Art by Robert Dickerson, Australia “Legal Eagles’
What about this legal regalia? The full courtroom dress? You know, the wig, the gown, the bar jacket, the lace jabot, the bands, the full bib collarette, the full bib . . . and so forth, worn by lawyers here in Australia?
Like the law, legal garments in Australia are steeped in history & custom. Indeed, legal costuming is a fundamental part of legal history in Australia just as it is in the UK & many of the old empire countries.
A lawyer’s robe, at least what we are required to wear in South Australia, is open at the front. There are no buttons. A button up black bar jacket is worn underneath. The robe is complex & layered in its design elements & not something I would attempt to sew.
And, yes, it all seems anachronistic, old-fashioned & outdated to some. Others say it dignifies & gives formality to the proceedings. As far as I can tell, the legal dress custom is here to stay.
Indeed, one could ask, are lawyers living history? If you want to see a bit of living history and tradition hop on down to the courts precinct at Victoria Square in the heart of Adelaide. Check out the criminal courts for a day & watch living history through the lawyers as they move around, attired in their court regalia. See their day-to-day portrayals through the lawyer’s robes, a manifestation of Australia’s legal history and a long tradition.
The following images show my robe purchased about 20 years ago at Blashki & Sons in Adelaide. The gown is intricate in its design & detail with complicated elements of a yoke joined by the main gown & winged sleeves. It is layered & gathered & dripping with those pesky, fussy, cartridge pleats. There are buttons, cuffs, hidden pockets, padding & so forth. While that amount of good quality fabric makes for a voluminous gown its style allows it to puff & billow when it catches a breeze.
Perish the thought of having to make one! No, I wouldn’t attempt it. I can sew & once made my own clothes & those of my younger sisters, but it seems a daunting task to try to create the complex design elements of the robe. Who wants to design one for me? I’m a sewer not a seamstress.
Inside of gown on right front looking into right sleeve opening that’s been trimmed out to neaten the joins.
Sleeve pleats and buttons
Pleating at top of back where it meets the rear yoke under the square edged flap.
Inside rear yoke on left side. Left sleeve meeting left shoulder there. The square edged flap trims out the joins underneath where back & sleeve meet the yoke. See directly image above.
Front of left sleeve.
Top of sleeve where meets shoulder & shows the detailed cartridge pleating.
The outside front/bottom edges of the sleeves are gathered, pulled up & shaped & embellished with pleats, gathers & buttons. It’s that gathering or pulling up at the font that allows for the longer un-gathered rear of the sleeves to drape longer and appear pointed when the gown is worn. Obviously the sleeves have to be voluminous for the design to work.
The finished gown is ample & flowing & rich in amount & quality of thick black fabric. I can see that without that richness, the design & its detail, the overall look would not work.
Imagine the painstaking requirements of patience & detail in the sewing of the fussy elements & attaching them to the yoke especially the main gathered pieces? My eyes glaze over thinking about it. I feel like my fingers would be blotchy & bleeding from all the needle pricks.
Can you imagine drafting a pattern for this gown? Constructing the pointy wing type sleeves gushing & flowing with all those gathers & cartridge pleats? Catering for the amount of fabric required? One could become airborne swanning around in all that flowing fabric! But wait, I did source some base patterns and ideas to be seen in Pt 2.
As I say, wearing legal regalia today, in South Australia, means wearing a living piece of history, a tradition of legal history in action in the 21st century.
I realise that legal gown designs may vary from country to country & region to region but the ones we wear are basically the same, or very similar, in style & construction to my gown, the one you see pictured.
In my next post (Pt 2) I share a few examples of gown making showing, especially, the cartridge pleating and historical garment making in general.