History of Black Robes


Why are Barrister Robes Black?

If you enjoy watching courtroom dramas, you’re probably familiar with images of lawyers wearing sweeping black robes that billow behind them as they march into the courtroom, ready to defend their client. But do you know the far-reaching history behind their traditional black robes?

The use of black robes as legal attire dates back to 1327, when Edward III declared that judges must distinguish themselves by following a dress code when attending the royal court. The British court system was divided by rank and position: judges, sergeants, students, pleaders, benchers, and barristers. Court attire helped to define the rank and role of each person inside the courtroom. However, many lawyers initially put on a display of opulence and dressed similarly to the wealthy members of society. Gowns in rich maroon or red colours adorned with gold thread and fur were worn by some high-ranking members of the legal profession.

This changed in 1637, when the Privy Council ruled that lawyers need to dress according to their status in society. Lawyers were made to dress in long, sensible gowns made from a rough blend of silk, mohair, and wool. But some lawyers who still desired to display their rank through fashion modified the simple robes with silk tufts and extra adornments.

Fashionable adornments and displays of wealth fell out of favour after Charles II’s death. Simple black and white robes became common court attire as a display of mourning. Lawyers began wearing plain black mourning robes designed with pleated shoulders and bell-shaped sleeves. However, higher-ranking lawyers still desired to set themselves apart, and wore their black robes with flap collars and differently-styled sleeves. As this dress code began in England, the same legal attire was imposed throughout the British colonies. The black robes created during this period are similar to the robes that lawyers and judges still wear today.

Do You Need High-Quality Court Attire and Barrister Robes?

Harcourts was founded in 1842 in Toronto, and is North America’s oldest robemaker and one of the primary suppliers of legal attire, including judge robes and barrister robes. We supply custom-made and tailored court attire to the Canadian federal government, the Canadian provinces and territories, and courts within the Caribbean and British Commonwealth. All of our robes are hand-sewn and tailored in Toronto. We use time-tested materials and combine the best of traditional and modern technology to ensure strong stitching, beautiful detailing, and custom fitting. Our gowns are also hand-shirred to produce the traditional fullness and elegance of traditional robes. Call us at 416-977-4408 to learn more about our legal attire and order your custom-fit legal robe.