The clothing worn by the High Sheriff varies according to their duties. For non-ceremonial duties, Sheriffs tend to wear a formal suit which can be enhanced by the wearing of a Badge of Office, for instance when making presentations or making formal visits to organisations within the county. High Sheriffs are also entitled to wear the High Sheriff’s Association tie.
When a ceremonial dress is required, the High Sheriff wears Court Dress, or a military uniform if entitled to do so.
Regulation Court Dress for High Sheriffs:
The following are details of the ‘old style’ velvet Court Dress, prescribed as the regulation ceremonial dress for High Sheriffs in England and Wales:
Black or blue-black velvet, stand collar, cut pigeon breasted. Seven buttons on right forepart and seven corresponding twist or false buttonholes on the left. The foreparts meet edge to edge at a point on the breast, where they are secured with a pair of hooks and eyes. Gauntlet cuffs, with three buttons and twist or false buttonholes underneath. Three-pointed pocket flaps on the waist seam with three false buttonholes and corresponding buttons beneath. There are six buttons behind, that is, two at the waist, two in the centre and two at the bottom of the skirts. The body of the coat should be lined in black silk or artificial satin. There are pockets at the breast and in the tails.
Of black silk, attached to the coat at the back of the neck, to hang over the collar.
Black velvet or ivory satin for evening wear, cut skirted and without collar. Four buttons to the front. The pockets have three pointed flaps, a button being placed underneath each point.
Black velvet, with three small cut steel buttons at the knees and steel buckles.
Chapeau bras of black plush, with black watered silk cockade or rosette. Overall, a cut steel loop and button. Customarily the hat is held in the hand and never worn.
Cut steel hilt and mountings, black lacquered scabbard. Black velvet frog or webbing slings for suspension, depending on scabbard mounts.
White kid or cotton.
Tunic shirt with a plain front. White lawn or cambric stock fastening with studs, lace fall at front. Matching lace ruffles to be sewn in into the cuffs of the coat.
Court Dress for Lady Sheriffs
There are no precise regulations governing Court Dress for Lady Sheriffs. However, ladies are encouraged to wear Court Dress of black or blue velvet. The styling is a matter of individual choice. Preferably the outfit should include cut steel buttons and shoe buckles and a black silk wig bag. Lady Sheriffs do not wear swords; a cut steel sword may be carried before them in procession by a cadet.
The Evolution of Court Dress
In 1869 the Lord Chamberlain’s office issued new guidelines governing the wearing of Court Dress, and in an effort to standardise the appearance of gentlemen attending at Court, prescribed for the first time a suit of clothes cut from black silk velvet and trimmed with cut steel buttons. Hitherto Court uniform had consisted of a coat and breeches of superfine cloth work with a floral waistcoat. This, in turn, had descended from the lavishly decorated court clothes worn during the reign of King George III.
This new, more restrained style of dress, became the regulation uniform for High Sheriffs and retained some of the elements of dress from a previous age. These included a species of folding cocked hat known as a ‘chapeau bras’, which had first made its appearance in the last years of the 18th century and the black silk rosette, the last vestige of the wig bag of the 1740s. The coat itself echoed the style of the 1780s, though the advancement of 19th century tailoring techniques lent a more fitted silhouette to this later garment.
One final change that occurred to Court Dress, in time for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, was the introduction of a plainer version of the current uniform. Intended as an alternative to that already established and worn primarily by those gentlemen who did not possess Military, Naval or Civil Uniform, this ‘new style’ velvet Court Dress became extremely popular. However, it was never adopted by High Sheriffs and remains inadmissible today as regulation dress.