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Why do barrister gowns look so weird from the back?

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19

Some think it’s so money can be dropped inside

A former Court of Appeal judge has addressed a question we’ve long wanted answered: why do barristers’ gowns look so weird from behind?

As if wearing a horsehair wig and speaking in Latin isn’t silly enough, since the 1600s advocates have donned a strange appendage on the back of their left shoulder. It’s pretty difficult to describe, but this image from legal outfitters Stanley Ley shows what we’re talking about:

The back of a barrister’s gown. Image via Stanley Ley

We know what you’re all thinking: WTF is that? Thankfully, judge turned blogger Sir Henry Brooke has dedicated an entire article to the question.

One theory, he writes, is that this gown quirk harks back to a time where it was used as a convenient purse or bag. Historically, barristers did not receive explicit payment for their advocacy — their fees were ‘honoraria’ — so clients could slip cash into the gown fold.

A nice theory, but one Brooke dismisses like he’s on an episode of MythBusters.

Instead, he claims the piece of fabric is a customary part of mourning dress. Quoting legal historian and Cambridge professor John Baker, the blog reads:

The little black appendage now worn by barristers over the left shoulder is not of medieval origin as some have supposed. It was never a purse. It is the remnant of a mourning hood assumed on the death of Charles II in 1685.

Who knew?

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19 Comments

Anonymous

Not me!

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Someone please explain to me why barrister’s mourned Charles II? Was he our homie? Did barrister’s mourn other monarchs when they popped their clogs? Can we get the hood back? I rather fancy looking like a dementor.

(26)(0)

Anonymous

Can you explain your use of apostrophes?

(28)(3)

Anonymous

Yea, a poor grasp of apostrophes- obviously. You going to answer the question?

(4)(2)

Anonymous

I think that there were periods of mourning for all monarchs back in those days, so that switching to a black mourning gown for Charles II in 1685 was not in itself unusual. What is unusual is that the barristers did not return to the gown trimmed with velvet that they usually wore, when the period of mourning ended (despite being ordered to do so by Holt CJ). The explanation for that is perhaps simply that the usual gown was more expensive and more uncomfortable to wear than the ‘mourning’ gown.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

There is more detail on this in a book called “Legal Habits: A brief sartorial history of wig, robe, and gown”, which Ede & Ravenscroft were giving away with certain purchases (but is also on Amazon for £1.30).

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Yes, and E&R also post it on their website as a PDF document:

https://legal.edeandravenscroft.co.uk/images/site/Legal_Habits_book.pdf

Very interesting read for any barrister.

(0)(0)

Emma Lawson

I’d like to know why too! This article doesn’t address why this is added or why we mourn him! 🙄

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Slow news day?

(6)(1)

Donkey Sanctuary

It was us that took the ass. You were mistreating the poor animal. Also, most people call it a donkey.

(0)(0)

Stuffy Partner

The headline for this article is awful. I know we’re on a legal gossip site, but this still isn’t a site for pre-teens who say things like ‘squad goals’ and ‘swag’.

(13)(2)

Ann

What is your problem exactly? Neither of those phrases are used in the headline or article…

(0)(2)

Stuffy Partner

My problem, ‘Ann’, is the erosion of standards in journalism and the path that leads to the deterioration of the English language generally.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

How have you coped all these years? Solicitors are among the most disgraceful butchers of English.

I’m sure your letters and memos are perfectly composed. But you must be presented with semi-literate rubbish every day by your colleagues. Particularly trainees’ drafts. Lordy, trainees are stupid and useless.

(1)(0)

Wiseacre

The reason “Anonymous 2” wrote “why barrister’s” is that before he took a cut in income to become a lawyer he worked in a greengrocer’s.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

She* did.

(2)(0)

Chicken Connoisseur

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Are the gowns Solicitors wear in the Crown Court designed to ‘usher’ a newish regime and to ‘stuff’ the junior Criminal Bar ?

(4)(0)

Mr Jolly

This was a nice, fun article. Just the sort of thing LC is great at!

(3)(1)

Comments are closed.