Judge Robes: A Look at the Product Part I

Judge Robes: A Look at the Product Part I

One variation of judge robes. || Image source: themonthly.com.au

What is the first thing you notice when you see a judge at a courtroom? Chances are it would be the long flowing robe or the characteristic large wig. Ever wondered how those outfits came to be or what they’re all about? In this post, we’ll be looking at the general history of judge robes and touch on topics that include how and why they are of a certain color and how the variants differ from one another.



A court dress is a clothing type that is worn by those who work in official capacities within legal professions. The varying styles seen on court dresses are owed to the various judicial system levels, not to mention the differences between countries. The colors and style of the robes, along with the several accessories, have all come and gone in various fashion all throughout history.


In modern times, judicial robes are either black or red, regardless of their country of origin. The reason as to why this is tends to vary. The black robes supposedly came into use in England during the 1970s; this was Queen Mary’s mourning period. Red is a color that is associated with elements of power in various countries all over the world. Within South Asia, gold is embroidered in many chief justices’ robes in order to show prestige. In some branches of the English judicial system, both purple and pink robes are used.

It can also be arguably said that many judicial styles throughout the world were heavily influenced by decrees in the late eighteenth century in both in Wales and England. Prior to that, there was little regulation when it came to judicial dress. The robes could be of any color, be it black, green or red. The wigs were also optional. Once the decree came into play, all judges serving in Wales and England were made to wear black robes and wigs during courtroom proceedings.

Various countries that were, at one point, occupied by the British eventually adopted this style as well. Judges in Hong Kong, for example, still wear this exact getup. Even when these former colonies become independent, few alterations are made and change is typically slow out of respect for tradition.


There are a few instances where a judge would make alterations to the robes for his own purposes. One notable example is U.S. Federal Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The alterations done to his robes were minor: yellow bars were added to his robes’ sleeves and the reason for this was because he was impressed by something similar he saw in a play before. This change did not catch on and was abandoned after his time as judge had ended, seeing as how his successor wore the traditional plain black robes.

Another example is Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Britain’s Lord Chief Justice before his retirement in 2012. In 2008, he created a much simpler style that more or less got rid of the bands, collar and the elaborate wig. Speaking of elaborate judicial wear being altogether eliminated, there have been a few other countries that have done so. Examples would be Scandinavia and Greece, where a suit is considered just as appropriate as a robe during legal proceedings.

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