Why Your Appearance Matters
We would like to believe that what we wear to court has no relevance to those entrusted with determining our fate. But we are being judged, fairly or unfairly. Though Massachusetts is characterized as a “liberal” state, judges, prosecutors and jurors are assessing our appearance for clues to our character, competence, and credibility. This is no less true for your criminal defense lawyer, who must – or at least should – be well groomed to address the court or a jury. To judges who made the effort dress and comport themselves “judicially,” your refusal to show respect, or least regard, for the proceedings over which they preside, by wearing a concert t-shirt may affect their view of you. Since your criminal defense lawyer will be speaking on your behalf and you, therefore, may never directly address the judge, your appearance will offer him the only means to appraise your temperament, trustworthiness, and tendencies.
If you choose to stand your ground and wear clothing that many would deem inappropriate, we commend you. It takes guts to insist that your individuality be respected. If, however, maximizing your chances of an acquittal or a less onerous punishment is your goal, we offer some advice on selecting the appropriate clothing for your court appearances.
When appearing in court, we suggest you wear clothing that, while appropriate, you’re comfortable wearing. If you feel afflicted at the mere thought donning a suit, resist any pressure to wear one. Better to appear relaxed than aggrieved by a type of clothing you would otherwise never wear. Nevertheless, your clothing should be minimally appropriate to the occasion, clean, unwrinkled, and free of sports logos, etc. Ideally, your clothing should cover, to the extent possible, any tattoos, piercings and unsightly scars.
If you are a man 35 years or older, consider wearing a suit, preferably a dark grey, brown, or navy blue, or a sports coat. If you are a professional, such as a CEO, banker, lawyer, or accountant, we strongly suggest you wear a suit. Wear a white or light blue shirt, a conservative tie, and comfortable, but conservative leather shoes. No earrings, piercings or dyed hair.
Younger male defendants, or those who appear to be under 25 years of age, can wear sweaters over white shirts, together with smartly pressed pants, and a belt.
A female accused of a crime should wear a dress, a skirt or slacks with a conservative blouse or sweater, or a suit. Women, whether criminal defendants or a witnesses, should resist any temptation to wear alluring clothing or clothing that reveals cleavage, a bare back, bare midriff, or bare shoulders. Limit the amount of jewelry you wear to court. Wear no loud or gaudy jewelry.
If you have any questions about your attire, you should consult with your lawyer.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge Criminal Defense Lawyer, on-air legal analyst, and published author.