Knowing Dress Code of Indian Lawyers

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Introduction of Lawyer: His Dress Code

Dress code is a symbol of confidence, a symbol of discipline and a symbol of the profession, a proud part of an individual’s personality for a professional. The balance between maintaining court’s decorum and permitting freedom in individual’s lifestyle is most well defined in a lawyer’s dress code. The professional environment generally is marked by a code for dressing- in terms of color, style. The American standards of criminal justice say that because the attorney is an officer of the court, he should support court’s dignity by following the court rules of decorum. Traditionally, English court regulated Barrister’s dress code in such a manner, that even the growth of attorney’s beard or cut of his clothes was subject to scrutiny. India in terms of lawyer’s dress code inherited the system after British rule with minor modifications with times. The present article captures the journey.

The Gown and the Wig

In February 1685, when King Charles II of England died, people started wearing a gown as a symbol of mourning for their King’s death. It was then that the uniform for a lawyer was designated. It was believed that wearing a wig and gown awarded a degree of anonymity to lawyers and judges. Wigs first appeared in the legal profession in 17th Century during the reign of King Charles II at the time of restoration of the monarchy. They were fashionables among English Upper class after the court of Louis XIV of France inspired King Charles II. Lawyers and judges started wearing wigs around 1680. For 150 year the legal wig was usually of powdered white or gray hair. In 1822, Humphrey Ravenscroft invented a legal wig made of whitish-gray horsehair that did not need frizzing, curling, perfuming or powdering. Despite going out of fashion, continued to be worn, as a matter to distinguish the legal professionals. Original wigs were made of horse, goat or human hair were difficult to maintain too. Wigs went out of fashion as a powder tax that was imposed after French revolution in 1790. When England’s first female barrister was called in 1822 to the bar to discuss on what she should wear at court. She was allowed to wear the wig but with no hair showing in front and long hair showing at back tied. 

The color: Black and White

homeBlack and white is a symbol of the legal profession throughout world barring few exceptions. Black color generally has many different overtones. Like every color, it has both positive and negative connotations. So, on one hand, it signifies death, evil and mystery while on the other hand, it signifies the strength and authority.

The black color was chosen because of two reasons. Firstly, colors and dyes were not readily available back then. Purple signified royalty and thus, the only abundant fabric color left was black. However, the main reason behind wearing a black coat is because black is the color of authority and power. Black represents submission of oneself. Just like priests wear black to show their submission to God, lawyers wear black to show their submission to justice. The color white signifies light, goodness,

The color white signifies light, goodness, innocence, and purity. As a legal system is the only hope of justice for a common man, the color white is chosen to represent him. As the Indian system is influenced by its British rulers due to their reign, the Advocate’s Act of 1961 makes it mandatory for a lawyer to wear a black robe or coat with a white neckband on top of it in the continuity of the same. Lawyers for both the sides- petitioner and respondent wear a similar dress code. The significance of the color also highlights that law is blind. To say that it is only based differentiates on the weight of evidence and not on any other factor.

The Neckbands

imagesThe white neckbands too have their origins rooted in England. In the old English Courts, the barristers-at-law used to wear white bands as part of their uniform. Since the Barristers were the first lawyers of Indian Courts, their dress was adopted as a symbol of advocates in our country. The two pieces of white cloth joined together to form the advocate’s bands represent the Tablets of the Laws or Tablets of Stone. These are the tablets that, according to the Christian belief, were used by Moses for inscribing the 10 commandments, which he received from a burning bush on Mt. Sinai. The 10 commandments are believed to be the first example of a uniform coded law. The shape of the band is also similar to the rounded off rectangular tablets. Thus, the white advocate’s bands represent the upholding of the laws of God and of men.

The Test of Attire: Dressing Sense Male vs. Female

The United Supreme Court requires attorney’s appearing before the court to wear a conservative business dress. However, a test of attire for a dress requirement for a female attorney is generally judged from women’s good taste, common sense, and discretion. Sandstorm vs. State [Alaska Court of Appeal: 309 so 2nd 2d 17 (Fla app. 1975)] the court applied the test of attire that it must be reasonably related to the administration of justice.

