Roger writing the LAWmag

Colour in the-Court! Colour in the Court!

A recent English legal dress standard manual shows just what we're up against when it comes to fashion in the Court:


"The dress of barristers appearing in court should be unobtrusive and compatible with the wearing of robes. Suits and dresses should be of a dark colour. Shirts and dresses should be white or of other unemphatic appearance. Collars should be white and shoes black. Wigs should as far as possible cover the hair, which should be drawn back from the face and forehead and if long enough, should be put up. No conspicuous jewellery or ornaments should be worn."


William Gladstone would not approve and maybe it's just as well that it is one of Canadian civil law lawyers, rather than those of Gladstone's common law descendants, that has committed this act of judicial heresy.

colour legal tabs

Since times immemorial, lawyers and judges have dressed in a certain manner, complete with white wig, black; gown, white collar tabs and white collar.

Although you cannot find a legal dress "keener" anywhere but in England nowadays, some remnants of the old dress style have remained sacrosanct. In Canada, wigs are out but black silk gown, white shirt and tabs are de rigeur for modern lawyers in the high courts.

This is what makes the innovation of Shirley Kennedy, of Baie-Comeau, Quebec all the more remarkable. The combination of family law lawyer, seamstress and clothes designer, has been the genesis of this "heresy". Just as dress ties succumbed to colour a century ago, she has added a touch of colour to the legal tabs.

Fashion has always been Ms Kennedy's first interest. She explained to LAWmagazine

"I've always wanted to design clothes but with all the competition out there, there didn't seem to be any market left.

"And yet, literally right under my nose, lay a garment overlooked by clothes designers for centuries."

Ms Kennedy noticed early that radical change and the legal profession are a bad mix. So she has tailored her changes accordingly. No change to the width or length of the legal tabs nor to the predominance of white. But why not add a little colour trim, offer a selection of fabric and throw in a little Velcro as a behind-the-neck attachment ( an innovation since widely copied). The result has been a full collection of legal tabs, from plain white to gold trim, in a variety of fabrics, at $95 to $125 a pop.

Quebec's legal community (which is not as conservative as their brethren in the rest of common law Canada) has embraced the novelty. The provincial legal journal (Journal du Barreau) ran a full page article and several important daily newspapers sent reporters to Quebec legal profession's first fashion show. The Holt Renfrew clothing chain has agreed to carry her collection and it has become the talk of the court-room around the province.

There appear; to be no stopping the Kennedy Legal Collection now.

"Id like to work on the traditional judges robe next. There must be something to do with that. And then, I'd like to work on the black robe itself, to design in a lighter fabric."

Calvin Klein meets Lord Denning. No sacred cows for this young, imaginative designer-lawyer, and so it should be. The stuffy, formal atmosphere of today's courtroom should welcome anything to liven it up.

The Kennedy colours may be the next best thing short of doing away entirely with formal court dress. In fact, in a. variation of the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" theme, and if Ms Kennedy had her druthers, the tabs would become common fare in the executive boardrooms of the world, and not just those legal.

One thing at a time but we like what we see so far.

For more information on the Kennedy Legal Collection, send an e-mail to [redacted Feb. 2013].

Posted in Law Fun, Legal Profession and Lawyers

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  • Colour in the-Court! Colour in the Court!