For the majority of my clients, pursuing a lawsuit after being the victim of a car wreck or other personal injury is the first contact they have with the court system. This means they have never had to think about what to wear to court or a deposition. Whether you are dressing for a court appearance, mediation, deposition or any other legal proceeding, the following guide will help alleviate any stress and worry about how to make a good first impression.

It is a good idea to be thinking about how you will make a good first impression on the judge, jury and opposing counsel. You will want to be seen as credible and put together from the very beginning of the case. As long as you follow a few simple rules about what you should wear to court and what you should avoid, you can be confident that you’re not making a bad impression and that the judge or jury will be able to concentrate on your case and not your appearance.

1. Dress Neatly and Make Sure Your Clothes Fit – The first rule of thumb on what to wear to court is to choose clothing that looks clean, neat and that fits you well. You do not have to buy a new outfit, just be sure that you are meeting those two criteria with what you choose and you should be fine.

2. Dress Like You Are Going to Church – All clothing should be conservative. No low necklines, stiletto heels, tight jeans (actually, avoid jeans altogether), or sleeveless shirts. If you are a man, button up your shirt and wear an undershirt or, if it is cool out, a sweater. If you are a woman, check your neckline, that your shirt covers your waistline (raise your arms over your head to make sure), and that your skirt isn’t too short. You might not normally dress so conservatively, but it’s proper decorum for the courtroom. Remember that your judge might be very conservative and might have strict ideas about what constitutes appropriate clothing to wear to court. While you can feel free to express yourself outside the courtroom, doing so with inappropriate clothing inside the courtroom runs the risk of having the judge think poorly of you. Instead, strive to make a good first impression.

3. Never Wear Clothing with Pictures or Writing – All too often we see civil or criminal clients wearing t-shirts with sayings on them. Avoid clothing with band logos as well. Even if the pictures or sayings are not offensive or inappropriate, they are still distracting and should be avoided.

4. Avoid the Team Jersey – Courts are filled with Cowboys fans or Astros diehards, but this is not the time to show your love for your team. Even if it is the playoffs. Team jerseys are distracting and should be avoided.

5. Accessorize with Moderation – Women can wear a necklace and bracelet, small earrings, and one or two unobtrusive rings. Both women and men can wear a wristwatch. NEVER wear a hat or sunglasses into the courtroom. If you have a religious requirement to cover your hair, you may do so.

6. Simplify Your Hair – You do not want to draw attention to yourself with hair and makeup. Again, you are free to express yourself outside of the courtroom in any way you like but being conservative is the best bet when in court. A simple, combed style is appropriate for men and women. If you have long hair, you can tie it back or put it up. Natural colors for hair are best so plan accordingly in the months leading up to your court date. If you have a beard and/or mustache, make sure it’s trimmed or combed neatly. If you do not have a beard, make sure you shave the morning of your court appearance. The main goal is to look neat and tidy.

7. Simplify Your Makeup – If you wear makeup please keep it natural. Skip the bright colors and apply it lightly. If you normally wear eye makeup, consider using a waterproof brand; emotions can run high during court cases. Keep your fingernails trimmed and bare or painted a light or neutral color.

8. Piercings – Many clients have tattoos and piercings. While they are a part of you, they could, in some cases, give the judge a poor impression. If you have piercings (other than one or two holes in each ear) that are not currently healing, consider taking them out for your time in court. You can replace them once the hearing is over. Another option is to use clear plugs to maintain the shape of the piercings. If you must keep them in, wear small studs or something else that is relatively unnoticeable.

9. Tattoos – Try to cover any tattoos you might have. If they are on your arms or legs, wearing long sleeves and long pants will be sufficient. Tattoos on your hands, neck, or face can be covered with makeup. While tattoos are widely accepted in many circles, they usually are not in conservative court rooms in Texas. You don’t know the judge’s personal opinion on tattoos, so it’s best to cover them if they might cause him or her to develop a poor impression of you.

10. Shoes – Men should wear closed toed dress shoes or boots. Avoid work boots or tennis shoes. Under no condition should men or women ever wear flip flops. Women should wear closed toed dress shoes. It is not necessary to wear heals and you should avoid doing so unless you are able to walk well in them without being distracting.

Above All, Dress Respectfully

You want to let the judge know the minute he or she sees you that you take this situation seriously. Don’t just dress as if you’re going to church. Dress as if you’re going to your MOTHER’s church. Wear clothes that are modest, clean and fit you well. Clothes don’t have to be new but they should demonstrate that you understand that this is a serious occasion.

Ultimately, the impression you first make on the person who will be deciding your case is going to depend on your physical appearance. There’s no better way to make a first impression than by what you wear to court. Make sure your hair and clothing are clean and that you observe the rules of proper courtroom decorum, and you will be sure to start off your case on the right foot.