The issue of personal liberty and the dress code was also taken up before several courts in America- the Alaska Supreme Court in Friedman vs. District Court [611. P2d. 77 (Alaska 1980)]. In this case, the apex court held that judge can regulate the attorney’s dress but cannot impose something, which is unduly rigid or dictates matters of taste or preference and bears no reasonable relationship to the proper administration of justice. The courts in New Hampshire have a test of attire on the basis of “unsuitable”, “unconventional” or “inappropriate” in the orderly administration of justice.

In case of a female test of attire, US Supreme court has held that test to be applied is to be based on not what court personally thinks but whether there is the reasonable basis of court’s decision keeping in mind the contemporary conditions.

In India, the dress code as per the Bar Council Regulations.

The Regulations of the Bar Council of India

Section 49 of the above Rules govern the dress code for the advocates appearing in the Supreme Court, High Courts, Subordinate Courts, Tribunals or Authorities. They shall wear the following as part of their dress, which shall be sober and dignified.

I. Dress Code for Advocates in India 

Part VI: Chapter IV of Bar Council of India Rules: Rules under Section 49(1) (gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961.


(a) A black buttoned up coat, chapkan, achkan, black sherwani and white bands with Advocates’ Gowns. 

(b) A black open breast coat, White shirt, White collar, stiff or soft, and white bands with Advocates’ Gowns.

In either case wear long trousers (White, Black Striped or gray) or dhoti excluding jeans. 


Provided further that in courts other than the Supreme Court, High Courts, District Courts, Sessions Courts or City Civil Courts, a black tie may be worn instead of bands.

II. Lady Advocates 

Lady Advocates may wear either the dress prescribed in Sub-Rule (b) or the following:

(a) Black full sleeve jacket or blouse, White collar, Stiff or soft, with white bands and Advocates’ gowns.  White blouse with or without a collar, with white bands and with a black open breasted coat.



(b) Sarees or long skirts (white or black or any mellow or subdued color without any print or design) or flare (white, black or black stripped or gray) or Punjabi dress churidar kurta or Salwar-Kurta with or without dupatta (white or black) or traditional dress with black coat and bands.


Wearing of Advocates’ gown shall be optional except when appearing in the Supreme Court or in High Courts.


Except in Supreme Court and High Courts, during summer wearing black coat is not mandatory.  These amendments have been approved by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India vide letter Dated. 12-11 -2001 subject to the incorporation of ‘except in Supreme Court and High Court during summer wearing a black coat is not mandatory’ which is now added as Rule IV of the Bar Council Rules.  This was based on representation based on a group of lawyers from Tamil Nadu.

The amended rules in chapter IV, part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules relating to “Form of Dresses or robes to be worn by Advocates” had been communicated to the State Bar Councils vide our circular No. 6/2002 dated 25.01.2002. The Bar Council of India at its meeting dated 23rd/24th February 2002 considered the doubts raised relating to dress rules and after consideration, the following decision has been taken:

“In the change brought about in the dress rules, there appears to be some confusion in so far as the sub courts are concerned. For removal of any doubt it is clarified that so far as the courts other than Supreme Court and High Courts are concerned during summer while wearing black coat is not mandatory, the advocates may appear in a white shirt with black or striped or gray pant with black tie or band and collar”.

Two classes of advocates are recognized under the Advocates Act, 1961- Senior Advocates and other Advocates.

III. Dress Code in Public domain

An advocate should not wear bands or gowns in public places other than in courts, except on such ceremonial occasions and at such places as the Bar Council of India or as the court may prescribe.

