Often I have said, “I am not your parent and I realize that how you dress is none of my business, but: clean up and wear a coat and tie to court.” If you don’t want to spend much money I assure you that the local Thrift Store will have you ‘stylin’ for under $20. For men or women, in a nutshell, my advice is to dress like someone to whom you would be willing to lend money.
Observe that in court the police officer, whether on or off duty, always looks sharp; the prosecutor or plaintiff’s attorney looks sharp; and the defense attorney looks sharp. The reason is that the judge views everyone’s dress as a sign of respect…..or not. Understand that unless you are simply visiting, no one attends court in a vacuum. Whether plaintiff, defendant or victim, you always want something from the judge or jury. Several years ago the American Bar Association did an extensive survey about the amount of time it took a jury to decide innocence or guilt of a Defendant. The result: under 10 minutes after first sight. Dressing formally enhances your credibility; dressing informally or worse, diminishes your credibility. That’s just a statement of the truth. Of course dress alone will not turn a losing case into a winner or vice versa, but why give the opposition unnecessary assistance? Whatever edge dress may give you, always take it. Cases have been known to turn on clues unrelated to testimony.
So when a lawyer tells you to dress up for court, even traffic court, the comment is meant to be neither elitist nor intrusive. It simply recognizes that on some level, most of the participants in court, whether plaintiff or defendant, are there because they chose to be (i.e. knowingly engaged in conduct, or associations with others, whose likely result was appearing in court). Since you chose the courtroom as your arena, the lawyer’s job is to tell you the rules. If you do not want to play by the “court dress up” rules, don’t defy them, just stop choosing court as your destination.