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What clothes should or should not a lawyer wear?

There has been arecent fuss about lawyers' choice of clothing, particularly after a lawyer wore a Jewish yarmulke during a court case in Ghent. But what are actually the rules around clothing for lawyers? lists it.

No strict dress code

Let's get right to the point: in Flanders, there are no strict rules about what a lawyer may or may not wear, including religious symbols. Lawyers are therefore largely free to choose what they wear in court, as long as they are professional and representative of their clients and show respect for the magistracy. So there are no set rules, except for one important item of clothing: the toga. This is because the toga is official attire that lawyers must wear by law.

The indispensable gown in court

In Flanders, as in the rest of Belgium, the toga is a traditional and important garment for lawyers. The toga symbolises the dignity and independence of the legal profession. Although there may be some variation between different courts and bar associations, there are generally some standard rules and guidelines regarding the wearing of a toga:

  • Style and colour: Usually, the gown is black and has a recognisable, long cut.
  • Accessories:
    • Over the toga, a lawyer wears a bef, a starched white collar prominently visible from the front.
    • On the left shoulder of the toga is the epitoga, a part of the toga consisting of a black fabric with a white fur trim at the end. Although the fur piece was originally made of white ermine, nowadays rabbit or synthetic fur is often chosen. This part refers to the university diploma and is also familiar to academics. It attaches to the gown via a shoulder pad, chaperone or capron.
  • Location: Wearing the toga is more than a tradition; it is also a matter of protocol. During official court hearings and other crucial legal moments, lawyers are expected to wear the toga. There are, of course, exceptions. There are judicial places where a lawyer is not required to wear his gown, such as peace courts that are not in an actually larger courthouse.
  • Maintenance and presentation:A gown should always be in good condition and kept clean. A gown that looks neglected or worn is not appropriate in a court environment. Moreover, it is essential that the gown is worn correctly and professionally.

In fact, it was Napoleon Bonaparte who obliged judges and lawyers to wear a toga. That way, everyone was treated equally in court, no matter how rich you were or where you came from. No one could be judged by their clothes. After all, what matters is that the lawyer helps the client, not what the lawyer looks like.

Ethical and deontological guidelines

Although there is no specific dress code, lawyers must follow deontological guidelines. These guidelines stipulate that lawyers should always put their clients' interests first and perform their work with integrity.

In French-speaking Belgium, different rules apply in this regard. French-speaking lawyers have been prohibited from wearing religious symbols since 2009.