Litigation and News regarding Dress Code

1. In Prayag Das v. Civil Judge Bulandshahr [AIR 1974 All 133] The petitioner claims to have launched a crusade for securing recognition to Dhoti and Kurta as court dress. For that purpose he gave notice to the High Court, the District Judge, Bulandshahr and other Civil Judges of Bulandshahr, Bar Council, Uttar Pradesh, Bar Council of India and the two Bar Associations of Bulandshahr to the effect that he shall wear Dhoti and Kurta in courts from 5-2-1973. Pursuant to that object the petitioner chose to appear before the respondent No. I in Kurta and Dhoti in a consolidation reference on 17-2-1973. The learned Civil Judge passed order that since the applicant was not in the proper dress he refused to permit him to put his appearance in his court. On an application moved by the petitioner’s client, the respondent No. 1 passed another order on 27-2-1973 affirming his previous order and holding that the petitioner shall not be entitled to put in an appearance in the case until he appeared In the prescribed dress before the court.The above case relates to a challenge made by the petitioner who was an Advocate while taking exception to the dress prescribed for Advocates. When he appeared before the Court challenging an order of the Civil Judge Bulandshahr preventing him from appearing in the Court and a direction was sought to permit him to appear in the Court as an Advocate wearing Dhoti, Kurta and Gown as his dress. The respondent No. 1 based his order on the provisions of Rule 615, General Rules (Civil), 1957, and held that the petitioner did not comply with the same and was, therefore, not permitted to appear in his court. The aforesaid rule runs as follows:–

“615. All presiding officers of Sessions and Civil Courts and pleaders appearing before them shall wear a buttoned up coat, achkan or sherwani of a black color. They may wear an open neck coat of the same color instead, but if they are not entitled to use bands, they shall wear a black tie with it. During the summer the colour need not be black and a coat, achkan or sherwani of a light color may be worn. With the coat, trousers and with the achkan or sherwani, chooridar pyjama or trousers shall be worn. Ladies appearing before the Civil Courts as pleaders shall wear a black or a white sari and blouse.

“They shall also wear distinctive costumes as indicated below:–

(i) Presiding Officers: a gown, made from the pattern of Queen’s Counsel’s gown of black silk or stuff, with bands;

(ii) Advocates: a gown similar to a barrister’s gown with bands; and

(iii) Pleaders and Vakils: a gown similar to the gown worn by presiding officers, but Without sleeves and bands.

If it is desired to wear a headdress, a turban may be worn.”

The Bar Council of India framed rules under Section 49 of the Act. Rule 5 of the Rules provides:-

“An Advocate shall appear in court at all times only in the prescribed dress, and his appearance shall always be presentable.”

The Preamble of the Rules is also significant and may be quoted.  

“An Advocate shall, at all times, comport himself in manner befitting his status as an officer of the Court, a privileged member of the community, and a gentleman, bearing in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a member of the Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non-professional capacity may still be improper for an Advocate.”    

The Bar Council did not make any rule prescribing the dress. That was left to the High Court. Acting under Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act the High Court framed rules of which Rule 12, which is relevant for the case, is to the following effect:

“12. Advocate, appearing before the Court shall wear the following dress:

 (1) Advocate other than lady advocates:

(a) Black buttoned up coat chapkan, Acnakan or Sherwani, Barrister’s gown and bands or

(b) Black open collar coat, white shirt, white collar, stiff or soft, with Barrister’s gown and bands.

(2) Lady Advocates:- A regional dress of subdued colors with Barrister’s gown and bands.”

On the basis of the above-mentioned rules, the petitioner has advanced an argument that there is no rule prescribing a dress for Advocates and hence they are at liberty to wear any dress while appearing in courts. It was submitted that the Bar Council alone had the power under Section 49(c) of the Advocates Act to prescribe the dress for Advocates but it had refrained from framing any rules on that subject. On the other hand, the High Court had framed Rule 12 under Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act prescribing dress for Advocates, though the High Court had no power to frame any such rule under that provision. Under Section 30 of the Advocates Act “subject to the provisions of this Act, every Advocate whose name is entered in the common roll shall be entitled as of right to practice” “in all courts including the Supreme Court.” This right to practice could be curtailed only by the Bar Council of India by framing rules under Section 49(ab) of the Advocates Act The High Court could not frame rules so as to curtail or destroy that right and Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act could not be construed so as to include the power to prescribe dress for Advocates. The power to prescribe dress vested in the Bar Council alone. Consequently. Rule 12 framed by the High Court prescribing dress for Advocates was void.

