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What do judges wear under their judicial robes?

Have you ever wondered what a judge might wear underneath his or her robes? Do they wear serious business clothing? Are they wearing a fun T-shirt? An ugly sweater? Before we get to the answers, first, we should take a look at elements of the modern courtroom. It’ll be easier to understand why a judge wears judicial robes in the first place.



If you’ve ever seen a courtroom, whether in person or on TV, you’ll know they are big. Courtrooms were designed to look formal, relatively spartan in decoration, and as imposing as they are structured. The judge usually presides over the courtroom from a raised desk and station. And who can forget the black robes that the judge always wears?



These different elements, from the way the podiums are positioned to the judge’s judicial robes are all meant to project power and stability. Every part of what makes a courtroom carries significance, both symbolic and practical. But it is in the symbolism that grants the courtroom its power—palpable power. Even when violent criminals walk into a courtroom, they exhibit at least a modicum of calm and control. It’s in the atmosphere of the court. It represents structure and control.



So, what about the judge robes? Usually, we know them for their plain black, pleated shoulders, and they’re usually really long. And they don’t really sport much in decoration.



If you look back on the history of judiciary robes, the dress code for judges seems to have maintained a fairly steady tradition, although there were a few changes here and there, depending on the country. In England, during the 1500’s, judges wore robes as well as long, voluminous wigs. Today, in the UK, you’ll still see judges wearing wigs along with their judge robes, and even lawyers will wear smaller wigs. Looking at Spain, it was first recorded in painting, during the 1600’s by Spanish master Velasquez, that judges there wore red or black robes. In China, until 1984, judges only wore regular clothes, possibly because of the Mao movement. When 1984 came around, the judges were made to wear military-type uniforms. And then finally, when 2000 came around, Chinese judges were seen wearing black judicial robes, mimicking a more Western approach to judicial attire.



Now, onto the answers. What do judges in the US wear under their judicial robes?



Under men’s judicial robes, judges usually wear white shirts with neckties. Under female judiciary robes, women may usually wear blouses. But in the summer, it’s not unheard of for judges to wear golf shirts, casual t-shirts, and then they just put their judicial robes over the clothes. With how big those robes are, it’s easy to see how not many people know that judges can be incredibly casual in their dress.



Once, while making my way to the Municipal Center, I had a female judge run past me, most likely rushing to one of the courtrooms. She was wearing bright shorts and a bright t-shirt, almost like she was going to be going to the park later that summer afternoon. Another time, I saw a male judge in cargo shorts and a bright summer shirt, again looking like he was going to have the time of his life after the courtroom. You would never suspect that under the imposing look of their black judge robes!




  • jim

    Judges, out of respect, to the dead, wear black robes. Most any official papers will give your name in capitals, meaning you are dead. See :David-wynn-Miller:

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