When NGE was going on about wanting to borrow my robe the other day I figured I would re-visit this post. Yes, he’s also a lawyer previously mentioned here. An irksome thing about NGE is that he has limited insight into how he looks, anytime, let alone in Court. I’ve yet to convince him that my gown is too short for him and the shoulder yoke/width is too narrow. While I’m relatively tall, NGE is taller and sturdier. When it comes to dressing, to properly fitting clothing, to dressing nicely, NGE makes no effort. He’s a lazy groomer. Just not interested. I gave up trying to assist long ago. Anybody else have a husband like that?
Anyway, moving on . . . Some years ago, now, I had one of those embarrassing sort of dress mishap kind of days. And this one was in court. It was either a (ward)robe malfunction or the robe misbehaved. “All rise” and keep your pants wig on!
One day I was before the judge in the District Court in Adelaide. I bent to get up from the bar table when, suddenly, my wig slipped forward and down. “I slapped my hand on that thing so fast”. I mean, all that solemnity and stuff and there my wig was parting company. What happened? As I went to stand up, I trod on the gown which jerked me, sharply, in my bent position. I felt it. I couldn’t get up to stand which, in turn, caused the wig to start its dive south, downward, over my forehead.
Some pretty strong forensic utterings came out of my mouth – mutterings not heard by others, certainly the Honourable Judge. Words and thoughts raced through my head, “All rise if you can!” and “No disrobing in the Court please!” Next thing I’d be the one sentenced to penal servitude for disrespecting the solemnity of the court & its processes! Mental note to myself: Make sure your feet are not, that’s NOT, treading on the gown when you next go to rise from the bar table.
What is it about these pesky legal accoutrements? Truth is the wig I bestowed on my head that day was not mine. It was not made to fit my head, too large, loose-fitting & kind of wabbling on my head. Ugh! The robe I wore was not mine. It was too big & voluminous, too long, meaning too much fabric laying on the floor which, in turn, invited me to stand – or trip – on it.
I had borrowed both items from a male colleague and they didn’t fit. Such a costume mishap would not have happened, I would not have trod on the gown & the wig would not have run amok, had I donned garb that fitted. I had not long moved back to Australia (after 17 years in the USA) and had not yet acquired my own accoutrements. Lesson learned.
While we’re on the topic of perukes and periwigs, the powdered wigs are not actually powdered today: they are powderless. Following a court case that said you can’t trade in human body parts, barristers’ human hair wigs were replaced by horsehair. They were much easier to maintain and did not require maintenance like curling, powdering, perfuming or even frizzing. They come in white, off-white, cream or a light drab sort of grey.
A perfectly coifed wig (mine)
“Do you really wear those wigs there?” some of my American attorney friends would ask intrigued by lawyers’ court dress in Australia.
“Indeed we do,” I said mentally scrambling for reasons why. “It’s historical,” I said. “A long-standing tradition that migrated from England with settlement of Australia in the late 18C. Unlike you guys we didn’t give the ‘boot’ to good King George III so wigs and other barristerial chattels like black robes and jabots and stuff came here and stayed.”
“It’s all so quaint isn’t it, especially those powdered wigs,” another USA lawyer friend commented and then asked, “What’s a jabot?”
The legal profession is slow to change and wigs are still worn, albeit inconsistently in Australian courts.
While legal regalia may seem anachronistic & outdated to some, others say it dignifies & gives formality to the proceedings.
It preserves anonymity for lawyers – both prosecution & defence – especially in criminal matters. Lawyers (and judges) are identified as members of a profession, not as individuals.
Who can tire of watching episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey that crusty old Horace and ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed‘?
‘The Barrister’ (top postcard) by Louis Wain 1906 an artist well known for his depictions of cats with human attributes – anthropomorphization.
Remember the Australian TV series Crownies?
Crownies is an Australian television drama series which was originally broadcast on ABC1 from 14 July until 1 December 2011. The series revolves around a group of solicitors fresh from law school, working with Crown Prosecutors, who are the public prosecutors in the legal system of Australia, working for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
So, there you have it. If there’s one prominent reminder of our Britishness in Australia today it’s the lasting traditions of the legal profession, the wigs, the gowns & accessories – all those barristerial chattels.
Is it time for a fresh look at wearing wigs?
For answers Subjudiced may be a good place to start.