The Hon’ble court held that it is correct that the High Court does not possess the power to take away an Advocate’s right to practice in courts. That power can be exercised only by the Bar Council, which may also frame rules under Section 49(ab) of the Advocates Act.

Right to Practice vs. Right of appearance [Section 34 (1) and Section 49 (ab) of the Advocates Act, 1961] 

(1) But in our opinion, the High Court has the power to regulate the appearance of Advocates in Courts. The right to practice and the right to appear in courts are not synonymous. An Advocate may carry on chamber practice or even practice in court is various other ways, e.g., drafting and filing of pleadings and Vakalatnama for performing those acts. For that purpose, his physical appearance in court may not at all be necessary.

(2) For the purpose of regulating his appearance in court the High Court should be the appropriate authority to make rules and on a proper construction of Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act it must be inferred that the High Court has the power to make rules for regulating the appearance of Advocates and proceedings inside the courts. Obviously, the High Court is the only appropriate authority to be entrusted with this responsibility.

(3) However, so far as the basic qualifications of an Advocate entitling him to practice without physically appearing in court, or disentitling him from doing so are concerned, the determination of such conditions must remain within the exclusive province of the Bar Council.

(4) The same division of functions is borne out by the difference in the language of the two provisions. Whereas Clause (ab) of Section 49 refers to the conditions subject to which an Advocate shall have the right to practice, Section 34(1) deals with the conditions subject to which an Advocate shall be permitted to practice. The expression “permitted to practice” in the context can have only one meaning i.e., the right of physical appearance in Court. The word “permitted” refers to a particular occasion when an Advocate wants to appear in a Court and not to his general right to practice which is solely determined by the Bar Council.

(5) Refusal by a Court to permit an Advocate to appear before it does not amount to the extinction of the Advocate’s legal entity as an Advocate. It merely bars his physical appearance in a particular Court on a definite occasion. For the purpose of deciding as to whether the Advocates physical appearance in a Court may be allowed or disallowed, his dress can be a relevant factor. Consequently, the High Court was competent to frame Rule 12 prescribing Advocates” dress in the exercise of the power under Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act. The words “laying down the conditions subject to which an advocate shall be permitted to practice” must be given a restricted meaning of permitting the physical appearance of the Advocate and not his general right to practice as an Advocate.

We are, therefore, unable to hold that Rule 12 of the Rules framed by the High Court is void or ineffectual.

It is thus manifest that the dress of Advocates has been prescribed by rules framed under Art. 227 of the Constitution, Section 122 of the Code of Civil Procedure as well as under the provisions of the Advocates Acts Advocates are bound to conform to the prescribed dress and this explodes the myth of the untrammeled choice of an Advocate in matters of dress while appearing in courts. The petitioner who was wearing a Dhoti and Kurta with a gown violated the prescribed dress and the learned Civil Judge was within his rights to refuse audience to him and the impugned orders are valid and legal. We are constrained to hold that under the existing provisions of law an Advocate cannot appear in Court, dressed in Dhoti and Kurla, even though he may be wearing a gown.

The next submission of the petitioner was that in any case Rule 12 merely prescribes the dress for Advocates but it does not postulate any penalty for breach of that rule. Hence appearing before the Court in a different dress from the one prescribed cannot be visited with the consequence of preventing an Advocate from appearing in the Court and being heard. In other words, for the default in dress there may be any other penalty such as a complaint to the Bar Council, and, if law permits a complaint on such ground, such action as may be taken for such conduct, but the Court has no authority in law to inflict the penalty of refusing audience to an Advocate for that reason. The omission to provide a penalty was also relied upon by the learned counsel for submitting that Rule 12 was the only directory and not mandatory. This argument has only to be stated to be rejected. The provision for penalty a only one of the criteria for holding that a rule is mandatory but that is not the sole test. The use of the word “shall” in Rule 12 leaves no room for doubt about the mandatory nature of the provision so that it is compulsory for the Advocates appearing before the Court to wear the prescribed dress. We also find no force in the argument that the absence of penalty clause in Rule 12 precludes the Court from refusing to hear an Advocate not wearing the prescribed dress.

