One of the 1st things that intrigued me in legal practice is the strict adherence to dress code. Considering my passion for fashion, this set off a lot of light bulbs in my head. There is a popular saying; “dress, as you like to be addressed”. This is very important in various professions, especially in the legal profession. Lawyers are held in very high esteem dating as far back as the biblical ages. Therefore it is important that also by appearance such prestige is upheld.
Origin of The Wig and Gown
King Edward III introduced the legal regalia and it was worn as the proper dress code for attending the royal court strictly. This dress code was formally adopted in the Judges Rule in 1635 as daily court attire.
By 1873 the flamboyant look was simplified to the black silk robes as it’s being worn now.
The wig on the other hand was not originally part of the dress code for lawyers. In the 17th century, lawyers appeared with their natural hair.
During the reign of King Charles II, the wig became an essential part of fashion for noble and polite society. By 1685, this look was adopted by judges and has formed part of the legal regalia till this moment.
However, between the 1780s to the 1840s, less formal wigs where made for day-to-day use aside from the full-bottomed ceremonial wigs.
The wig and gown represents the ancient prestige and integrity of the legal tradition, it is also used as a disguise for judges in criminal cases so that they are not recognized outside the court.
The Rule of professional conduct 2007 provides in rule 36 that a lawyer must be attired in a proper or dignified manner and shall not wear any apparel or ornament calculated to attract attention to himself. However, in Nigeria as well as in England, judges have the discretion to discard with the wearing of robes in exceptional circumstances such a in extremely hot weathers, meetings with judges in chambers, or where in the court’s opinion it serves the interest of justice.
You may ask how would not wearing a robe serve the interest of justice?
The legal regalia I must say are very dramatic and at time could be very intimidating. In instances where a trial has to do with a child who may have to testify on a matter, the judge may ask that attorneys take down their robes to create a less intense atmosphere. This is why it is important for lawyers to always look presentable and decent underneath their robes. At this point Law meets fashion.
Although the Rules Of Professional Conduct does not specify what color is to be won, the Nigerian law school provides for the black and white monochrome look see the Nigeria Law School Code of Conduct Rule 29(a) and (b). This enforces the requirement for the rules of professional conduct, by prevents unnecessary attention being drawn to ones self. This style of dressing either in black and white, grey or striped trousers for men is adopted from the English legal practice. This form of dressing is also practiced in Ireland, Australia, Cyprus, India, etc.
However in the United States, the legal dress code is a lot more liberal, where lawyers are dressed in normal business attire. This has not always been the case; in the 18th century, lawyers in the United State where also robed exactly like English judges and attorneys. Although I think this system of legal dressing is completely ideal, bringing in some colour and style to the prestigious profession can be very encouraging, however the wig and gown gives lawyers a distinct identity and also maintains a long-standing tradition. Many jurisdictions have however abolished the wearing of wigs in certain courts, eg. England. However the robes are still being used.
The question now is how lawyers can still look trendy and reputable while maintaining the monochrome dressing policy. See this link for ASJ’s looks for lawyers; we shall be creating more looks over time. LAWYERS SHOULD BE FASHIONABLE, IT IS AN ATTRACTIVE PROFESSION! I also love how this is depicted in most legal series such as suits, the good wife, etc and my favorite lawyer that shows the world that Law and style do go together, Amal Clooney.