Fashion Report: View from the Bench

It’s Monday morning…trial day! You awake and quietly move about the house in the early morning hours running your opening statements through your head. You know every file, every deposition, and every witness statement. You are ready. You approach your closet for your battle gear. What are you going to wear?

As a judge, I meet many lawyers with a variety of styles. Style is an easy way to set yourself apart from other lawyers in the courthouse, and a little bit can go a long way. If you think about the lawyers in your community, more than likely there are a few who stand out for their fashion sense. Whether it’s their amazing designer shoes, fabulous handbags, or super luxe suits, you know who they are. Chances are, as a young lawyer, you can’t afford their look. That doesn’t mean you should resort to wearing sweat pants or sandals to the courtroom, because one thing you really can’t afford is a bad impression.

There are many constraints on our fashion choices. Let’s face it, working in a courtroom or a law firm isn’t exactly the same as working for a magazine or design house. However, it is important to understand that style does not equal expensive clothes. Your appearance is your first introduction to the judge or jury, and a well put together outfit always speaks clearly. You’ve worked so hard prepping; don’t let your clothes or nail art be a distraction from a strong argument. Your outfit should be a silent supportive partner that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Even as you wrap up in court, your appearance serves as a reinforcing echo of your position and authority.

We all love fashion and typically female lawyers feel their male counterparts have it easy. “All they have to do is put on a suit!” My female colleagues and I have endless choices which include, but are not limited to: pant suits, skirt suits, dresses with a jacket, and endless separates. Then we have shoes to consider such as heels, pumps, sling backs, or wedges. Some women even have standing appointments for mani-pedis so that nails can change as easily as handbags to coordinate with an outfit.

All these options can spell trouble. Avoid anything that projects a sloppy, unorganized, and unprofessional image. Choosing a simple classic suit is always a safe bet. A fashion risk your Instagram followers adore might not be as well received in court or by your clients. Nonetheless, it is important that male or female, you know any preferences the court may have. For example, some courts may have relaxed dress codes in the summer that account for rising temperatures while others may have very strict rules that require blazers or jackets. No matter where you are, every court expects you to know their rules.

Decisions are made in courtrooms across this state that affect families, businesses, and even the laws that govern us. Judges and juries are tasked with fact finding in making those decisions. Whether it’s down on the coast or out in west Texas, they look to you for evidence and guidance. They will evaluate you as a package, and therefore what you wear in court can be impactful. Your appearance conveys your professionalism and respect to the court and client. So, when you pick your outfit for a simple hearing or two week trial, I hope you dress confidently, professionally, and with a little bit of style.

Judge Amanda N. Torres

Judge Amanda N. Torres graduated from Texas A&M University – College Station and from St. Mary’s University School of Law. Judge Torres began her career as a prosecutor in the Nueces County District Attorney’s Offices. She was then appointed by the Nueces County Commissioners as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, Place 1 and sworn into office on September 30, 2009. Judge Torres successfully ran for office and was elected in November 2010. She also worked as an associate handling civil litigation at Branscomb│PC in Corpus Christi, Texas. In January 2014, Judge Torres was appointed by the Nueces County Commissioners Court to fill the remainder of the term as Presiding Judge of County Court at Law Number 5. She currently handles juvenile criminal, CPS, and guardianship cases. She will serve her community until the election is held in November 2014.

Judge Torres serves on the Texas Young Lawyers Association Board of Directors as Minority Director, Small City. Her community service includes service on various boards in her community and she is a recipient of the 2012 Corpus Christi 40 under 40 Award, the 2012 Service Provider of the Year Award from the Coastal Bend Aids Foundation, and the 2012 TYLA Co-Outstanding New Director of the Year Award. She also received the 2014 Student Support Heroes Award from Communities in Schools. She is also active in the Junior League of Corpus Christi.

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  90. I am part of the anti-pantyhose movement and have been since the first time a bride asked me to wear them in a wedding back in 2000 (seriously, it was summer). I wear a skirt to work basically everyday and in nearly 6 years of practice, I’ve never had an issue. I’ve appeared in 20+ different district and federal courts throughout TX–Houston, Dallas, Lubbock, Beaumont, Midland…the list goes on. No issues. Sometimes I wonder if some of these antiquated notions of what “we” should be wearing aren’t in fact perpetuated by a small faction of women who still think you have to look and act a certain way in order to be a successful lawyer. How bout we just try doing what works for us. Profesh, yes. Ironed, yes. Quasi-conservative, but not completely de-void of color, style and God forbid, personality, yes. Panty-hose, NO.

    1. Amber! While I do love Duchess Kate, I whole-heartedly agree with you! And, admittedly, I am a no-longer-in-the-courtroom-in-house-attorney-who-wears-jeans-everyday so the question no longer affects me directly and I raised it on behalf of others. I am so happy to hear your wide array of experience where this was not an issue! I have often wondered if pantyhose were still actually a requirement as I was made to believe or if (as I have suspected all along) the pantyhose issue was something the males I was surrounded by when I was a young attorney made a big deal out of because it was just another way for them to talk about how the female attorneys were dressing rather than the arguments we were making.