In our opinion, there was no need of prescribing penalty in Rule 12 inasmuch as the said rule was framed under Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act and the penalty is embodied in the section itself. The High Court has merely to make rules laying down the conditions subject to which an advocate shall be permitted to practise in Courts. Such conditions have been laid down in Rule 12 and, therefore, in the event of non-fulfillment of those conditions the High Court or a Court subordinate thereto can refuse permission to an Advocate who wishes to appear before it. We have already held that the word “practice” in Section 34(1) implies physical appearance in Court. Withholding permission for such appearance is the penalty embedded in Section 34(1) itself.

Moreover, when a condition is prescribed it’ is meant for being observed not by its breach but by its compliance and there is implied authority to pass such incidental orders as may be essential to give effect to it.

We have already referred to Rule 5 framed by the Bar Council which makes it imperative for an Advocate to appear in Court at all times only in the prescribed dress. The preamble of the rules framed by the Bar Council also lays emphasis on the duty of an Advocate to “comport himself in a manner befitting his status as an officer of the Court.” The power to preclude an Advocate from appearing in Court is by necessary implication vested in that Court in order to enforce the observance of the prescribed dress. In fact, appearing without the prescribed dress is to show disrespect and the Court is certainly entitled to refuse audience. The formal attire associated with certain professions and the utility and necessity of ceremonial dress is recognized in many countries. In England, formerly besides the gown, the suit had to be of black color. It is said that Cockburn, C. J. once declined to give audience to a barrister who happened to be in gray trousers. In an observation which has become classical Byles, J. once remarked that he listened with little pleasure to arguments of counsel whose legs were encased in light gray trousers.

“18. In our opinion, the various rules prescribing the dress of an Advocate serve a very useful purpose. In the first place, they distinguish an Advocate from a litigant or other members of the public who may be jostling with him in a Court room. They literally reinforce the Shakespearian aphorism that the apparel oft proclaims the man. When a lawyer is in prescribed dress his identity can never be mistaken. In the second place, a uniform prescribed dress worn by the members of the Bar induces a seriousness of purpose and a sense of decorum which are highly conducive to the dispensation of justice. Of late there has been a lamentable slackness in matters of lawyers’ dress. We feel that the lifting of a prescribed dress for Advocates and courts is apt to precipitate sartorial inelegance and judicial indecorum. If the rule is relaxed it is not unlikely that Advocates may start dressing themselves more and more scantily and even indiscreetly. The apprehension might be well illustrated by a dialogue which is alleged to have transpired between the Australian squatter and his friend who visited him on his estate far away in the wilds of the interior. The friend asked him why, in so remote a place be made it a practice to dress for dinner. “I do it,” said the squatter, “to avoid losing my self-respect. If I did not dress for dinner I should end by coming into dinner in my shirtsleeves. I should end by not troubling to wash. I should sink down to the level of the cattle. I dress for dinner, not to make myself pretty, but as a spiritual renovation.”

2. Parashar v. Bar Council of India: (AIR 2002 Del 482). The challenge in the said writ petition was in respect of the rules framed under Section 49(1)(gg) of the Act and it was contended that the senior Advocates cannot wear the Queen’s Counsel Gown and it was held at paragraph 7 as under:

7. Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and perused the pleadings, I am of the view that the writ petition as filed is misconceived and devoid of merit for the reasons noted below:

