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What to Wear to Court in New York City

Posted in Personal Injury on October 20, 2021

What to Wear to Court in New York City

Many courtrooms in New York have a sign on the door outlining clothing items that you cannot wear inside. But New York’s courts do not have a dress code published online. As a result, you might risk contempt of court if you guess about a court’s dress code incorrectly.

With this problem in mind, here is an overview of the appropriate things to wear to court in New York City.

Courtroom Dress Code

Courtrooms in almost every state have dress codes. Anyone who enters the courtroom must follow the court’s dress code, including reporters, lawyers, courtroom observers, and litigants.

Bailiffs and sheriff’s deputies that provide security at the courthouse enforce the dress code. In most cases, the courtroom staff will ask you to wait outside the courtroom if you violate the dress code.

But if the court requires your presence, the staff cannot ask you to wait outside. For example, you might test the court’s patience if you violate the dress code as a:

  • Party to the case
  • Lawyer representing a party in the case
  • Juror
  • Witness

The court could sanction you if you violate the courtroom’s dress code, but the day’s proceedings require your presence.

For example, a judge could fine you or order you to pay the other side’s attorney fees during the delay. And while judges pride themselves on impartiality, you won’t want to get on a judge’s bad side by flagrantly violating the dress code.

Broad Principles for Courtroom Dress Codes

Some courtrooms have vague dress codes. Rather than identifying what you cannot wear, these dress codes simply bar “inappropriate dress.”

One example of a vague dress code comes from New York City Civil Court, which instructs parties to “wear conservative clothing.”

These vague dress codes arguably discriminate against certain parties. Not everyone owns a dress or suit. These vague dress codes also give courthouse staff overly broad discretion. A bailiff gets to judge whether your pants are too baggy or your skirt is too short.

When a courtroom has a vague dress code, the judge will probably expect you to wear business or business casual clothing. A dress, dress shirt, skirt, or slacks would meet the dress code. Wearing anything more casual risks violating the dress code.

Specific Courtroom Dress Codes

Some courtrooms have specific dress codes. These dress codes help courtroom visitors by identifying things that they cannot wear upfront.

Common dress restrictions include:

  • No tank tops
  • No crop tops
  • No miniskirts or shorts
  • No spaghetti straps
  • No flip flops
  • No t-shirts
  • Nothing with obscene imagery or messages

These dress codes remove some of the discretion by bailiffs and sheriff’s deputies to bar entry into a courtroom.

Courtroom Dress Codes During the Pandemic

Courts moved many hearings online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many courts have found these hearings to be more efficient than in-person appearances. As a result, these virtual appearances might continue even after the pandemic ends.

According to the New York court system, you must follow the court’s dress code even when you appear via video call.

While it may seem pointless to put on your dress or suit for a video conference, by doing so, you will:

  • Comply with the rules
  • Show respect to the judge
  • Avoid creating an unnecessary distraction

Instead of arguing with the judge about your attire, dressing according to the rules will allow you, your lawyer, and the judge to move forward with court business.

What to Wear

Now you know what not to wear. But what should you wear to court in New York City? The easiest way to answer this question is to put yourself in the judge’s shoes. Wear something that will show respect to the court and the legal process.

This usually means wearing business attire. If you do not own any business attire, borrow or buy some dressy clothing. You do not need to splurge, but you should keep in mind that by dressing in a way that won’t create a distraction, the judge, jury, and lawyers can all focus on the facts of your case.