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Why do barristers wear wigs and gowns?

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New Middle Temple exhibition explains the origins of our unusual court garb

Barriters wigs gowns

Ever wondered why barristers dress the way that they do? Well, a new exhibition aims to explore exactly that.

Middle Temple’s latest library exhibition, ‘Legal Fashion’, showcases a history of English court dress from the 14th century right up to more recent times. The exhibition, which was organised in collaboration with the Middle Temple Archive, opened for viewing last month, nicely coinciding with London’s biannual Fashion Week.

So what’s on display? A post on Middle Temple Library’s blog states that alongside materials from both the historic inn’s library and archive, it has artefacts loaned from the Royal Courts of Justice. A sneak peek of some of the items can be viewed below.

The barrister’s wig worn by Helena Normanton

In the shot above, the barrister’s wig of Helena Normanton, the first woman to join an Inn of Court, sits beside a judge’s undress wig. A black cap historically worn by judge’s when passing sentences of death can also be seen.

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Also on display is a large book (pictured below) containing Middle Temple dress codes from the 16th and 17th century. The rules were strict and the blog explains that Middle Templars were watched closely for their dress code adherence with four even being threatened with expulsion for wearing hats in the main hall.

Many wonder why traditional court garb has stuck around for so long. Whilst some believe wigs and gowns to be fusty and out of touch, others argue that the garments should still be worn to maintain tradition and symbolise the authority of the profession in court. A major dressing-down of the profession occurred in 2007 when the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, decided to out with wigs, wing collars and bands for many civil and family cases. Today, the traditional horsehair headgear and black robe combo is more commonly associated with criminal cases.

Legal dress continues to evolve to the present day. Last year, we reported that an Australian company was producing and selling vegan-friendly wigs made from plastic. Its aim, they told us, is to meet the needs of all its customers, and given the rise in veganism, it makes sense to offer synthetic wig options.

Middle Temple’s exhibition, which is open to its members, will be running until 21 December 2018.

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52 Comments

Anonymous

“A major dressing-down of the profession occurred in 2007 when the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, decided to out with wigs, wing collars and bands for civil and family cases. Today, the traditional horsehair headgear and black robe combo is now only worn in criminal cases”.

You still wear wigs in a lot of civil cases…

Anonymous

True, I have seen them in judicial review on civil matters for example. Let’s not act surprised when LC get stuff wrong, but instead celebrate that they’re not just pumping out another retention rate article or some Twitter or Roll on Friday copy and paste job.

Anonymous

Also all QB trials. All appeals. Chancery trials. Etc etc.

Anonymous

Some fast track trials when the judge fancies dressing up

Anonymous

all fasties before circuit judges (according to the guidance…)

Anonymous

I turned up for a trial before a DJ in a provincial county court last year and the silly man had robed.

Anonymous

Not DJ Mitchell is it?

Anonymous

Or DJ Watkins in Bristol? He makes everyone robe for EVERYTHING.

Anonymous

DJ Watkins made me robe for a small claim about a pizza

Anonymous

Lol at the slight rewording of the article without any comment from LC, as usual.

Anonymous

Still wear wigs in High Court and Court of Appeal.

Cecil

Because a lot of men at the Bar are wannabe drag queens, and this is the only way they can get away with wearing a wig and flowing gown and perform to an audience without being though of as…. well…. a little…. fruity.

Curious George

Is it true that a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself into a barrister’s wig?

I’m sure I read that somewhere…

yesindeedy

Headline – “why do barristers wear wigs and gowns”

article – doesn’t answer the question

lord almighty…

Aron

Precisely why I read the article. No answer to be found.

Anon

Visit the exhibition to find out!

Clarity2018

Exactly the kind of article that simply indicates to the public that a lawyer will never answer a simple question with a definitive clear and conclusive answer – you can’t build trust upon mystique .

Anonymous

Um there’s any qualified lawyers among the LC staff?

Anonymous

People think that it will help animals and the environment if we create more plastic?

Anonymous

Who wears a plastic wig and gown?

JD Partner

My trainee every Wednesday.

Massingbird

I was in a civil case yesterday. Robed. As was my opponent and the judge.

Anonymous

I was in a civil case yesterday. Robbed.

Anonymous

Who robbed you?

Did you report it to the police?

Common Sense

A good reason to stay in the EU is that wigs and gowns would be illegal by 2025.

Anonymous

Source?

Anonymous

Well since the SRA’s and BSB’s mission is to make law and justice more accessible to the many, get rid of the wig and gown. It’s simply outdated, quite intimidating and adds no intrinsic value to the clients’ life.

Anonymous

Guess you don’t know what “intrinsic” means then.

Not so.

“It’s simply outdated”.

In today’s day and age lots of things are outdated such as presumption of innocence, civility, dispassionate reasoning, diversity of thought, magnanimity etc.

You’re begging the question, just because something is old fashioned, doesn’t mean it’s useless. Wigs and gowns inspire confidence/create calm, just like all uniforms.

Go back to Cif on the graun.

Lord Harley of Counsel

My gold laced wig was made from the hair of a unicorn that my great great great grandfather, the fifteenth Earl, slayed in a glorious battle off the Atlantic coast of Ireland. All barristers wear their wigs in honour of him.

BPC

Tremble false whigs

The Answers!

Official reason: Tradition.

Practical reason: Anonymity.

Personal reason (for some): Posing.

Scouser of Counsel

Would happily ditch tomorrow for all save ceremonial or perhaps cases involving a high degree of solemnity eg murder trials.

Just not practical or comfortable for knockabout ABH/PWITS/Burglary and are frankly intimidating in sensitive cases eg rape/child abuse.

The novelty of dressing up wears off after about the first week of Crown Court practice.

Anonymous

Student wannabe posers didn’t like your comment.

Anonymous

Or that one

Anonymous

Not DJ Mitchell is it?

Not an English lawyer

Is the wearing of a wig compulsory? Or is it that many practitioners still wear them out of choice?

Anonymous

Because it’s done in the English speaking world and not in the other EU countries it would need to be abolished in the interests of standardisation.

Like trial by jury, habeas corpus and pounds & ounces.

Anonymous

We just like the way it feels when the curls tickle the back of our neck.

Anonymous

That was why the UK capital punishment system stuck with hanging rather than switch to electric chair, gas chamber or lethal injection when a change was considered in 1953! Fact!

Anonymous

Holman J insists on dressing up for directions hearings in financial remedies on divorce.

Stephen

Because they are pompous and arrogant locked in a class ridge of presumed betterment held up by the Judges.

Solicitor, Criminal Defence Advocate from 1980

Anonymous

Solicitors should not be allowing to comment on an article designated for lawyers.

Anonymous

Twat.

Anonymous

I know you! You’re that shabbily dressed, shabbily mannered, and shabbily prepared “I’ve been doing this since before you were born” tragedies, bumbling about with your plastic shoes and your sandwiches and your bad advice and crap advocacy.

Adrian

To punish us for our sins. I despise wearing my wig

Anonymous

I like dressing up…

Crumple

It’s so they can store their cocaine wraps safely, in ordered style.

J. Pryde

What would happen if the accused turned up wearing a wig and gown?

J. Pryde

What would happen if the accused turned up wearing a wig and gown?

Anonymous

They would get laughed at.

Or charged with impersonating a Barrister!

Anonymous

Wigs are stupid

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