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2021 Update: We still stand by the advice in this older post on what to wear for a month in court, but you may also be interested in our recent discussion on whether women lawyers can wear interesting suits to court, or our general advice on courtroom attire for women lawyers!
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.
Some of our favorite mid-range, basic suits for women include…
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).
Psst: these are some of our top recommended “investment” suits — a bit pricier than the basic suits above…
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 Louboutins.
These are some of our favorite heels as of 2023, but check out our entire Guide to Comfortable Heels!
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.
Psst: As of 2022, some of our favorite foundational garments include this line of waist-shapers, these comfy shorts to prevent chafing while wearing skirts without hose, this full slip for wrap dresses and shirt dresses, this half-slip to prevent clinging, these pantyhose, and this bra.
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 what to wear for a month in court?
Pictured: The Good Wife, which we’ve been hearing amazing things about but have not yet watched.