Every profession has a certain dress code, and the people belong to a particular profession are recognised by their attire. Dress code is a symbol of confidence, discipline and profession so as Lawyers dress code. A lawyer’s dress code in India is governed by the Bar Council of India Rules under the Advocates Act, 1961, which make it mandatory for a every lawyer to wear a black robe or coat with white shirt and a white neckband. Let a look at the evolution of the Legal dress code.
The History of Evolution of the Legal dress Code
The formal black and white dress that is worn by the legal professionals has a history not so black and white as the dress itself. The history of evolution of the dress code of the legal professionals dates back to the middles ages where lawyers also known as barristers, solicitors, advocates or councilors, their dress code was similar to that of judges. In Britain barristers wore gowns with stuffed shoulders and elbow length glove sleeves. These gowns were mainly black in colour according to the rules of Inns of Court responsible for organizing barrister education and membership. The barristers also wore coifs and skullcaps and bands around their necks. Nevertheless, the dress code of barristers who were not permitted to present their case before the Courts wore long, open black gowns with winged sleeves. However during the seventeenth century the solicitors were not required to wear a special dress code and were allowed to wear common business suits.
The colourful Seventeenth Century
During the seventeenth century countries decided the dress code of the legal professionals according to their taste and preferences. In 1602, the dress code of lawyers and judges were decided according to the Royal mandate which specified the colour, fabric and length of the dresses and gowns of judges, lawyers and clerks. There were specific colours prescribed according to seasons and days of the week. In Britain the 1635 Decree of Westminster, authorized the Monarch to decide the dress code of the legal profession. The dress code was decided according to seasons i.e., from spring to autumn, Judges were required to wear a taffeta lined black or violet silk gown with cuffs made of silk or fur, a matching hood and a mantle. During the winters, in order to keep the judges warm the taffeta lining was replaced with miniver.
Britain at that time also regulated the judicial dress code of its American colonies, however the dress code of legal professionals in America was comparatively less complex to that of the British dress code.
The wig system
The introduction of the wig by the British bar and bench gave major fashion goals to the legal professionals. The first wigs were imported by Charles II in 1660. These wigs were mainly made of human or horsehair and were predominantly worn by the wealth class in Britain. However by the middle of the eighteenth century wigs fell out of fashion with the common man and was worn by the legal professionals as an important part of their dress code.
With time the wig has been done away as part of the judicial dress code, however even in the 21st Century, High-Court judges and the Queen’s Counsel in Britain and the Commonwealth continues to wear full-bottomed wigs for ceremonial occasions, and shorter bench wigs are customary for daily courtroom proceedings. Barristers in Britain wear a tie wig which is placed above the forehead exposing the forehead from the hairline.
The Black and White 21st Century
The judicial dress code of the 21st century has undergone major transformation not only in style but there have also been changes in the authority regulating the dress code. In Britain Judges, barristers and clerks attending the Courts are required to wear black silk gown over their suits, a tie wig and a band around their necks. Solicitors and lower court officials are not required to wear a wig. The High Court, District Courts and Circuit courts are now the authority regulating the judicial dress code unlike the Monarchs in the seventeenth Century.
Different coloured mantles are worn by Judges which changes according to the type of cases and seasons. Till the seventeenth century different colours were used for Judicial dress, however later the colour black became the traditional colour for the judicial dress. In France, black is the judicial colour of dress of Judges and it is said that Britain adopted the colour black for its barristers and judges. In 1684.
Other European countries follow similar dress code where the Judges judges wear distinctive scarlet or royal blue judicial robes, although this is governed by tradition rather than written statute. Lawyers and advocates presenting at the European Courts of Justice wear their national legal costume, whether it be plain dress or robe.
In the United States of America, levels of the judiciary wear long, black, cloth or silk gowns with bell-sleeves and yoked necklines. They wear no wig, special headdress or collar, although male judges are expected to wear a shirt and tie underneath their robes. There is no specific dress code for court clerks appearing in courts, although professional dress is assumed or required.
The Regulations of the Bar Council of India Regarding Dress Code
Form of Dresses or Robes to be Worn by Advocates
Section 49 of the above Rules govern the dress code for the Advocates appearing in the Supreme Court, High Court, subordinate courts, tribunals or authorities. They shall wear the following as part of their dress, which shall be sober and dignified.
I. Dress Code for Advocates in India
Part VI: Chapter IV of the Bar Council of India Rules/ Rules Under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961. It says, “the form of dresses or robes to be worn by Advocates, having regard to the climatic conditions, appearing before any court or tribunal.”
(a) a black buttoned-up coat, chapkan, achkan, black sherwani and white bands with advocate’s gown, or
(b) a black open breast coat, white collar, stiff or soft, and white bands with advocates’ gowns.
In either case long trousers (white, black, striped or grey) or dhoti excluding Jeans:
2- Black Tie
Provided further that in Courts other than the Supreme Court, High Courts, District Courts, Session Courts or City Civil Courts, a black tie may be worn instead of bands.
II. Lady advocates:
(a) black full sleeve jacket or blouse, white collar stiff or soft with white bands and Advocates gowns. White blouse, with or without collar, with white bands and with a black open breasted coat.
(b) sarees or long skirts (white or black or any mellow or subdued colour without any print or design) or flares (white, black or black-striped or gray) or Punjabi Dress Churidar-Kurta or Salwar-Kurta with or without dupatta (white or black) or traditional dress with black coat and bands.
III. Provided that the wearing of advocate’s gown shall be optional except when appearing in the Supreme Court or in a High Court.
IV. Provided further that in court other than the Supreme Court, High Court, District Court, Sessions Court or City Civil Court, a black tie may be worn instead of bands.”
Though the Advocates Act does not prescribe a different gown for the Senior Advocates however, Senior Advocates have been seen wearing a different gown which is distinct from the normal gown worn by all other advocates. They put on Queen’s Counsel gown having a different pattern than the ordinary gowns worn by advocates.
The dress code of Judges are same as that of the Senior Advocates. Male Judges wear white shirts and trousers with a white neck band and a black coat with a gown, whilst female Judges normally choose to wear the traditional sari, and pair it with a white neck band, a black coat and a gown.
As per the rules, An Advocate should not wear bands or gowns in public places other than in Courts, except on such ceremonial occasions and at such places as the Bar Council of India or as the Court may prescribe.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak when the Courts have to follow Video Conferencing system for its functioning it also bring a change in dress code for lawyers to appear before court. The Supreme Court of India has directed Advocates that they may wear “plain white shirt/ salwar-kameez/ saree, with plain white neckband” during the hearings being done through virtual court. On the same footings following it High Courts across the country have notified the change for new dress code of lawyers to appear through virtual court. It added that the system will stay in place till the “medical exigencies exist or until further orders.”