How to dress for legal proceedings

When I was a young man, in default of other glories I gloried in fine clothes. In my case they were quite becoming; but there are folk on whom fine clothes sit down and cry. – Montaigne, On coaches

Last week I had a favorite summer top shortened; at its original length it looked as if I were hiding something. Which I’m not.

I need that top because, since I’m in the middle of the many days of Skush-O’Brien depositions, I’ve been running low on appropriate procedural outfits.

My shrinking depo wardrobe reminds me to follow my deposition diet advice with another equally peripheral consideration: how to dress for your lawsuit.

There’s very little variation in courtroom clothing. Lawyers, of course, always wear suits. The youngest lawyers wear black. Veterans are more colorful and stylish. But plaintiffs, defendants and jurors, too, are all over the map–especially during the summer.

From a Daily News piece about a judge who gave hell to a criminal defendant, here are before-and-after pictures of what to and not to wear in court:

‘Mean Girl’ accused of beating rival nabs no-jail plea after wardrobe change.

I’d suggest that you dress for court and depositions (which are actual court proceedings, although conducted in a lawyer’s office) as you would for the office, except at the end of my office career I was amazed at what people thought was appropriate office wear. So it’s easier to list what not to wear:

Flip flops and other noisy footwear. Decolletage (I don’t believe boobs should be exposed in court, unless they’re your defendants). Short shorts and extremely short skirts. Message t-shirts. Glitter. Uggs (unless you’re stomping through knee-deep snow, in which case Uggs, which FYI are not waterproof, are pointless anyway), or big rubber boots worn as fashion statements.

Cover the tats, remove all but one set of whatever sharp objects you stuck into pierced flesh. You’re a plaintiff. You don’t want to advertise your masochism.

Point is, you’re going to proceedings not as your social self, but in the role of serious plaintiff. Dress with respect for the judge, the court officers, the attorneys, yourself, your mama, your case and our judicial system. And although I like Stacy and Clinton–although have you noticed that everyone emerges from the What Not To Wear factory looking exactly the same?–do not wear jeans to court. Not even if they cost you $230.

And don’t wear metal. No big belt buckles, no maces, no major jewelry. Here’s why:

All New York courthouses have serious electronic surveillance. An experienced court-attendee, I generally ace the security process and curl my lip at other visitors who hold up what can be a long line, as the machines beep and the wands wave and deadpan guards ask, “Any metal on ya?”

Metal is verboten. Metal will ring the bells. So I never wear jewelry to court. One particular afternoon, I waited patiently until the guard called me forward. I laid my bag sideways on the rolling platform, watched it chug into the x-ray bunker, and was beckoned forward through the inelegant archway that picks up whether I am carrying anything hostile.

A small woman guard studied the x-ray screen. Then she spoke: “Do you have a nail file in your bag?” Did I? I had to think about it but well, yes, I did. I was surprised; no courthouse eye had ever noticed that nail file.

I handed it over to a guard, we filled out a slip, I got a receipt and was told to pick it up on my way out.

Which I did (sure, because it’s a diamond i.e., everlasting, nail file).

That reminds me. A Brooklyn court officer once told me that if you stand outside any of the New York criminal court buildings during weekdays, you can observe clientele–usually young men–arriving for their court dates and stashing their weapons under available bushes in the adjoining parks.

Oh yeah, guys. No shorts, no t’s, no metal, no major jewelry …  oh, I said that.

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