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History of Costumes for Lawyers: Magnificence vs. Ridicule

Emdadul Haque


The ancient Egyptians used to wear wigs to shield their shaved, hairless heads from the sun. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of wigs fell into abeyance in the West for a thousand years until they were revived again in the 16th century as a means of compensating for hair loss or improving one`s personal appearance.

In another development of the history it was found that in 1624 Louis XIII of France went prematurely bald and the fashion conscious king lamented a lot for his originally magnificent head of curly hair. He disguised his baldheadedness with a wig and started it as a fashion which became almost universal for European upper & middle class men by the beginning of the 18th Century. His successive king Louis XIV (Son of Louis XIII) also went prematurely bald and opted for wig as a style leader. Other rationales included ease of hairdressing, ease of cleaning of hair, comfort while sleeping, ability to change styles and colours and class considerations as wigs were expensive.  

Wigs were also used after shaving of natural hair to get relieve from head lice creating unhygienic conditions. Royal patronage was crucial to the revival of the wig as Queen Elizabeth I of England famously wore a red wig in a Roman style while King Louis XIII of France and King Louis XIV of France pioneered wig-wearing among men.

Around 1715, lighter wigs were used as fashion too. It dribbled its custom out of fashion until the 1720’s when it was only worn by professionals namely lawyers and doctors. After 1740, it was only worn by judges and had gone completely out of fashion.     

Bands are official neckwear accustomed to use by clergy and lawyers. Bands used by clergy often called preaching bands and worn by lawyers are usually called barrister’s bands. Again the history of adoption of bands credited to England where bands were used for legal, official and ecclesiastical and academic use in the mid-seventeenth century. During mid-seventeenth century plain white bands came to be in variable neckwear of all judges, sergeants, barristers, students, clerical and academicians.  

However, the judicial costumes used in the UK have been changed a lot in 2008 and 2011 stopping wearing of gowns and wigs in the Supreme court, civil and family courts. The USA also mirrored the British judicial costumes of the 18th century. After revolution wigs were banned retaining other robes. But by the mid-nineteenth century the USA almost in total quitted the British styled robes fixing no specific dress code for advocates or attorneys and judges. Almost every judge in USA wears a black robe over formal business suit and attorneys are free to choose their own costumes.

Australia and Africa have changed the imposed dress code in their respective court premises recently. In Greece and Scandinavia, for example, a suit is fine to wear during any legal proceeding. Most of the Muslim countries in the Middle East tend to follow anti-western dress code for lawyers. Judges in these countries wear very simplistic costumes denouncing fancy court room dress as western practice. In Afghanistan and in Iran chief justice wear white and black turbans apart from traditional robes. Judges in Libya and Egypt simply wear green sashes over the business suits terming green as the colour of justice in Islam.       

The origin of legal profession in the Indian subcontinent is traceable to the English legal system and the English legal profession because Indian subcontinent was colonized by the British for about one hundred ninety years. English ideas of judicial attire and addressing of judges in the courts entirely accepted in the court premises of this subcontinent considering Britain as the mother of the judicial attire and address. During the British colonial rule, India followed the British style robes.

In India, rules under section 49(1) (gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961 advocates appearing in the supreme court, High courts, subordinate courts, Tribunals or Authorities shall have to wear a specific robes or dress code namely a vest, a white shirt, a black coat, a black gown and a white band with a slightly dressed down version for female lawyers. Instead of white band a black is used in the subordinate judiciary. Section 49 of the Advocates Act, 1961 provides that the dress code should be prescribed in keeping with the climatic conditions.

Interestingly the Bar council in India at the end of 2001 relaxed wearing of black coat by advocates during summer (March 15 to June 15) for the subordinate judiciary except the Supreme court and High courts. In another resolution Indian Bar council throws out the phrase “My Lordship” or “My Lord” addressing the judges of the Supreme court and High courts and instead favours “Your Honour”, “Honourable Court” or just “Sir or Madam” but still advocates are addressing the judges with previous words partly out of entrenched habit and partly out of fear of falling disfavour with them.  

In Pakistan, also upholding the British tradition, advocates and judges wear black and white in the courts. In 1980s, judges modified their dress code to do away with wig and to allow the usage of a black traditional Pakistani sherwani. In consonance of the British and keeping consistency with India and Pakistan judges and advocates in Bangladesh follow almost same attires in the court premises.

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh provides criminal rules and orders containing dress code for judges and advocates. Regarding dress code there is no mention in the Bangladesh Legal Practitioners and Bar Council Order, 1972 but the provisions for their professional conduct and etiquette are well mentioned. Appellate Division Rules of 1988 of Bangladesh Supreme Court talk about senior and junior advocates and advocate on records. Nothing has been changed in Bangladesh concerning dress code for lawyers and advocates and any demand of change is yet to be voiced by the judges or advocates or even any quarter.       

The wind of change is blowing all across the globe regarding the dress code of lawyers. The dress code of lawyers in many countries has been adjusted with the seasonal weather conditions and also to get rid of the British colonial legacy. But the dress code of lawyers in Bangladesh introduced by the British a long ago is still in force causing concerns among the lawyers because of unsuitability and uncomfortability in a sweltering climate.

Undeniably the role of the British for the legal development in their former colonies is much acclaimed except USA and there is less scope to criticize their role in the subcontinent but the change of dress code or its relaxation varying from season to season is the demand of time. Like many countries the Bar council is the regulatory body of the advocates in Bangladesh and the Supreme Court is the guardian of the judiciary but no initiatives is visible by any of the bodies to make the dress code comfortable and suitable for all seasons. (Last Issue)             

The writer is a faculty of Law & Justice, Southeast University 

01 Jul 2012   07:15:18 AM   Sunday
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