that perception. Criminal lawyers do not have that burden (unless you are the defense attorney who manages to take a high-profile wealthy client to trial, which doesn’t happen all that often).

    • If I were to risk a skirt in a public speaking occasion, it’d be a total flop as I’d spend more than half my brain capacity wondering whether I’m sitting properly and feeling uncomfortable. Skirts as formal wear is so 50s, based on the idea that of course women must look and act like not-men. Totally obsolete in court now :-).

  9. Anonymous :

    Counsel table sliver: I’ve fixed those with an emery board in a pinch! I’ve filled the edges of bigger gashes in the wood with a glob of clear nailpolish.

    What about longer skirts? Super comfortable, modest, you don’t have to sit with your knees together. Even a skirt that hits just a few inches below the knee looks knee-length when sitting down, which is what you do in court most of the time. You can get away with tights — or, if the skirt’s long enough — knee highs. Could be a long slim skirt with a slit in the back (NOT the front or side, or you have to deal with it when sitting), or — my favorite — a long tailored pleated black all-season wool skirt that is fitted waist-to-hip then opens in long wide pleats, mid-calf length. Great for my pear shape (masks the cheek/thigh area). Plus it’s functional. You can run in it, scoot across a cab seat, eat a big lunch, get period bloating, gain a few pounds, wear granny panties, stand up after a long period of sitting and still look nice and neat because the pleats collapse and become a long slim skirt, and wrinkles are disguised. The vertical pleats give a lean and tall impression. This “school teacher” look can go a long way with the jury, too, and it puts a deponents at ease so they’ll talk willingly, and it gives opposing counsel a false sense of security; all because you don’t look like a bitchy woman attorney from central casting. With a longer skirt, you can get away with a much higher heel, which makes you look taller — always good, even for non-petites. Wedges give lots of support, if that’s a concern. Not crazy about flats with a longer skirt; too frumpy. A short skirt with high heels can be pushing the envelope, and it wastes my concentration on my appearance.

    What about winter tights? Not the fuzzy or lacy kind; just plain black smooth tights. They are harder to snag and aren’t shiny/distracting/sexy. Mine have soft waistbands and aren’t binding at all. My DK tights are amazing, and they have lasted forever. They are so strong that I have even sewed the toes (oops, time for a toenail trim), and they just keep going.

    That’s a good reminder: Smooth your toenails down nice and short (and non-snagging) before the trial starts because you might not have time for replacing hose or getting a pedi until it’s over.

    I like lightweight all-season wool. It breathes, keeps its shape, isn’t shiny, doesn’t look too season-y (let’s face it, men’s suits look the same year round; they look hokey in summer seersucker or nubby winter wool). It’s plain and not distracting. Plus way more versatile. Switch your tops to match the season — lightweight turtleneck, blouse, tailored shirt, jewelneck, fine t-shirt. (I don’t like sleeveless tops under a suit because deodorant gets on the jacket and can bleach the lining or sweat gets in the jacket and necessitate more dry cleaning.) You never know if a courtroom will be hot or you’ll be hot from being nervous, so lightweight wool keeps you comfortable. It’s not like you can take off a heavy wool suit jacket (much less skirt/slacks) in court. I can’t wear polyester suits. Too many are shiny or don’t breathe right or chaffe my skin. If anyone has found a good quality non-natural fabric, please advise!

    For a recent interview (successful!) I was having trouble with a gaping dress shirt (peek a boo between the buttons), and a camisole wasn’t going to fix it. Totally solved it by wearing a sports bra. I had a jacket on anyway, so who was going to see my flattened out figure?

  10. I’ve been warned about wearing pearls in a trial in some parts of the country. Comes of as pretentious. Also heard of a fancy-pants New York lawyer who came down to po-dunk Florida to try a case and lost–mostly on the first day when she showed up in $400 leather pumps. You can’t even buy those in that county in Florida, and it really put off the jury. Know your audience.

    • legalicious07 :

      I disagree with those jurors then!

      I mean, I completely understand the importance of dressing one’s best and being neither overdressed or underdressed in professional situations. That said, I can’t for the life of me figure out why a woman wearing pearl earrings would spark the ire of some juror. Nor can I stomach the fact that a professional woman who’s supposed to be on her feet as a trial advocate, lugging stuff to and from the courthouse, etc. can’t (gasp!) purchase a pair of shoes that just might make that entire ordeal slightly more bearable.

      Admittedly, I’m just a law student for now, but I have always planned to follow the advice of an attorney at a fir m where I summered. She told me that the FIRST thing she bought once she started working and got her finances squared away were quality heels at a more expensive price point. I personally think it’s good advice!

