The Court attire worn by Judges is extremely distinctive. A High Court judge wears a full hood with a cowl covering the shoulders and a mantle or cloak. It was the established dress from the period of Edward III (1327-77) and was the correct dress for attending the royal court at the time. And the material for the robes was ermine and taffeta or silk and was originally given to judges as a grant from the Crown. Violet was the colour for winter and green for summer and scarlet red was kept for best.
After 1635, a Judge would have worn a black robe faced with light fur was worn in winter, and violet or scarlet robes, faced with shot-pink taffeta, in summer. And a black girdle, or cincture, was worn with all robes.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the rules of 1635 were not being adhered to and a much less formal version of the robes was used for criminal trials. A scarlet red robe, black scarf and a scarlet cashing hood known as a tippet or stole was worn. A black silk gown was worn for civil trials.
At the time of the home of the courts of law at Westminster Hall the mantle was not being worn. It was now saved for special occasions and ceremonies. The grey taffeta was becoming increasingly more popular as an alternative to the pink used during summer. And plain linen bands began to be worn at the neck, in place of the ruffs associated with Queen Elizabeth I. They were originally wide collars, but by the 1680s had become what we see today: two rectangles of linen, tied at the center of the neck.
Bands are still worn with a winged collar, rather than the turndown collar seen on a typical shirt today. Court structure has had an effect on what is worn by judges. The Judicature Acts of 1873-5, absorbing the courts of Chancery, Admiralty, Probate and Matrimonial Causes, created the High Court that led to a new dress dilemma. Trial judges in these courts were used to wearing plain black silk gowns. And today judges in the Chancery, Probate, Admiralty, Divorce and Family Divisions wear black silk gowns.
When county courts were created in 1846 the black gown was worn but in 1915 Judge Woodfall suggested that a new robe – similar to those worn by High Court judges and a violet robe was introduced to distinguish it from the violet High Court robe. A lilac tippet and black girdle also formed part of the attire, which due to wartime conditions did not become compulsory until 1919.
A full violet hood for ceremonial occasions was added in 1937, and the creation of the Crown Court in 1971 led to the introduction of a scarlet tippet, to be worn during criminal trials. However, this was not compulsory as judges could choose to wear a black gown instead. Judges at the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) still wear their black gowns.
The Court of Appeal was created at the same time as the High Court, again combining several existing courts. The Master of the Rolls (head of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal) and two other members of the Court of Appeal in Chancery were among the new members of this court – which probably explains why a black silk gown was chosen.
The Court of Criminal Appeal, founded in 1908, originally wore the full black, scarlet or violet robes and regalia, but in 1966 the court was abolished and re-formed as the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). At this point, judges of this court adopted the black silk gown, with the Queen’s Bench Division following suit soon afterwards.