Sewn to those black coats and robes

Have you ever wondered about the origins of court attire? The shapeless black and white garb worn by lawyers surely has historical relevance and signifies the ‘uniformity’ of the justice syste

Published: 07th July 2011 11:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 08:35 PM   |  A+A-

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Have you ever wondered about the origins of court attire? The shapeless black and white garb worn by lawyers surely has historical relevance and signifies the ‘uniformity’ of the justice system.

In Chennai’s sweltering heat, these gowns may look stuffy and similar to an untrained eye but a closer look reveal many differences. “It might look the same for public, but we always try to improvise according to the current trend. There are only limited possibilities but we do what we can for the overall look,” says Sadiq Ali, who runs Alisons Law Avenues shop, one of the oldest tailor shops in the vicinity of the Madras High Court. Located at Thambu Chetty Street, just opposite to the court,  Alisons exclusively caters to the clothing needs of law profession. “We stitch complete set of attires for advocates and judges – pants, shirts, coats and robes,” he adds.

The Bar Council of India, the highest statutory body of Indian bar, mandates, “An advocate should appear in court at all times only in the dress prescribed under the Bar Council of India Rules and his appearance should always be presentable”. While the rules carefully define in every possible aspect how an advocate should be dressed in court, they have not remained same over the decades, though.

“Earlier the design was plain. Then suddenly, one day it struck me that I can make it better by putting stripes on pockets,” he says. Actually, the dress code varies at different stages of hierarchy.

While a law student wear only a black tie on white shirt, clerks wear black coats. A male advocate should wear a white or striped black pant, white shirt, a full sleeve black coat. The long black robe is worn above all this. Phew! A female advocate can wear either a sleeveless or a full sleeve coat on sari or churidhar and the long robe. Most importantly, they should wear the collar band to distinct themselves from clerks and there are rules about how it should be buttoned up. Both advocate generals and High Court judges wear similar robes except that judges’ gowns will have an additional flap at the back side.

“We always try to add to the overall look without flouting the Bar Council’s regulations,” says Sadiq, who has even got patents for his design improvisations. Do the robes of judges will have a red stripe as shown in the movie? Sadiq laughs and says they use it give the extra feel.

Usually, brands like Raymond, Vimal, Dinesh, OCM are used to stitch coats and robes and says the its longevity depends upon the maintenance. “Dark colours always fade soon. So, if maintained well, the robe can be used upto 7 to 10 years. But there are advocates who find luck factor with their coats and keep it for longer time,” says Sadiq. Even if advocates can wear white pants, Sadiq says, most of them prefer either black or grey colours for its easy maintenance.

While both he and his wife, Yassmeen, are lawyers themselves, Sadiq claims he has stitched robes for advocates from Chennai and Bangalore and also for all the Advocate Generals of Madras High court including Navaneethakrishan, the current AG.

“While we use lighter material here in south, people go for thicker ones in northern states to suit to weather,” he adds. Sadiq recalls how his great grandfather Wazar Ali used to charge just Rs 75 for a robe that used to take an entire day to stitch. “Now I can stitch a robe in about three hours for Rs 750.”

Sadiq says that a lot of tailor shops mushroomed  that excluisvely made stitch robes but most of them closed down, as they  couldn’t sustain the customer base. Now, only his relatives and brothers remain in this business.

Sajid Ali, his brother, has his shop, Alisons Lawman, just a couple of streets away. “Earlier, only the brahmins used to become lawyers. Now it’s different. So, style and requirements have also changed,” he explains. As much as both Alis specialise in personlised stitching, they also make readymade robes in four different sizes.

Interestingly, a fashion technology student and an MBA student have done their project on Sadiq Ali and his business. But ask him why it is important to have an uniform for advocates, he says, “Every profession has its own principles and a uniform dress denotes there is no discrimination. And I’ve seen the joy that students have when become eligible to wear the robe. It’s incredible.”



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