Is traditional legal attire so last year?

Britain’s legal industry is certainly one that has, until recently, been accustomed to keeping to their traditional ways. Technology has brought much disruption to the sector and with many of the internal processes welcoming new innovative technologies, should the legal industry take some time to reflect on its other elements – legal attire perhaps?

Where do they come from?

This history of this legal attire is actually quite interesting. It was around 1680 that lawyers and judges began wearing white or grey wigs. The start of the legal uniform came during Charles II reign, where he made wigs an essential item of clothing for the elite.

Fast forward to around 150 years later when George III took the throne, the wider use of these wigs began to fade, and soon, it was just those in the legal profession along with bishops and coachmen that still adopted the look.

From then onwards, legal wigs began to take different forms and come with their own meanings. The guidelines for when and how to wear both the wigs and court dresses continued to evolve thoughout the years.

What do the uniforms represent?

To the untrained eye, some of the court dresses and wigs may seem to have just different colours, but there is so much more to it than that.


The tradition of a wig being made from horsehair is still alive today and it’s used in each stage of creating legal wigs. A junior barrister’s wig would be bright, crisp white and feature short curls at the side with ties down the back.

Once qualified, the barrister will then wear tie-wigs – this also features the small curls and covers half of the individual’s head. Most barristers and solicitors will wear this legal wig throughout their career unless they become a judge.

A judge generally has a shorter wig that they wear when in court, but they also have a full-length wig that is worn for special occasions.

Another sign of how experienced a barrister or judge is, is the colour of their legal wigs – the once clean white wig will age and yellow as the years go by.

Court dress

Different variations of the court dress are worn depending on your legal hierarchy and what law you practice. For example, since 2008 civil and family law judges now wear a plain dark gown that is worn over the top of their business attire.

While other judges and criminal cases see the more traditional forms worn. These include the different coloured tabs on the gowns representing Appeal Court Judges, District Judges and High Court Judges.

Why keep them?

While the processes are taken into the golden age of technology, some elements of the industry could be remaining. Back in 2011, the supreme court decided to stop making legal wigs and court dresses mandatory uniform in their court unless for special occasions. It was a bid to make the court more accessible but those in criminal law and young barristers still continue to wear theirs.

What the uniform brings to the role itself is a sense of power and authority within the courtroom. During court proceedings, the wigs are also viewed as a sort of emblem of anonymity. It allows the individual to distance themselves from personal involvement in the matter and, to the others in the room, represents legal superiority. Taking these uniforms away from industry could be viewed as modernising but, just like graduation gowns, legal attire is celebrated when earned.

If you are looking for legal representation or legal advice, do get in touch with our expert team at Lysander Law today.