Formal dress for male High Sheriffs derives from a variety of sources, which over the years acquired official sanction and became accepted as the only order of civilian dress High Sheriffs may wear. Originating in the 18th century, court dress was modified and simplified several times during the 19th century by the Lord Chamberlain to ensure some standardisation of dress worn at (the royal) court.
Following the Second World War, most formal presentations to The Sovereign ceased and the opportunity to wear court dress declined accordingly. It has continued to be worn, on formal occasions in connection with their appointments, only by High Sheriffs and some holders of senior civic, legal and parliamentary positions.
Illustration from Dress and Insignia worn at His Majesty's Court
The current High Sheriff’s court dress is based on the “old style” which is understood to comprise the following:-
black or midnight blue velvet coat, the front cut to meet like a morning coat but with a stand collar and no lapels
buttoned gauntlet cuffs
three-pointed pocket flaps on waist seam
black 'wig bag' at back of collar
cut steel buttons (7 on coat front, 3 on each cuff, 3 under each pocket flap, 6 on tails; 10 on waistcoat)
breeches matching coat with 3 small knee buttons and a buckle
white shirt and stock with lace jabot and lace cuffs
black silk hose
black patent leather shoes (pumps) with cut steel buckles
cut steel hilted slung sword
black steel-mounted scabbard and black slings (worn on left)
black beaver cocked hat (with steel loop on black silk rosette)
No official dress patterns are laid down for lady High Sheriffs because their equivalent to men's court dress at (royal) courts was a long evening dress worn with small white feathers in the hair and a white veil. Clearly this was unsuitable for shrieval duties, so variants of men's court dress have evolved since the appointment in the 1940s of the first lady High Sheriffs in modern times.
The High Sheriff would like to thank Geoffrey Golding M.V.O. for expert guidance on sartorial matters.
Copyright 2023 © High Sheriff of Northamptonshire.