We have often heard and repeated the very famous words “nothing is ever black and white”. Oh! But it is!

We are, of course, talking about the world of law. We have since time immemorial considered black and white as the colours of lawyers and judges. But nothing is ever shielded from trends, not even professions. Fashion snooped under the noses of the noble judges and worked itself on the legal profession too.

But before we talk about the attire of lawyers nowadays, we need to know the story of legal attire through the time.

Legal Attire


History of legal attire:

Well, we have often heard of the adjective “conceited” thrown around lawyers to describe them and the history of the attire has a lot to do with that. Originally, the different mode of dressing was chosen by the people of law to distinguish themselves from the common men and the different members of society. Apart from the robes they had to wear wigs while adjudicating or soliciting. “Why the wigs?” We have all at one point wondered this? but it has a symbolic meaning too. The wigs, which were exclusively grey haired, denoted wisdom of the judges and the lawyers. And rightly so, after all they were men of great education and reason.

The roots of the modern day judiciary can be found in England and that’s where the roots of the attire lie too. In 1635 by the judges rules book the attire was fixed. A heavy black robe for general occasions and a ceremonial red robe for criminal or landmark cases were decided upon.
The practicality of heavy robes was questioned in different places but, paying no heed, this was soon set as the universally accepted attire.

Associating black with law:

We sure do associate white coats with doctors and in contrast we associate black with lawyers. While with the doctors the reason behind using white is more scientific, with the people of law it is symbolic. It may have its origin in England but the strong colour was adopted in all countries sooner or later.

The reason being- Black communicates the very idea of justice. It projects:

  • Authority: since the very beginning the people of law were considered to be people of authority. Nobles, royals, wealthy and educated to begin with. And rightly so, after all the life and reputation of the accused was to be decided by them.
  • Formality: deciding cases, announcing judgments isn’t a casual task. The profession of law is high on traditions and precedents. It follows legal customs, courtroom etiquette, and compliance with already written rules.
  • Neutrality: the famous blindfold on the statue of justice in India doesn’t really say what the Bollywood claims i.e. “kanoon andha hai”. The blindfolded statue of justice and its balanced scales scream neutrality. And the black colour of the blindfold is again a sign of the fairness and impartiality of law.

Legal Attire through the years:

Courtroom scenes are the first that come to our minds when we think about practicing lawyers but the truth is far from that today. As the laws kept amending and the world kept changing, different types of legal attires came into being.

Some found it hard to wear the long robes everywhere; and some lost the point of the itchy wigs on top of their heads; and some were just bored of the plain white and black and wanted a dash of fashion in their attire.

Why not? Practice has moved to many places apart from the courtroom. Law reaches everywhere today. We have the round table sets of corporate lawyers, clustered cubicles of the new opened LPO’s (legal process outsourcing) offices, modest offices of the legal NGO’s. Obviously wearing the black robes in the corporate world seems funny.  And as the profession and its area of practice evolved, an average lawyers fashion evolved.

The front white ruffles (called the jabot) became the crisp shirt. The white neck bows (called the cravat) became the trendy ties. And the silky black robes became the vests and blazers. As comfort became the motto of fashion semi formals were invented.

Era of females:

Females entered the profession after quite a long time but when they did the great debate was whether she was supposed to wear the wig, which projected “wisdom”, like the men did.

But after the discussions she was allowed to dress up as other lawyers. From wigs to robes to pantsuits, a woman could wear everything a male lawyer could. But fashion and, of course, the wave of feminism made a few changes there too. Dresses and skirts, which were up until recently considered unprofessional, soon became a norm.

We have some great women of law in history proving that and even now when Hillary Clinton walks in a room with a pink skirt on, it doesn’t undermine her position as the US presidential candidate.

Importance of attire in the profession of law:

But this change in trend wasn’t just random or casual or just for comfort and the old practice of looking different from common men prevailed. Important traditions were kept. Like the use of black in your clothing (although not necessary) is still representative of one’s legal background even in the world of corporate law.

But this doesn’t just stop at colour black or strict dress codes. Although a big part of it is to create an air of a sure footed person it is not just that.
Discipline and meticulousness is a part of law since times unknown and this is supposed to be reflected by the appearance of a lawyer.

  • The attire of an individual points out to one’s personality. It’s the very first impression one makes.
  • It’s not all black today. But the colours are kept solemn. The use of sombre colours is always known to denote prudence and intellect of a person. It shows that the individual is not loud and impulsive in decision making and is rather calm and thoughtful of his actions.
  • The inclusion of a dress as a professional attire wasn’t just to convey feminism. It conveys respect, intellect and confidence and hence is expected to be decent and presentable.

The profession of law in India or in any other country is considered to be traditional, precedential and rational. Legal attire is the first thing that shows all these qualities.