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History of Costumes for Lawyers: Magnificence vs. Ridicule

Emdadul Haque

Beyond any reasonable doubt in science and technology the domination of either of the British or of America is still unabated even ranging from parliament to the court premises in many parts of the world. Whether we like it or not we are to cite the British or America as the pioneer of all creativities, discoveries and inventions.  

The same truth is echoed while digging out the historical chronicles of dress code for lawyers. This reminds the quotation of Dan Brown, an American author of thriller fiction, the Da Vinci Code saying history is always written by the winners.   

Dan further opines that when two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. Regarding history as Napoleon once said what is history, but a fable agreed upon.

The history of the direct British rule is almost invisible but their silent domination is yet to be over and the usage of dress code for lawyers is the glaring example in many countries including Bangladesh. In this write up judges, advocates, attorneys, solicitors and barristers are treated as lawyers.    

The costumes worn by the lawyers are the most distinctive working costumes in existence and followed for more than seven centuries preserving respect for authority and the status of the court. The costume for judges was more or less established by the time of Edward III (1327-1377) and was based on the dress for attending the Royal court. The material for robes was originally given to judges as a grant from the Crown. As Edward III decreed that we have ordained and caused our said justices to be sworn that they from now on shall be in the office of justice and take no fee nor robe of any man but of ourselves so long as they remain.    

The division of legal profession in the English legal system dates back to 1340, the time at which professional advocacy evolved. In the same year there was a reaction by others against the length of the attire, it was the lawyers obstinately decided to adhere to the long robe. During that era, the colour of judges’ robes changed with the seasons.

Apparently, the medieval judges wore violet robes in the winter and green robes in the summer while saving scarlet robes as their very best. The green summer robes fell into disguise by 1534 and after 1534 only the violet and black robes were commonly worn. However, robes can be interpreted to mean wig and gown. Apart from clergy and the military, it is the legal professionals who have persisted in the wearing of gown.   

In Europe as far as forensic dress is concerned, a scholastic and ecclesiastical tradition goes back to the days when long mantles were worn by the avocati-consistorial of papal courts and the lawyers of the Roman Sapienza. Reverend advocates in ecclesiastical and secular courts used to wear toga which subsequently came to be the pleader’s uniform and that long robes was imported into the courts first by the priest- original judges and later by those who patronized the courts since 13th century. Also in the legal history of ancient Rome a judge used to wear a purple-trimmed toga when performing his duties as a judge to derive their authority from monarchies or feudal lords.   

The first attempt at written codification of rules for English judicial livery or uniform occurred with the Judges` Rules of 1635. Judges Rules did not introduce new dress code rather it set out what existing costumes should be worn and when. After 1635 a black robe with a light colour fur in winter and violet or scarlet robes with short-pink taffeta in summer were introduced. A black girdle or cincture was worn with all robes. By the end of 1680s two rectangles of linen tied at the throat. Dress code for solicitors and barristers differ in the UK.  

Frankly speaking, the history of usage of dress code for lawyers dates back to 17th century in England where black coats, robes, traditional wigs and bands were used. In England robes adopted in 1685 were the symbolic of mourning for King Charles II. In another development in 1694 it is found that all of the nations judges attended the funeral of Queen Mary II dressed in black robes as a sign of mourning. In memory of Queen Anne in 1714, the same mourning was followed. Italian judges resembling English judges in the 18th century wore white wigs, black robes and white bands. Thus from the tradition of King Charles II, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne the black robe tradition spread around the UK and then surrounded in the world and still persists today as part of the Britain’s colonial adventures.  

Lawyers in the courts of most countries of the world wear black, red and white ceremonial dress signifying different themes. Black is supposed to be the colour of authority and power and also implies submission. Priests wear black to purport submission to God. So, in the case of lawyers their submissions are towards justice. Red is the second-most admired colour for judicial robes historically associated with royalty and judges were appointed as a servant of the Monarch. Red is also considered as the colour of courage and sacrifice.  White symbolizes innocence and purity. Apart from these three colours blue and green are also popular in the judicial dress. Blue signifies justice, perseverance and vigilance while green is supposed to be the colour of justice in Islam.  (First Issue)     

Second Issue Tomorrow

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

29 Jun 2012   01:02:36 PM   Friday
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