      • For work, that is fine. But wearing fancy shoes or jewelry is offputting to jurors. Trial has a different set of rules than work life does, and if you want to succeed for your client, you play by those rules.

        • legalicious07 :

          Sorry, but I’m not convinced that any of these ladies should turn a juror off with their pearls –



          I’m also not seeing a problem with a good pair of Cole Haan Nike Airs or something even pricier on an attorney who must be on her feet. I think those jurors just need to get over it!

          • I agree (I LOVE pearls and good shoes), but I’d save the fashion education for AFTER the jurors side with my client. The principle of the matter isn’t worth the trial.

          • And I guess probably the shoe advice should be clarified. I don’t think it was a pair of demure, sensible Cole Haan Nikes that got that woman in trouble. It was flashy animal-skin very-obviously-just-appeared-on-some-celebrity shoes that turned off the jury. You can look quality without looking expensive. Just keep in mind that expensive is a pretty relative term, and in some places what you think is “nice” or “fun” comes off as “obscenely extravagant.”

  11. Having done this repeatedly, I would say the first consideration is where in the country the trial is. If it is in the deep south, I would not wear pants. I would also do some research into the preferences of a trial judge. They can be sticky on this issue and give you trouble if they think you are offending their “standards.”

    That said, I keep a couple of different black suits on hand, maybe one with a slight texture to the fabric. I have a dark blue pinstripe and a dark gray. I also keep one very pretty, lighter colored suit in the mix — currently it’s a Lafayette suit in a medium blue.

    Although I might break out a button down for voir dire, opening and closing, i keep a stock of softly colored or white cotton or silk knit underpinings on hand.

    And, as long as we’re on underwear, I find that bralleilujah (sp?) bras are surprisingly comfortable and don’t show through.

    The most important thing is for the jury to never notice what you wear. You want them focused on what you say and do. So, no over the top hair, make up, jewelry, etc.

  12. I spent a month in New Orleans at a bench trial last summer and two months in S. Florida this past summer for a jury trial. For both, I brought five suits and rotated the shirts underneath. I wore pants, not skirts, which didn’t bother the judge or jury. The type of suit depends on the time of year – you don’t want to me wearing heavy wool in the summer.

    I was told to avoid black in front of the jury – but browns and navys were acceptable and preferred as they are more comforting.

    Good shoes, no matter the price, are needed. I didn’t follow that advice in NOLA and my feet were in pretty sad shape when I came home. My local counsel wore a pair of Cole Haan (Nike Air) every day (different colors) in Florida – they aren’t showy or anything, but ridiculously comfortable.

  13. I am in shock at the number of people who are saying skirts are more comfortable — are you wearing them without hose? Because that’s impossible in court, and for me at least, there is no way in h*ll that hose will ever more comfortable than trousers that fit properly.

  14. (Also , not trying to be obnoxious here, and there’s no way I’m dropping that kind of money on shoes, so I don’t own any — but they’re Louboutins.)

  15. Am I the only one who can’t tell real from fake pearls, and $12 payless leather pumps from $400 leather pumps at a distance? I’m convinced that people who say they can are making it up.

    • You’re not the only one, but you’re sadly mistaken if you think everyone lacks that ability. Granted, I have an unfair advantage from being born in the rag trade, but I can also analyze the fiber content of your suit, and fit of your underwear, from across the street. If you’re observant enough and have some practice in seeing good quality, there’s no reason you couldn’t recognize it. And do consider that most men, because they’re so limited in larger options, get very good at sniffing out good leather, wool and such.

  16. The skirt suits give you more visual authority, so it is a good choice to wear those for cross-examining witnesses, as you suggested. A pant suit is still very authoritative.

    As far as mixing things up, if you have a pant suit, you can have several different tops to wear underneath — a button down shirt, silk blouse, turtleneck, shell, etc. If your suit has a light pinstripe, you’ll find that if you wear a pale blue top, it makes the pinstripe appear to be the same color. And if you change tops, the strip seems to follow. Use that to your advantage!


  17. boatbride :

    I have tried almost ten jury trials in state court in Northern California. I find that both skirt suits and pant suits are acceptable. I think that sometimes the testmony is somewhat boring and so the jury looks around for entertainment – and what you are wearing is something they look at. I don’t mean give them something to look at but be sure you shoes are polished and don’t need to be resoled or reheeled; no stray threads on your skirt or jacket; a professional looking purse. But I am in favor of colored scarves and will wear a teal suit in addition to black, navy, grey and dark brown. Also, consider knit suits like St. John. They are like fancy sweats! Comfortable, hold their shape packing, look polished.


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