Insights into litigation, sports law, media and legal culture

Court room fashion

PORTOFINO, ITALY – MAY 18: Emily Blunt and Cate Blanchett are seen while filming for the International Watch Company (IWC) on May 18, 2014 in Portofino, Italy. (Photo by Photopix/GC Images)

Observe this beautiful image of Cate Blanchett and Emily Blunt.  Some of you might think: “Expensive Watch Advertisement”!  And you are likely right.  But others might exclaim: “Court room attire!”.

You (the court room attire types) are the lateral thinkers looking for inspiration as you face choices about one of the toughest work ‘looks’ of all.

Court room attire has not been a happy place for women over the decades, at least in common law jurisdictions such as Australia.  As a junior lawyer in the early 1990s, I was once perplexed to hear a male judge say to a female barrister: “I cannot see you“.  After all, nothing had indicated before then that he had a visual disability.  Soon though, I realised he could see all too well.  Because he had seen that she was wearing pants.  Therefore, the barrister was not permitted to appear before him, and presumably went home to change into a skirt.

What was it that made women in pants such a heinous crime?  Was it her failure to reveal her legs?

Now, it seems in the USA at least, women in court are encouraged to cover up, as Amanda Hess wrote recently in Slate.

Conservative court attire is apparently intended to prevent people from being distinctive, on the basis that the pursuit of justice decrees anonymity.  Surely this is hypocritical.  The law celebrates, almost like no other profession, the quirks, traits and eccentricities of its most accomplished advocates.  This is hardly in keeping with the concept of anonymity.

For many years my own choice of court attire was a conservative suit – in a non-conservative colour scheme (such as bright red) – to emphasise that at least one woman was present in the court room. Then, it usually was only one woman.

As it happens, female law graduates today often exceed in numbers their male counterparts at Australian universities.  Delightfully, over a year ago I presided over an  ‘all female’ legal team with female senior and junior counsel, female instructing solicitor, female clients and me.  Hopefully this will not be a novelty in future.

Which brings us back to classical, classy and distinctive black and white.  After all, Cate and Emily look anything but anonymous in this photograph.  There is something about the hair, the tailored air, the beautiful suits, and the posture, which would be impossible to miss … especially in a court room.

Okay, so maybe ditch the tuxedo bow tie and the sunglasses.


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