An Amusing History of Judicial Robes

By: Unknown

This article provides a brief history of judicial robes.

Wearing long black judicial robes by judges in the United States is a custom that stems from not so happy implications. Traditionally, the color black was used to signify mourning and death. In many other countries around the world, such as in The United Kingdom, Canada, and in France, red has been commonly worn.

There seems to be much difficulty when it comes to trying to determine the specific origin of the use of judicial robes. In England, judges wear the robes that have been worn by their predecessors. Traditionally, there were different robes for summer and winter, and the robes had been made of silk and fur and had collars and cuffs of all sorts of kinds. Although for centuries judges had worn garments of different colors during different periods of time, the color had changed to black (by order of the King) to serve as mourning attire for the funeral of Queen Anne in England in 1714, and has remained ever since then.

Even this story of Queen Anne is not fully agreed upon as being the beginning of the black robe, however. In 1694 when Queen Mary II died, the black was the Official Court Mourning garb that had been worn for her funeral. It is thought by some that the entire judiciary wing wore the mourning robes, but many others claim that there is no evidence to support this fact. Although it may have been worn by the entire judicial column, there is no evidence that the Junior Counsel nor anyone else other than the High Counsel wore the black mourning robes, and as such, since the tradition of black prevailed through the centuries after that, both in England and in the United States, the joke is that the Counsel went into mourning for the Queen of England and as such never came out of it.

Worn along with the mourning garb (judicial robes) were traditionally black velvet coats with tails, lace stock and cuffs, white gloves, knee breeches, and a full bottomed wig (the wigs, of course, are a story in and of themselves!). At other royal occasions, they typically wore simple velvet court dress and swords and crushed hats. The Mourning Dress however was comprised of hemmed stock, cuffs with bands that had a thin stripe down the middle, and a crepe band worn on the left arm. The judicial robes for this sad occasion were made of stiff material and not silk. When it was time to hear pleas in the courtroom, white cuffs that were linen were worn over the sleeves of coats, and these were called weepers. Although many colors have been used before and since the time of the Queens death (whichever queen that may be), black judicial robes are a symbol of mourning and were used out of respect for the monarchy.

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