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  • Writer's pictureBrian Watts

The Evolution of Legal Attire in Canada: A Journey Through Time

As Canada's legal system has evolved over the centuries, so too has its legal attire. The garments worn by lawyers and judges have not only reflected the changing fashions of their respective eras but have also carried symbolic significance, representing the dignity and solemnity of the judicial process.


Join us as we take a captivating journey through time to explore the fascinating history of legal attire in Canada.

The Early Roots: English Influence Canada's legal system finds its origins in English common law, and as a result, the early legal attire in Canada closely mirrored that of its British counterparts. During the colonial era, lawyers and judges adorned themselves in elaborate wigs, black robes, and other traditional accessories that were considered a symbol of their authority and professionalism.

The Gradual Shift: 19th Century As the 19th century rolled in, Canada began to seek its identity independent of Britain. This quest for nationhood also influenced legal attire. The wigs and elaborate garments of the British legal tradition began to fade away, replaced by more modest and practical attire, befitting a young and developing nation.

Distinct Canadian Identity: 20th Century With the passage of time and Canada's increasing autonomy, a unique Canadian identity emerged in various spheres, including the legal profession. In the early 20th century, legal attire in Canada became more standardized, with lawyers typically wearing a black robe or jacket, similar to their British counterparts. However, the wearing of wigs, once a symbol of prestige, largely disappeared during this period.

The Modern Era: Late 20th Century Onwards As the world entered the latter half of the 20th century, legal attire in Canada experienced further modernization. The traditional black robe, though still prevalent, saw some variations in its design and style. The legal community became more open to the idea of diverse attire, permitting judges to wear robes with different colored collars or bands to indicate their jurisdiction or level of court.

Significance of Legal Attire Throughout history, legal attire has held a profound symbolic significance. The robes serve as a visual reminder of the solemnity and dignity of the court proceedings. They convey a sense of authority, impartiality, and professionalism, emphasizing the importance of the justice system in upholding the rule of law.

Contemporary Trends In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate surrounding the relevance and practicality of traditional legal attire. Some argue that the time-honored



garments are outdated and that modern legal practitioners should adopt more contemporary attire. On the other hand, many uphold the value of tradition and continuity, emphasizing the enduring significance of legal attire as a symbol of respect for the legal system.

As we traverse through Canada's history of legal attire, we gain a deeper appreciation for the evolution of this symbolic aspect of the legal profession. From the lavish wigs of the colonial era to the modern and practical robes of today, legal attire has adapted to reflect the changing times while still preserving its core symbolism.


Regardless of the attire's future direction, one thing remains clear: the importance of the legal system and the respect it commands are embedded in the garments that adorn those who uphold justice in Canada.


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