You only have one opportunity to make a first impression. When you go to court, first impressions matter. Whether you’re a witness, party to a personal injury lawsuit, or criminal defendant, you want to make sure that everyone in that courtroom knows that you’re taking things seriously. Your credibility – and even the result of your case – might really depend on it.

Research suggests that you form a first impression within the first seven seconds of meeting another person for the first time. What do you notice about someone during those first seven seconds? What they’re wearing and their overall appearance is probably at the top of the list.

So, it’s critical to make sure that you’re dressed to impress when you go to court. With that in mind, you might wonder what you should wear. Is it okay to wear jeans to court, or is that too casual? Do you have to wear a suit or skirt, or would business casual attire be appropriate? Here’s what you need to know when you’re getting dressed for your day in court.

Know What Not to Wear

Knowing what not to wear to court is just as important as knowing what’s most appropriate. It’s best to avoid these items of clothing and accessories:

  • T-shirts, especially those with violent or suggestive language, images, or graphics
  • Sleeveless t-shirts
  • Sports apparel, such as jerseys or uniforms
  • Crop tops
  • Sundresses
  • Sweatpants
  • Hoodies and sweatshirts
  • Shorts
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Excessive jewelry
  • Jeans
  • Sneakers
  • Flip flops
  • Sandals, and
  • Slippers.

Try to avoid clothes that are too big, too short, or much too tight. Choose clothes that are clean and free from stains, rips, or tears. Remember, you’re trying to look professional, trustworthy, and confident. Your choice of clothes should reflect that, not distract from it.

Check Local Court Rules

Courts have a lot of different rules. Some courts have rules that concern what you can (and cannot) wear when you show up. Austin’s municipal court, for example, says that anyone who enters the courthouse should “dress appropriately for all court proceedings.”

Items listed as “inappropriate” include “clothing with obscene language or images, pants that sag and/or expose undergarments, flip-flops, tank tops, cut- off shorts, pajamas, and clothing that is dirty or unsanitary.”

So, make sure you ask your attorney or do a quick online search to find out if the court you’re headed to has similar rules. If you violate the dress code, you might not even be allowed in the building.

The Best Choices When Dressing For the Courtroom

Now that you know what not to wear, you’re probably wondering what you should wear when you go to court. There’s no uniform or one-size-fits-all answer. As a general rule of thumb, you should choose clothes that are clean and conservative. Think about what you’d wear to church or an interview for an office job. The outfit you have in mind might be a good fit for court.

For men, traditionally acceptable attire for court includes:

  • Suits
  • Slacks and a buttondown shirt
  • Tie, and
  • Dress shoes.

For women, traditionally acceptable attire for court includes:

  • Suits (pant or skirt)
  • Dresses
  • Dress pants and a blouse, and
  • Professional dress shoes.

It’s not just the clothes that matter. Your overall appearance is important, too. Take a shower. Comb, brush, and/or style your hair. Wash your face and brush your face. If you have visible tattoos, you might want to consider covering them up. If you have anything other than one piercing in your earlobes, think about removing them for the time being.

What If I Don’t Own Dress Clothes?

Not everyone has a suit or dress clothes. If you can afford it, investing in some professional attire might be a good idea. If you can’t afford it, ask around to see if any friends or family members have clothes that might fit that you can borrow. If you’re still coming up short, take a look in your closet and choose the most conservative, cleanest clothes you have. If that means that you’re wearing jeans, that’s okay. Just make sure that they fit well and don’t have rips or holes.