Curly white wigs, long black cloaks, and a wooden hammer is the image we think of when we see or read the word “judge”. This image is from old English movies or movies that talk about judges a long time ago. The real image is not much different, you just have to take away the wig from the picture. Most judges wear back robes in court, and there is a story behind why this is the case. The interesting thing is that judges don’t exactly have to wear black robes, but they still do for many reasons. The story of court dresses is quite an interesting one. Now sit down and make yourself comfortable, because you’re about to hear a story of how the people dressed for court, both the judges and the commoners.
Back in old England, everyone had to wear special dresses to attend the royal court. It is pretty exciting to learn about what people were required to wear for court back then, but a lot less exciting for the ones who actually had to wear them during that time. Women had to wear ostrich feathers on their hair tied by some sort of long cloth that hung below their shoulders, and the skirts were so large that they looked like bells. The extremely complicated dresses that we see in movies back then are by women wearing layers and layers of clothing and garments that make their dresses huge below the waist.
At the time when England was under the rule of Edward III, in around 1327, judges had to wear special attire to attend royal courts. Surprisingly, the robes weren’t black then. Even more surprisingly, there were robes for the winter and summer season, and each had its own colors. Winter robes were violet and the summer robes were green. Over the years, the judge attire we know has changed until it reached the black robe that we see them wearing today. The black robe became a thing around 1635. At one point, some judges used to wear scarlet robes for trials involving criminals. Finally, the black robe was agreed upon on the guidelines of what the proper clothing for the court should be. Another fun fact is that judges didn’t really follow the guidelines, which brings us to the point that judges really don’t have to wear black robes. Judges do wear them though out of traditional respect for the court, and to be distinguished from the other people attending court.
Those white curly wigs we see were actually quite fashionable back in the 1600s. People even wore these wigs out of politeness and respect. And since this was the case, judges started wearing the wigs too, which leads to the deliverance that the judges were actually following the fashion really. It is also because there are certain dresses and dress codes that need to be followed because it would be offensive otherwise.
Women had to wear dresses with gigantic skirts that had layers of cloth and hoops back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century, dresses had smaller hoops and layers were a bit less. The wigs went gradually out of fashion, but still, the court dress code was quite strict and the wearing of white wigs had to be followed.
Through the centuries, the material the robes were usually made of has changed. Robes were made of taffeta cloth or silk. The material could also be a mix of both fabrics; they were not plain though like the ones we see now. Court robes had colorful collars and the shoulders had different colors than the whole robe.
Nowadays, judges wear the robe style they prefer. The common thing is that they’re black, but these robes don’t look the same. Some judges prefer those robes with wide sleeves while others find wide sleeves uncomfortable and prefer much narrower ones. Some judges wear shorter robes, the others wear longer ones.
Whatever the dress code is, judges have always been highly respected individuals for how crucial their jobs are. Until this day, people are expected to wear formal, appropriate clothes. Courts are considered somehow sacred in the sense that a court is where justice takes its course. No matter which century, court dresses will always be formal and decent. The most important fact of all is that a court is a place where justice takes place, and the judges have been, and always will be, some of the most appreciated and respected people around the world.