Why do British Lawyers and Judges Wear Wigs in the Courtroom?

| General

History

The history of the court dress has been a question for many. Is it simply a costume of the 17th century? Or something we only see in movies and TV shows like How to Get Away with Murder? Let’s take a look at British history and discover why barristers and judges wear wigs in the courtroom…

Wondering how fashion and the courtroom have a relationship? Wigs made their first appearance in the courtroom because that was what society was wearing. The fashion roots of wig wearing date back primarily to the reign of King Charles II. It could be said that inspiration was taken from Louis XIV of France. For context, in the mid-17th century, a balding scalp was considered to be a sign of syphilis. This had an impact on society as they decided to make a conscious effort to cover their scalp. Who knew this would become a growing trend throughout the upper and middle-classes of Europe, and even alter court dress? Before this time, British lawyers had a simple dress code and were only expected to have short hair and trimmed beards. 

Although wigs have since long gone out of fashion in society, people in the legal profession continue to wear them. 

Challenged to the Dress Code 

The court’s dress code has been challenged, and this does not come as a surprise. In 2007, a case was put forward to change the dress code. The Lord Chief Justice Baron Philips stated that wigs ‘would no longer be worn during civil or family cases and judges would need only one robe’. In the same year, the Guardian launched a survey to garner public opinion on this issue. 31% of 2,000 people surveyed wanted the civil court judges to keep their wigs, while 68% thought criminal court judges should keep them. 

The Debate Continues

Kevin Newton, a Washington D.C lawyer who is based in the UK described the wig wearing uniform as a symbol of uniformity. The practice of wearing wigs creates a distinction between the law and those being called to stand before it. 

It is clear to see that wig wearing was not just a form of ‘dress up’ but a key influence on how the legal profession best wanted to represent themselves. Although wig wearing is still a debate today, some UK judges believe this brings a sense of formality, power and respect for the court. 

It is fair to say that in all professions dress code does play a crucial role. Without wigs and robes how would society distinguish judges and barristers from the normal person? Change may take place in the near future but to what extent, we are yet to see.

Written by Mary Kukoyi

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