While it is true that the rule framed by the Bar Council of India does not make out any distinction in dress or prescribe the design of a different gown or coat for a senior advocate, yet the distinction has been maintained and followed by a practice of long-standing, even prior to the Advocates Act of 1961. The Advocates Act, 1961 itself has recognized a distinction in S.16 of the Advocates Act, 1961 between the senior advocates and advocates. S.23 of the Act provides for right of pre audience for Senior Advocates among others. The senior advocates constitute a different class within the advocates. Based on the ability, knowledge, experience, expertise and standing at the bar, an advocate is designated as a senior advocate. It is an honor and distinction conferred by the court in recognition of the ability and standing of the concerned advocate. Once the distinction between an advocate and a senior advocate is accepted and accorded statutory recognition, the wearing of a distinct gown or a coat by a senior advocate, which is different from the one worn by advocates, cannot be questioned or assailed as discriminatory or violative of Art. 14 of the Constitution of India. The plea of the petitioner that a bias is created in favour of a senior advocate, who wears a gown with frills or overflowing arms or on account of the design of the coat, in the mind of a Judge is without any supporting evidence or factual foundation and deserves to be outrightly rejected.”

3. CATS: The government has issued a new dress code for all the female judges and lawyers in the Central Administrative Tribunal. The woman judges are now expected to wear a black coat over a white saree or any other form of dress, which stretches to their ankles and with white-collar bands. The female lawyers are also required to wear a saree or any other customary dress of a sober color.

3. 2016: The Madras High Court bench here today closed a PIL seeking to direct Bar Council of India and Tamil Nadu and Pudducherry Bar councils to issue circulars to all Bar and Advocates Associations to give proper instructions to maintain dress code, manner, and conduct in lower courts.  Chief Justice S K Kaul and Justice Nooti R Ramamohanarao closed the PIL after BCI and Tamil Nadu Bar council submitted that most advocates follow the code and there was no need to give any direction.

4. 2017: Lawyers of Calcutta High Court want to give up wearing black gowns and black coats as essential dress code inside the courtrooms. The summer has been unbearable this year, a stretch of heat spell in the months of April and May without any respite from the usual April thunderstorm — Kalbaishakhi. Engaging in an argument in this hot and humid season has been tortuous, not to mention the court room environment — where heated altercation and even light banter keep the mercury soaring any time of the day and any season.

5. Petition for Uniform dress code of Advocates & Senior Advocates: The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking a directive to apply a uniform dress code for both senior advocates and other advocates. A Bench of Justices S Rajendra Babu and G P Mathur dismissed the appeal filed by the Lawyers Reformist Forum after hearing arguments from its counsel N N Keshwani. He said that the rule of Advocates Act did not distinguish between “seniors” and other advocates as far as dress was concerned. The senior advocates wear twin coats with gowns which is slightly different from those worn by other advocates. Keshwani stated that the Delhi High Court had dismissed his petition in this regard without taking into account the fact that the law did not allow separate dresses for the seniors and other advocates. He said that the traditional use of such coats and gowns by the senior advocates was illegal as no tradition could override a law unless specifically provided for by law enacted by Parliament.


  • A Lawyer is an officer of the court and he should support court’s decorum.
  • Wearing of gown started as a symbol of mourning in England. It was then that uniform for lawyers was designated.
  • Wigs were inspired from the court of King Charles II, despite going out of fashion was worn to distinguish legal professionals.
  • The black coat is because black is the color of authority and power. Black represents submission of oneself. The color white signifies light, goodness, innocence, and purity. The significance of the color also highlights that law is blind. To say that it is only based differentiates on the weight of evidence and not on any other factor.
  • The white neckbands have their origins rooted in England. In the old English Courts, the barristers-at-law used to wear white bands as part of their uniform. Since the Barristers were the first lawyers of Indian Courts, their dress was adopted as a symbol of advocates in our country. The two pieces of white cloth joined together to form the advocate’s bands represent the Tablets of the Laws or Tablets of Stone.
  • The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking a directive to apply a uniform dress code for both senior advocates and other advocates. 
  • Part VI: Chapter IV of Bar Council of India Rules: Rules under Section 49(1) (gg) of the Advocates Act, 1961. Earlier, the Bar Council did not make any rule prescribing the dress. That was left to the High Court. Acting under Section 34(1) of the Advocates Act the High Court framed rules.






Published :
September 8, 2017
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