The Pertinence of Black Attire In The Legal Field

Fashion is an attempt to organise the beauty of behaviour. When a child is questioned on what constitutes the profession of his dreams, the first and foremost activity undertaken by the child’s brain is visualising the attire and appearance of a person engaged in such a profession. It is natural to attribute a particular colour of garment donned, with a distinctive field of occupation.

The hues of the ensemble of any profession play a role in the psychological impact of the impression of the profession and its contribution towards society. Each profession has a unique dress code, and such a proper dress code is essential. However, it is equally pertinent to ask what it is that makes the legal profession stand out, as professionals at all levels of the hierarchy are characterised by their unmistakably sable ensemble. Why do lawyers wear black?

The Identity of a Lawyer:

To answer the above question, it is apposite to begin by examining the identity of a lawyer. A lawyer is one who is licensed to practice law. The lawyer is identified as one who forms the nexus between the law, justice, and the common man. The lawyer is an officer of the Courts, whose duty is to assist the Court in the administration of justice, and must therefore strictly and scrupulously maintain a certain decorum, and abide by the Code of Conduct befitting the noble profession, refraining from indulging in any activity which may jeopardise the image of the profession in society.  Lawyers are the channels through which justice is conveyed to the common people, and such a notion of impartiality to be portrayed universally is absolutely essential in order to maintain the credibility, trust and faith in the profession, to allow free, open and unobstructed flow of justice.

A lawyer owes a duty to the Court, being an agent of it, and has a large and appreciable responsibility towards the Court and the society. As a lawyer, one is expected to carry oneself with dignity and sophistication and discharge one’s duties towards the profession with diligence, prudence, and integrity. A lawyer stands for justice, knowledge, and leadership. A lawyer is also known for taking everything with a pinch of salt, cultivating inquisitiveness, conviction, and sagacity. A lawyer always scrutinises a matter with a spirit of doubt, drawing his own conclusions, while providing complete justification for his conclusion and his stance.

A Historical Analysis of the Attributes of the Colour Black:

Having thus ruminated upon a lawyer’s identity, it is important to establish the link between the colour black, and the bearing it has on depicting the desirable qualities of a lawyer. Inspecting the role of black through the historical perspective, it can be seen that black has been associated with authority, power, and solemnity. Thus, it has come to be associated with the law.

The 13th and 14th centuries saw the use of the colour black in French and English courtrooms. With the availability of high-quality black dyes, magistrates and government officials donned rich and glossy black fabric as a symbol of the importance and authority, as well as the gravitas of the positions they held. A transition to a more austere but elegant shade of black was effectuated soon, amongst the kings and the nobility, starting in Northern Italy, further propagating to France and England, and subsequently to Spain; wherein the dukes and other rulers dressed in black, depicting it as a colour of power, dignity, humility, and virtue. The enrobing of oneself in black had pervaded many parts of Europe, as black had been accepted as a part of the customary attire of the royalty and the Courts in the 16th century. Clothing was required to be discreet, simple, and sober. As the centuries progressed, in the 16th and 17th centuries, clothing was required, by Protestant doctrine, to be sober, simple, and discreet. This necessitated the courts to adopt sable garments in their formal wardrobes.

Earlier, due to the relative rarity of dyes, with black and indigo being the only widely available hues, purple already assigned to royalty, black assumed the depiction of those who served the Court. With the industrial production of textiles, and the advent of newer and bargainous synthetic black dyes, the general population gained better access to black garments, thus causing a rise in the usage of black clothing amongst the upper classes and middle classes engaged in business, in England, America, and colonised parts of Asia, in the 19th century.

By the mid-twentieth century, black was frequently analogised to individuality, intellect, and social change; a colour of questioning and doubt in the arrival of norms and values.

The Importance Assumed by Black Attire in the Legal Field:

Black continues to be associated with solemnity, power, authority, submission to a purpose, and wisdom. Scientifically speaking, black is a colour that absorbs light, which has been frequently compared with a lawyer who must be ready to become immersed in knowledge. As it was observed that black denotes inquisitiveness and doubt, it is associated with a lawyer, who conducts a thorough examination and investigates deeply before arriving at a conclusion. It is also observed that Themis, also known as Justitia or ‘Lady Justice’, is depicted with a black cloth tied, a blindfold, over her eyes; representing the impartiality and objectivity of the profession, with disregard to any biases or prejudiced views. The colour black thus, signifies the absence of such a bias.

In courts where dress codes are not strict, dressing in order to appease the jury has been contested as a reason for judgements to be brought out in favour of a particular side. In the opinion of Joe Jamail, named by Forbes magazine one of USA’s most affluent lawyers, it is a mistake for lawyers to try to fool a jury, as they are capable of seeing through that, and are expected to remain impartial. However, the black attire facilitates this impartiality, leaving no room for any partisan ideals to penetrate into the dispensing of justice. There is no discrimination or depiction of seniority through the dress of a lawyer, and the black dress denotes the lack of such a discrimination, and equality amongst all practicing professionals in the legal field.

Black is the colour of defence, hence lawyers, who defend one side, fully aware of its standing; whereas maintaining opacity as to the other side in the case, dispense justice by vindicating their client’s interests to the judge, thereby allowing the judge to evince justice ultimately. Lawyers wear black, also because the law is about stability, hierarchy, and wariness of change. The very sobriety of the lawyer’s fashion is a symbol of constancy in a world where the pace of change is forever accelerating.

Internationally, the colour of the attire of lawyers has been shaped more by custom and judicial precedent than by statute. However, in the Indian context, it is observed that the Advocates Act, 1961, which specifies and prescribes the ideal and expected conduct of lawyers and advocates in court, bestows upon the Bar Council of India, the power to formulate rules to regulate the dressing and conduct of legal practitioners. Part VI: Chapter IV of Bar Council of India Rules: Rules under Section 49(1) (gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961 mentions in its provisions, that the attire of the advocates would be prescribed to be black. This is due to the fact that in order to maintain the decorum of the court and uphold the dignity of justice, the Act envisions to necessitate formal attire to be worn during proceedings of the Court, and black provides the formalism and symbolism required to maintain such dignity. A deviance in such established standards may even be perceived as a contempt of court, as it would be seen as vitiating the pure and clear streams of justice, and undermining its character.

There may be several reasons why lawyers wear black, some of which may be historical, legal, social, scientific, psychological, and possibly economic as well. Perspectives and perceptions may vary, however, the pertinence of black in the legal field is likely perpetual.

This Article is Authored by Bhargavi G Iyer, 2nd Year, B.A.LL.B(Hons.) Student at NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law, Mumbai.

Also Read- Why Do Lawyers & Judges Wear Black Coats?

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