    2. Ironically, I wore a pair of hose today to work for the first time this year. The reason–comfort — I wore a dress and its freezing in my office. I think wearing hose is optional depending on where you practice. More liberal places like Austin may be a bit more lenient than other more conservative towns on this issue.

      While neutral hose seems a bit antiquated, they can actually be quite fashionable. You can mix and match colors and designs with your outfits. Now, I am not referring to those hose with bright colors with bold designs and prints; there a some that have modest designs and colors that are appropriate for the office.

    3. I agree with your sentiments Amber, do what works.

      I also acknowledge that sometimes women are judged unfairly and harshly by their peers and other women. In a profession where we advocate for others, we should all try to keep the focus there and off of our outfits.

      I am also so happy that you have had positive experiences panty-hose less throughout our state and country!

    4. While I agree that the emphasis should be on the merit of the argument instead of the advocate’s choice of hosiery, I personally think pantyhose are a must if I am going to be in front of a judge or jury. I went to a CLE (admittedly, about 7 years ago) where a local judge (who was a female) went on a bit of a rant about unprofessional courtroom attire. She included among her complaints, women who do not wear pantyhose. From then on, I have been pretty emphatic that hose are necessary unless you know the judge doesn’t care. I don’t want to risk risk distracting the jury or displeasing the judge with something as easy to remedy as putting on a pair of pantyhose.

      I will say that I have made a point to ask judges at various CLEs or informal occasions about their preference, and almost all have said they simply don’t care. The male judges especially, have made it pretty clear they wouldn’t even think to notice. But I have heard from at least two judges (both women, interestingly) who believe bare legs are inappropriate in the courtroom. While I doubt these judges would let such a silly thing influence their opinion, I do want to do all I can to show respect for their Court. Besides anything that makes me more like Dutchess Kate, the better. (We may need to devote a separate blog post to her collection of fantastic tan leather pumps. If you don’t have some….get them.)

      1. Laura, I respectfully disagree with nearly everything you said…except the tan pumps. They are a critical part of any girls wardrobe AND look fabulous with bare legs. Get you some. 😀

      2. Laura, thank you so much for the insight! I honestly threw out my pantyhose long ago because I thought they were antiquated and no one cared if they were worn or not. It is certainly interesting to hear that some judges prefer them. I might have to go out and invest some pantyhose; however, I live in South Texas where the judges already provide for a “relaxed summer dress code” due to the rising temperatures. In the winter I wear black pantyhose/tights but it is more for warmth than anything else.

      3. Laura,

        I love that you ask Judges what they prefer! Judges are people too and we like hearing from lawyers – especially when they want to know what will make us happy! I encourage lawyers to join their local bar associations and go to events or mixers so they can informally meet their Judges. It’s at events like this where connections can be made with new friends and members of the judiciary.

      4. I agree. Hose are a must. Being in the highest of professions one should hold themselves to a higher level of etiquette. Bare legs? Are you going to the beach right after work? Seriously, get back to being classy ladies. Cover your legs, don’t show them in the courtroom. People have become way too casual.

  91. Judge Torres…Even though Duchess Kate has made wearing pantyhose much cooler in the last few years and therefore perhaps they aren’t looked at with the same amount of dread as they were before she graced us with her presence….I’m curious what you think about whether or not they are still required in the courtroom? I was taught, absolutely yes, pantyhose when going to court no questions asked. While I do find it ridiculous that female attorneys are sometimes judged based on whether or not they have pantyhose on, it happens. Especially in the more conservative legal communities. So, what do you think? Pantyhose or no?

    1. Andrea,
      Thanks for the question. When I first started out as a prosecutor, anytime I was going to be in court I wore pantyhose. In fact, I considered myself better for it! With my nose upturned, I thought “Well, at least I have respect for the court! I’m wearing pantyhose!” Now, as a more experienced lawyer and judge, I can’t think of one time I’ve looked at a female attorney’s legs to check for pantyhose. I personally don’t think it matters whether a woman wears panty hose to court. Does it really mean you have more respect for the court because you are willing to put your body into a circulation-cutting piece of hosiery? No. What does matter is that you are prepared, organized, and respectful to opposing counsel, any witnesses, and the court.

      Today, I have scars up and down my shins from Crossfit, so I like to wear hose if I have to do a big speaking engagement. It reduces the amount of times people will ask me “what happened to your shins?” However, in the heat of south Texas, I cannot promise I would wear hose every day. Ultimately, you should wear hose if you are comfortable doing so, but I do not feel it is a general blanket requirement. The only requirement for women and men that I know of is professionalism.

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