Inns of Court, part 3: How they dressed

Giovanni Battista Moroni. Wikimedia commons.

I can’t find any portraits of inner barristers — students at the Inns of Court — and precious few portraits of barristers. I find no portraits of lawyers in their work clothes; at least none that prominently feature the details of their robes. The kids in the Harry Potter movies wore wizard’s robes over their everyday jeans and sneakers. Replace the jeans with galligaskins and you’ll get the general idea.

The picture shows an Italian lawyer, very correctly dressed in somber black, with restrained — yet impeccable — ruffs and cuffs. He’s not wearing a gown over his doublet and hose, but note the velvet welts on his sleeves.

Regulation dress

One’s status at the Inns of Court was displayed by means of one’s robe or gown.

  • Benchers, governors of the Inns, wore knee-length gowns tufted with silk and velvet.
  • Barristers, aka outer barristers, or men who had passed the bar, wore long black grogram gowns with two velvet welts on the long hanging sleeves.
  • Students, aka inner barristers, wore sleeveless black gowns with a flap collar, topped by a round black cloth cap.


Student caps are not like academic mortar boards. They’re like this fine fellow (thanks to A bluestocking knits  for the link.) Ludger_tom_Ring_d__J__Selbstbildnis_wikiped

Grogram is a blend of silk and mohair. According to Knitpicks , “the silk adds a radiant core that shimmers and shines through the soft halo of the mohair.” Warm, too.

Rules made to be broken

Has any dress code ever, anywhere, been obeyed?

Legal gowns were to be worn at all times in the Inns and presumably in the Westminster courts. It was forbidden to wear them into the City, any further than Fleet bridge, Holborn bridge, or the Savoy. Why, I have no idea. Francis Bacon was often seen walking about the City in his barrister’s gown, so it can’t have been much enforced. They announce one’s status. Who would give that up?

Like sumptuary laws in general, the dress code at the Inns of Court seems to have needed constant reinforcement. I get the sense that the benchers kept having to add items to the list of forbidden garments and accessories, posting and reposting their rules on the screen in the hall. (When you enter a hall in this period, you first encounter a floor-to-ceiling screen of oak paneling. Such a screens passage  can be quite elaborate and long enough to form a corridor. This is where notices were pinned.)

Here’s a sampling of forbidden items of dress:

  • Breeches of any light color, coifs of English lawn, velvet caps, scarfs, or wings on study gowns. Great breeches made after the Dutch, Spanish, or German fashion; or cut [slashed] doublets.
  • Any light colors in hose or doublets, except scarlet and crimson.
  • White jerkins.
  • Buskins or velvet shoes.
  • Double cuffs on shirts.
  • Feathers or ribbons in caps.
  • Spanish cloak, sword and buckler, or rapier.
  • None under the degree of a knight do wear any beard above three weeks growing, upon pain of 1 s. and so double for every week after monition.


For some reason I thought lace would be on that list, but apparently not. The rules about beards seem peculiar too. They seem to be promoting a sexy stubble. Pointed short beards and long hair became increasingly stylish over the 1590’s.

The always stylish Sir Walter Raleigh
The always stylish Sir Walter Raleigh

Punishment was 3s. 4d. for the first offense, upon pain to forfeit, and expulsion for the second. I sincerely doubt anyone was ever really expelled for clothing violations. The most common punishment was undoubtedly a stern frown, an open palm, and the command, “Give me that feather, Mr. Clarady. And don’t let me catch you wearing such fripperies again!”


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies for basic features such as contact or blog comments, but not for anything else. For more information, read my Privacy Policy.