Ceremony and Significance

Are we what we wear?

1876 Russian Law Court Courier UniformAlthough sumptuary laws may no longer restrict who can wear gold or lace, the law and regulations of many societies require specific uniforms and insignia to indicate position and authority. Other communities adopt ceremonial regalia to emphasize a connection with history or a sense of occasion.

Uniforms demonstrate power and immediately identify role and rank, whether military or civil.

Examples in this exhibit show how different governments and organizations choose to distinguish and represent their authority.

Portrait of William Murray, Earl MansfieldProfessional and community dress codes can be just as powerful.

Judicial robes project authority; academic robes and regalia recall tradition and achievement; the right suit, tie, or string of pearls can demonstrate professionalism and belonging. 

The portraits on display in this exhibit and throughout the Harvard Law School Library's Legal Portrait Collection give an overview of the evolving standards of legal and academic dress.

Under this uniformity, however, we can still see flashes of individuality.  From a lace jabot to the cut of a suit, judges, lawyers, and law students still find ways to stand out from the crowd.