Court dress is a style of clothing worn by those in the legal profession when they are working in their official capacity. Though the exact style varies between countries and levels of the judicial system, long robes are a common basis of court dress. The style and color of the robes, as well as various accessories such as wigs or medallions, have all gone in and out of fashion throughout history.
Today, many judicial robes are either red or black, no matter their country of origin. Stories vary as to why these two colors were adopted. Black robes are said to have come into use in 1970s England during the mourning period for Queen Mary. Red is a color long associated with people of power in many countries around the world. In South Asia, many chief justice's robes are embroidered with gold to show prestige. In some branches of the English judicial system, pink and purple robes are worn.
Arguably, many judicial styles worldwide were influenced by the Judges' Decree of 1780 in England and Wales. Before that time, judicial dress was little regulated, and judges' robes could be black, red, or green. Horsehair wigs were optional. After the decree, it was required that all judges serving in England and Wales wear full black robes and wigs during courtroom proceedings.
Many countries occupied by the British ended up adopting this style of court dress. In former British colonies, such as Hong Kong, judges still wear the full robes and wig. Though court dress styles typically change slowly out of respect for tradition, some alterations have been made due to political pressure when such countries became independent. Other times, changes are made due to practicality; many African court dresses are lightweight simply because the full outfit would be too hot for most people to wear in that climate.
There are also a few instances of a judiciary altering his robes to suit himself. US Federal Chief Justice William Rehnquist added yellow bars to the sleeves of his robe after being impressed with the style in a play he'd seen the night before. Since his successor wore plain black robes, this practice has not become traditional. In 2008, Britain's Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, created a simpler style of court dress that eschewed the elaborate wig, bands, and collar.
One or two countries have eliminated the tradition of wearing elaborate judicial robes altogether. In Greece and Scandinavia, for example, a suit is fine to wear during any legal proceeding.