Why Do British Lawyers and Judges Wear Wigs in Courtroom?

You’re wondering: why do British lawyers and judges wear wigs in the courtroom?

If you have been to a British courtroom or followed judicial proceedings of such courts on T.V, you will note that Britain’s lawyers and judges put on wigs. This is unlike their counterparts in the United States and other major nations. Additionally, many commonwealth member-states that were once British overseas colonies also uphold this practice.

But why is this the case? What makes the British lawyers and judges have a liking for the wigs but not their counterparts in other parts of the world? These are two questions we cannot answer in short. We have to dig deeper and seek in-depth explanations for them for the avoidance of doubt.

Why Do British Lawyers and Judges Wear Wigs in the Courtroom?

British lawyers and judges wear wigs to portray their formality in the courtroom and pay homage to legal history. These two reasons mainly stem from the British judiciary’s long-held tradition dating way back to the 17th century. We elaborate more on them here below:

Basic History: Why did the British wear wigs in the 1700s?

Before we get to the finer details of why this is the case, we would wish to dig a little bit deep into the dressing attire history. The tradition started in the 17th century. At that time, judges wore wigs when entering the courts during the sessions.

At that time, the activity was mainly practiced to cover up the baldness of the head. Nothing much was formal about it. From that point onwards, the tradition has persisted mainly for historical reasons. Most stakeholders in the legal circles accepted it as a formal part and parcel of their dressing.

The practice later spread to other regions of the world. These were mainly the British Commonwealth and the colonies of the United Kingdom. This spreading happened when the UK was expanding its influence far and beyond. Even after those nations received their independence, they continued this tradition.

It is not uncommon, in fact, to spot judges and lawyers in countries that were formally colonized by Britain adorning these regalia in these modern times. In our next segment of the discussions, we look at some of the core reasons that inform this trend.

Reasons behind British lawyers and judges wearing wigs in courtrooms

In a nutshell, these people wear wigs for a vast number of reasons. Mostly, they wear wigs to portray their formality in the courtroom and pay homage to legal history. These two reasons mainly stem from the British judiciary’s long-held tradition dating way back to the 17th century. We elaborate more on them here below:

Cover head baldness

Initially, the lawyers and the judges did put on these wigs to cover their heads against baldness. That was informed by the fact that the lawyers and the judges of those years were mainly bald, which greatly compromised their appearances, self-esteem, and personal confidence. By covering their baldness, they became bold and confident enough to articulate their issues.

Imbue a sense of formality and solemnity

Since these wigs are never worn anywhere else save for the courtrooms, their mere sight alone imbues some sense of formality and solemnity. People who go to the courtrooms to follow proceedings or attend to their trials will automatically tune their minds to be serious. That may not always be achievable when the said persons are dressed casually.

Historical purposes

The United Kingdom has a rich legacy of law and jurisprudence. No other regalia encapsulates this better than the wigs. Indeed, the regalia symbolizes the rich history of the common law and the supremacy of the same over the proceedings that ensue. The lawyers get to showcase this history to the rest of the world.

Continue past attachments

As part and parcel of showcasing historical purposes, the regalia also continue with the past attachments. We have already explained that these items are reminiscent of the British people’s pride and past achievements. Putting them on in this day and age continues with the past attachments.

Instill seriousness in judicial proceedings

Just as school uniforms bring about some seriousness during class sessions, so do these regalia as well. In particular, these wigs allow for visual separation between the law and those who are arraigned before it. The said persons do not treat the issues raised lightly or without too much ado.

Invoke respect and power for the law

Over and above merely instilling seriousness in judicial proceedings, these items also invoke a sense of respect and power for the law. This is since they are largely hailed as a symbol of power and respect for the rule of law. Their sighting alone brings about this result.

Value and decency

In most cases, people tend to judge others by the way they dress or carry themselves. The same goes for the lawyers and the judges. These wigs tend to give them some official character and sense of well-being. As such, not putting them on is largely regarded as an insult to the courts and the proceedings.

Portray formality in the courtroom

Every event, activity, or session operates a schedule that is strict and formal. The court proceedings are not left out of all these. Putting on these wigs is a sure way of bringing about the portrayal of this formality in the courtroom. With this comes some sense of seriousness and sobriety when arguing cases.

Classiness and uniqueness

Each profession has its own set of symbols, regalia, and attire that sets it apart. Engineers are distinguished by their helmets, nurses by their distinctively white or blue dress, and the pilots by their caps and official shirts. The lawyers and judges are definitely not left out in all these.

Communicate sophistication

Stemming from the above is the need to communicate sophistication to the stakeholders in the court proceedings. Indeed, these wigs appear truly sophisticated and elegant. Lawyers subsequently adopt them to show their own elegance and the seriousness that comes along with their professions. How else can they stamp their authority?

Historical inertia

The original purposes for which these wigs were put on have since diminished. Nonetheless, they are still worn mainly due to people not wanting to disassociate with the past and embrace the present. It is only time to tell how things will turn out to be in the future (as we advance.)


Indeed, many people have argued that this dress code is no longer relevant in our day and age. Nonetheless, the reasons we have given above are compelling enough to argue for their continued use and applications. Moreover, every other profession and nation has the leeway to determine its own unique dressing.

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