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SarahS

How to dress as a Court Spectator?

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How are we supposed to dress to court? I have an assignment where we need to be a spectator and write what we observe. Can I go casually? I heard that's fine as long as your not wearing anything distasteful.

Not a law student btw. Just in my undergrad and taking a poli sci elective.

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Probably on the politer side of casual/your personal style. Don't go out of your way and wear a suit or anything, but don't wear a t-shirt with swears on it either.

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Yes from what I heard, as long I'm not dressed with anything distasteful (flip flops, ripped jeans, profanity, etc.) I am fine.

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Court spectators can wear almost anything really. Jeans and a tshirt are fine. Basic rules: No hats, nothing obscene, and be prepared to have your bag searched. 

The single most important thing is to turn your cellphone off or keep it on silent or vibrate. Nothing gets you kicked out faster than a ringing cellphone. 

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The 'no hats' rule btw is firm. as in, I've seen clerks wait until the Judge was pausing for breath, and then bark "hats off in the gallery!" while looking directly at the offender.

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12 hours ago, SarahS said:

How are we supposed to dress to court? I have an assignment where we need to be a spectator and write what we observe. Can I go casually? I heard that's fine as long as your not wearing anything distasteful.

Not a law student btw. Just in my undergrad and taking a poli sci elective.

Courts are open to the public. You are entitled to be there. Wardrobe choices shouldn’t be an issue unless a marked departure from what’s generally acceptable. 

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16 minutes ago, Legit said:

Business Casual.

Not necessary for someone who's just visiting to observe.

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You never know who you are going to meet. Play your position.

28 minutes ago, ericontario said:

Not necessary for someone who's just visiting to observe.

Be prepared for opportunities. You never know who you might meet.  

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Yeah. To the above, while you aren't likely to find your next career opportunity in court that day, it is true that staff, lawyers, and even judges can be generous with their time to a student who's obviously there and engaged. You improve the odds that someone may engage with you professionally if you dress professionally. So it never hurts to go that extra bit - as long as it's still within what's appropriate to the setting. 

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I am another vote for making a bit of an effort to look dressed for the occasion. That does NOT mean wearing a suit and in fact, that would look just as ridiculous as being under dressed. For women, I would say something like black dress pants, or  non-faded or ripped not too tight black or dark jeans, a plain t-shirt and a cardigan, or a button-up shirt if you have one, would be fine. For men, chinos/khakis/non-ripped or faded black or dark jeans and a plain t-shirt or golf shirt or button-up shirt would be good also. For both, shoes that cover the feet (no sandals/open toes.) 

Besides the points made above that you will make a better impression on any professionals you have a chance to chat with, you will also feel more like you fit in with the professionals. Court is open to anyone and people do come in in ripped jeans, tight short shorts, inappropriate slogan tees, inappropriate tattoos showing and all the rest of it. But those people are generally accused or witnesses and their supporters. Do you want to be associated more with them, or more with the lawyers, law students, judges, clerks, etc? Especially if you are a person of colour and/or young, you may get mistaken for them even when you are dressed well, and while there is nothing wrong with that and it's not that accused or their family members are untouchables or anything like that, it can feel very alienating to work hard and overcome a lot to be in a position to be in a courtroom in a professional capacity and have people overlook that. So I always make a point of looking as sharp as I can to minimize that confusion. The more you look like you belong, the more you feel like you belong. 

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3 hours ago, Legit said:

 Play your position.

I don't understand what this means.

Anyway OP, sure if you want to go and try to meet lawyers and whatnot, dress nicely. But if you're actually looking for an answer to your actual question, which is how you're "supposed" to dress for court, and whether you can go casually... the answer is absolutely you can go casually. No need to overthink this one. If you just want to sit at the back in jeans and a t-shirt to take notes, yes that is perfectly fine.

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Side note: if anyone seems to suddenly focus on you and demand to know who you are and what you are doing, don’t be offended. Just tell them you are observing and have no involvement with the case. 

Witnesses have likely been excluded from the courtroom you are in. The judge/sheriff/lawyer asking is worried you are a witness or are a “friend” reporting to a witness during the court break. (FYI this happens a lot and is always fun in cross).

A demand to know who you are is not coded language that you are unwelcome and a hint to leave. Stay put, you’re cool. 

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I echo many of the comments in this thread, though I disagree that it's problematic to be overdressed. I've noticed that judges, lawyers, court staff, and members of the public treat me like a professional when I'm wearing a suit. A senior lawyer at my firm once told me that if you observe court dressed casually, you'll be mistaken for an accused. Indeed, one time when I was observing a criminal proceeding dressed casually, a Crown asked me if I had a matter pending. It wasn't the end of the world, but it's nice to have others recognize you as a professional. So ever since then, I haven't observed court without following Barney Stinson's classic mantra: suit up!

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I went to court as a spectator a few teams with just a T shit and jeans, no one gave me trouble. 

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26 minutes ago, prohacvice said:

I echo many of the comments in this thread, though I disagree that it's problematic to be overdressed. I've noticed that judges, lawyers, court staff, and members of the public treat me like a professional when I'm wearing a suit. A senior lawyer at my firm once told me that if you observe court dressed casually, you'll be mistaken for an accused. Indeed, one time when I was observing a criminal proceeding dressed casually, a Crown asked me if I had a matter pending. It wasn't the end of the world, but it's nice to have others recognize you as a professional. So ever since then, I haven't observed court without following Barney Stinson's classic mantra: suit up!

Lol, wait till you’ve been a lawyer for years, are wearing a suit, and still get mistaken for an accused 😮

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7 hours ago, ericontario said:

I don't understand what this means.

Anyway OP, sure if you want to go and try to meet lawyers and whatnot, dress nicely. But if you're actually looking for an answer to your actual question, which is how you're "supposed" to dress for court, and whether you can go casually... the answer is absolutely you can go casually. No need to overthink this one. If you just want to sit at the back in jeans and a t-shirt to take notes, yes that is perfectly fine.

We all have different standards.

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On 9/23/2018 at 1:04 AM, lookingaround said:

The 'no hats' rule btw is firm. as in, I've seen clerks wait until the Judge was pausing for breath, and then bark "hats off in the gallery!" while looking directly at the offender.

As is the "no chewing gum" rule. ;) 

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8 hours ago, OWH said:

As is the "no chewing gum" rule. ;) 

And the no food/drinks rule! Don't bring your Starbucks with you!

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