What Do Judges Wear Under Their Robes?

what judges wear under their robesJudges wear robes.  What a lot of people really want to know is what do judges wear underneath them??  Before we get to that, let’s look at the trappings of a modern courtroom.

If you’ve ever been in one, you’ll remember they’re usually big.  The design is formal, barren, and plain.  The judge always sits on a raised desk behind a solid slab of granite.  The judge also wears a black robe.

Obviously, all the trappings project power and stability.  When I was a young lawyer, it sometimes bothered me that the judges used these trappings of power as if they were their own.  As I got older, I realized how important these symbols were and it didn’t bother me as much.  Because even the most violent of men would become calm when they entered the courtroom.  It was an amazing transformation.  Why?  Because of all the symbols of power and control.

Which brings us back to the robes.  In Minnesota where I practice, the judges wear a plain black robe that is pleated at the shoulders and hangs down below the knees.  It has a V-collar with a zipper front.  There’s no other ornamentation on their robes.

Some of the first robes for the judiciary were recorded in paintings by the Spanish master, Velasquez, in the 1600’s.  He painted judges wearing either black or red robes.  In the 1500’s in England, judges not only wore robes, they also wore long wigs.  Even today, in Great Britain, the judges still wear wigs in criminal trials and the lawyers wear the smaller wigs.  In Italy and Portugal, both judges and lawyers wear robes in court.

Interestingly, in China up until 1984, judges wore street clothes—perhaps a result of Mao’s efforts to bring everyone down to the same socio-economic level.  In 1984, they changed to clothing that resembled a military uniform.  (Scary!!)  Since 2000 the Chinese judges now wear black robes.  It’s also interesting to note that since 2000, the Chinese have consulted with many Western courtroom experts and law professors to try to make their system more like the Western courts.  That’s another subject for a blog in the future!!

So, what do judge in the U.S. wear under their robes?

Most are quite formal and wear white shirts with neckties or blouses for female judges.  Sometimes, in the summer, a judge will wear a golf shirt or a t-shirt and put the robe on over these items.  When they’re on the bench, it’s hard to tell they’re dressed so casually.  Then, there’s the story of a female judge I once saw running for the elevator on a hot summer day.

The judges had parking privileges in the basement of the Government Center where the courtrooms were located.  They could park underneath, take a back elevator, and come around behind the clerk’s desks to reach the elevators to their courtrooms.  I was walking in the opposite direction one afternoon when I saw a female judge hurrying from the parking lot.  She had bare legs, sandals, bare arms, and a bare neck under the V-collar.  She ran past me on her way to the elevator.  I’ve often wondered what she was wearing—-if anything—under her robe that day.  It sure looked suspicious!

About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.


What Do Judges Wear Under Their Robes? — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Why do Judges Wear Robes? | Video 1998

    • Usually, a blouse or shirt. I’ve seen some wear a golf shirt under their robes. Here’s the oddest thing I ever saw: I was standing in the public access area of the government center. A bank of elevators allowed judges who parked below, to come up to that level but skirt behind the open area. As I stood there, a female judge came walking by with her robe on—and bare arms, nothing showing around her neck, bare legs—and bare feet! I have no idea what she wore underneath! Thanks for your comment and reading my thoughts. Colin

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