Judicial Clothing - Other Jurisdictions - United States - Judicial Court Dress

Judicial Court Dress

During the early history of the United States, the court dress of judges and practising lawyers closely mirrored British court dress of the 18th century; both wore white powdered wigs and (typically) black robes in the lower courts, and in the higher ones, judges would wear red with black markings. The practice fell out of favor and died out by the mid-nineteenth century.

Today, generally judges of both state and federal courts are free to select their own courtroom attire. The most common choice is a plain black robe which covers the torso and legs, with sleeves. Female judges will sometimes add to the robe a plain white collar similar to that used in academic dress. Beneath the robes business attire is standard.

Until the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall, all Supreme Court justices wore red robes with ermine trim and full-bottomed wigs, reminiscent of British court dress. Marshall, however, eschewed this formality and began the practice of only wearing a black silk robe, with no wig. In 1994, Chief Justice William Rehnquist added four gold bars to each sleeve of his black robe, but the change in his attire (he had been Chief Justice since 1986) was his own innovation and was inspired by a production of the operetta Iolanthe, rather than any historical precedent. His successor, John G. Roberts, wears a plain black robe.

Some Supreme Court justices (including Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer) maintain the ancient legal practice of wearing large black skullcaps, in their case when wearing their robes outdoors in cold weather (for example, at presidential inaugurations in January.)

Many state supreme court justices wear unique styles of robes, the most notable being the Maryland Court of Appeals, where all judges wear red, and British-style tab collars. The judges of the Delaware Superior Court continue to wear the red sashes or baldrics of their British predecessors, albeit now only on ceremonial occasions.

Some judges eschew special dress entirely and preside over their courts in normal business wear. This is often seen among administrative law judges who preside over relatively informal administrative hearings.

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