How To Dress For Your First Court Appearance With Your Attorney

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Posted over 1 year ago. 11 helpful votes

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It's important that clients are adequately prepared for court. Usually, the first court date consists of us filing an appearance, receiving any discovery that the state has, or setting a discovery status date so that the state has about a month to procure and tender the first batch of discovery. It may seem like not much happens on the first court date, but a lot does. And your first appearance in court with your attorney, before the judge and the prosecutor, is very important. Here are some things to remember.

Show up early.

You are told that your court date is at 9:30AM. It does not matter that, according to your attorney or according to your own personal experience, nothing gets rolling at your particular courthouse until 10:10. If the time of the call is 9:30, aim to be at least 20 minutes early. Aside from the obvious hang-ups like traffic, there are often long lines to get into the courthouse. Your attorney can afford to walk in at 10:00AM: he or she may have had a morning commitment, or may be very familiar with the judge, and very likely has a Sheriff's ID that allows him or her to bypass the lines. That doesn't matter. Your job is to show up early.

Take out the fun piercings.

So you know that cute tragis piercing that always gets you complimented? The multiple silver hoops usually lining the shell of your ear? That tongue piercing, or that stud in your nose? Take them out. The courthouse is not the place to express your individuality. Keep them in the car and put them on as soon as you're done - that's your business. But play it safe and take them out before court.

Cover up tattoos.

Granted, a peace sign on your wrist is not going to raise as many eyebrows as a dagger inked onto your cheek, but I hope you take the point. Again, the courthouse is not the place to express your individuality. If you have tattoos, cover them up. If you've got something inked on your arms or legs, wear long sleeves or long pants. If you've got ink on your hands or someplace similarly conspicuous, there's not a whole lot you can do, so do your best not to call attention to it. If you have a smaller design on your face, consider some concealer and foundation, or don't bother. Consulting your attorney would probably be prudent in that case. Your attorney will likely know the personality of the judge in your case, or will be able to find out, so if the attorney feels that the judge is rather conservative and will not appreciate such forms of art, he or she might advise makeup. Otherwise, they might tell you not to worry about it.

Dress nicely.

You've probably heard it before, but take it to heart: DRESS NICELY. Don't rent a tuxedo, but seriously, leave the yoga pants and tattered jeans at home. You would not believe the kind of outfits I see during the course of my practice in Cook County, where I'm in court usually two or three days a week. Dress formally, in a suit, or go with a business-casual ensemble. Consider leaving the jeans at home and go with a pair of slacks, or if you're a woman, a knee-length skirt. This is not the time to be creative or show how fashion-forward you are, much less how risque-you can be. Forget the miniskirt, forget the cargo shorts, and forget the halter tops. Wear a skirt suit. Wear slacks and a sweater. Wear pants and at least a half-sleeve length blouse. If you are having a clothing emergency and need to show up in a pair of jeans, dress them up. For men, throw on a sweater and a dress shirt with it; for women, add a pair of appropriate heels and throw on a blazer over your top. Don't bother with the five inch heels or the tennis shoes. Go with sensible shoes, heeled or not, that are clean and presentable. Hide stains and rips the best you can, if they happen on the fly. For women, consider keeping a light scarf in your purse to hide the fact that you spilled coffee on yourself while driving to court. Court personnel appreciate it when defendants show proper respect for the court, and that includes attire. Your attorney will (or should) show up to court dressed to impress. So should you. Remember, everyone is watching.

Consider leaving your prominent brand names at home.

This is an interesting point that few people seem to consider the way they should. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with wearing a Hilfiger dress shirt, with the logo on the cuff, or a pair of Tory Burch flats with the identifying buckle prominently displayed. But there are certain brands and images that are associated with gang activity. For example, in the counties in which I practice, the brand Ecko with the rhinocerous image is known to raise eyebrows among judges and prosecutors because, rightfully or not, it is associated with gangsters or at the very least, gangster wannabes. There are other brands that are associated with such activity like Sean John, Timbaland, Baby Phat, and others. I'm sure you've spotted the theme here: that brands associated with minorities and creative minority culture (I believe Ecko became popular among the youth skater set) are viewed unfavorably. While that may be the case and it's absolutely terrible if it is, now is not the time to change the world or stick it to the man. You are in court to fight for your rights, for your freedom, for your record. Leave the Ecko sweatshirt at home and wear a cable-knit from Walmart instead if you have to. This is the kind of advice we give to our younger clients, especially, since they tend to be or imagine themselves to be part of the youth counterculture. There is nothing wrong with that, but again: court is not the place to show off your individuality or express yourself.

Tame your hair.

Bedhead? Not attractive. Don't pay so much attention to your clothing that you forget your hair! Brush it, style it, do whatever you want with it, but keep a few things in mind. If your hair has washable dye in it because you wanted blue hair yesterday, wash it out before you go to court. If it's permanent/semi-permanent dye, at least style that blue hair respectably. If you've noticed a theme being developed here, it's that court is not the place to express yourself. Make sure your hair is trimmed and neat and washed. If you're a woman with longer hair, don't opt for the messy ponytail or some crazy-elaborate style. A neatly brushed ponytail, or your hair half pinned up is a good option. You want it out of your face, and you don't want it attracting undue attention.

Ah, the makeup.

If you want to wear makeup, wear it. If you don't want to wear it, don't wear it. If you're not going to wear it, all that matters is that your face is clean. If you are going to wear it, maybe skip the false lashes, the hot pink blush, the bright red lipstick, and the crazy contouring. I'm being silly here, but I hope you understand that the point here is not to stand out, nor to turn any heads. Opt for something sedate and natural looking.

Odor.

Shower beforehand, and make sure your clothes are clean. Not wore-them-once-or-twice-so-they're-probably-fine. Clean. Dry clean them if they require that kind of treatment. Iron them. Lay them out the night before so you're not tempted to run out in a wrinkled shirt just because you want to get there on time. Use mouthwash or keep some mints in your purse or pocket, just in case your coffee-breath is a little more rank than you'd like. Don't bathe in cologne, but consider using a little bit, or a dab of perfume.

Nails.

Now I feel like I'm nitpicking, but some people might benefit from this, which is why I'm even discussing it at all. If you have three inch long acryllic nails, consider removing them. If you're wearing electric blue nail polish, maybe you'd be better off removing it. If you're wearing bright red nail polish, maybe you needn't bother. You don't need to remove your nail polish just because you're going to court, but try to be sensible about the color and the nail art. Keep these tips in mind when you're standing in front of your closet on the morning of your first, second, third, or fiftieth court appearance, and you'll look the part. Remember: your goal is to look clean, presentable, well-groomed, and like the fine, upstanding member of society that you are. Do not give anyone the smallest excuse to look at you askance based on what you're wearing or how your hair is styled. Court appearances are stage-acting, and this is your costume.

Additional Resources

If you are scratching your head about what constitutes business casual outfits and want some guidance, consider checking out a series I used to post on my personal blog when I was still in law school. It's called "Business Casual Superstar," and while it's written to be irreverent and silly, the basic ideas will likely be helpful.

Business Casual Superstar

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