February 10, 2016 Practice Points

Some Fashion Trends Are Not for Court

By Michael L. Huggins

A fashion trend that has long been adopted by college students has finally taken hold in the fashion industry: pajamas worn during the day.  But one Pennsylvania court has made clear that court is not the place to sport this latest fashion trend.

Outside the courtroom of Magistrate Judge Craig Long hangs a sign: "PAJAMAS ARE NOT APPROPRIATE ATTIRE FOR DISTRICT COURT." Judge Long has described a growing problem of people not dressing appropriately for court. The sign is intended to remind those appearing that the court is a professional environment and calls for formal attire.

Judge Long also noted that the code of conduct concerning court attendees' attire is unenforceable. Still, the response from the public regarding the court's sign has ranged from disbelief to defensiveness. That different environments call for different styles of fashion, however, is not a novel idea. Typically, a person also would not wear a pajamas to a wedding, for a work presentation, or to church. Pajama-wearing proponents are hard-pressed to find a serious reason for why a court appearance should be different.

Most attorneys begin learning courtroom etiquette in their first year of law school, if not through common sense. And courts' prohibition on pajamas will unlikely be cause for those attorneys to begin updating their court wardrobe. But because this idea that proper courtroom attire does not include pajamas is news to many non-lawyers, who have expressed their shock and disagreement, it is a reminder that lawyers should be discussing these issues with clients before appearing in court. While wardrobe is an easy item to forget when preparing a client for court, lawyers cannot assume that clients will know or learn on their own the proper courtroom etiquette.

Regardless of the enforceability of a court's code of conduct, a bad impression, as most lawyers know, could impact a court's decisions. It is best to avoid these circumstances by simply having an honest conversation with clients about courtroom rules and expectations, including that pajamas for daytime is a fashion choice best reserved for days when they are not in court.

Keywords: minority trial lawyer, litigation, court attire, fashion trends

Michael L. Huggins is the deputy attorney general for the State of California in San Francisco, California.

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