Court Attire: Creationism & Evolution

Mark Twain said: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

The author is sure her readers would agree that lawyers are people who have more than a little influence on society. Having established that, she thinks it’s safe to assume that their attire has a lot to do with it.

She knows its hard to imagine a person who looked like the offspring of a poodle and a bat could have ever been taken seriously, let alone have the power to save or condemn the lives of people, but fashion is a reflection of the society and time it belongs to, and court attire has been subject to the vagaries of both, whim and weather.

Indian court attire, to a large extent, much like Section 377 of the IPC, is the Colonial Empire’s gift to us. It was during the reign of Edward III that the costume of a High Court judge was established, which was a long robe, a full hood with a cowl covering the shoulders and a cloak. It was based on the correct dress for attending the royal court and the materials for these robes included ermine, taffeta and silk. The colours were violet for summer and green for winter, with scarlet for special occasions. The author feels that they must have looked resplendent in their peacock plumage.

By the mid-eighteenth century, a less formal version of the robes was used for criminal trials. This comprised of a scarlet robe, black scarf and scarlet stole. For civil trials, some judges had begun to wear black silk gowns.

Judges also began to wear plain linen bands around the neck instead of the ruffs associated with Queen Elizabeth I. They started out as wide collars, but, by the 1680s had become what we see today: two rectangles of linen, tied at the throat that are usually worn with a winged collar.

Till the 17th century, lawyers were expected to appear in court with short hair and beards. This was soon followed however, by a dramatic turn of events brought about by wigs. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. No, that isn’t a typo. Yes, wigs. They first starred in the courtroom during the reign of Charles II. They were worn inside the courtroom simply because they were being worn outside it and they were considered an absolute must-have for polite society. Not wearing a wig amounted to a serious and unforgivable fashion faux-pas and people flaunting  naked heads of hair were considered savages ,blacklisted on the guest lists of the crème d’ la crème of society and treated like pariahs. The author delights in the use of hyperbole.

But, like all good things, this too came to an end. The reign of George III saw these beautiful creations of spun stardust go out of fashion.

The Indian Judiciary, for better or for worse, disowns and refuses to acknowledge its Poodle parentage. It does, however, by way of the Advocate’s Act of 1961, make it mandatory for advocates appearing in the Supreme Court, High Courts, Subordinate Courts, Tribunals or Authorities to wear a dress that is sober and dignified.

And that, dear readers is how men and women of the Law came to be drowned in voluminous folds of black cloth in our tropical climate.

The write up was submitted by Samyukta Menon, 2nd Year. 


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