The psychology of court dress
If your lawyer or consultant suggests that you dress a certain way, think twice before denying their requests. What you wear may well affect the outcome of the case.
Situational awareness is an important skill in life. Just ask any employer who has seen job seekers show up in jeans and flip flops for an interview or at elementary school who sees parents showing up for a school trip in high heels. While the way you dress is certainly an important aspect of self-expression, it’s important to remember that a particular situation should give you some guidelines as well. Nowhere is this more important than in a courtroom.
While you might not know it, the way you dress sends important psychological messages to people who see you. This psychology is so important in the courtroom that many lawyers hire professional consultants to advise them only on this aspect of the presentation. Here are some tips to guide you on your best hearing dress.
Go for a neutral look
In general, people who participate in legal proceedings want to dress conservatively. Lawyers of all genders usually choose a suit with a jacket, dress pants, or skirt, and sometimes vests if they want to look very professional. The outfits of witnesses and defendants are often chosen by a stylist to avoid any accidentally negative impression. Here, too, the preferred style is conservative. While the witnesses may not be as resplendent as the lawyers, you will usually see blazers, classic shirts, understated dresses, dress pants, and tailored shoes.
Colors are chosen with care because of the powerful psychological messages they can evoke. You don’t want to dress a client accused of a violent crime in red; a color that evokes thoughts of anger and being out of control. For this reason, courtrooms are usually full of people dressed in white, gray, and brown. These colors are not associated with strong emotions which avoid any negative preconceptions of the jury or the judge.
A court date is definitely not the time to use your clothes to express your individuality. While your favorite linen blouse can tell you comfort and elegance, for a jury it can read as hippy and give impressions of lightness and lack of gravity. Your stiletto heels may make you feel powerful, but high heels evoke feelings of sexuality which can be visually pleasing, but there is also an unconscious prejudice that views an openly sexy person as unfriendly and untrustworthy. Excessive make-up can convey falsehood, a pair of cowboy boots can be interpreted as lack of intelligence, designer clothes can create an impression of entitlement, and aged blue jeans can be read as disrespecting the rules of society. .
In a courtroom, whether you are a witness or an accused, you want to allow lawyers to define a story without being hampered by any prejudices that the way you dress might invoke. This is one of those rare situations in life where the goal is to be mundane.
Project your desired identity
Sometimes a jury consultant or lawyer can ask someone to wear clothes that project a certain personality. As unbelievable as it may sound, the human tendency to accept visual cues is so strong that it can affect their decisions in a court case.
It is not uncommon for defendants to wear clothes and colors that make them look innocent. Expert witnesses are designed to maximize the impression that they are highly educated and trustworthy. Character Witnesses are dressed to convey the impression that they are good people who can be trusted to tell the truth. In these cases, neutrality is not the goal, but an organized impression designed to evoke very specific emotions.
As you can see, there is a lot more that can be done in dressing for the short beyond personal preference or even style guidelines. What you wear will immediately impress the most important people in the room: the judge and the jury. So if your lawyer or consultant suggests that you dress a certain way, think twice before denying their requests. What you wear may well affect the outcome of the case.