News & Politics

A Trump Impeachment Trial Could Be Pretty Boring, Fashion-Wise

In 1999, Chief Justice Rehnquist jazzed up his robe with gold stripes.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, shown in this video image, presides in the impeachment trial of President Clinton on the Senate floor, Monday, February 8, 1999, in Washington. (AP Photo/APTN)

One of the most enduring images of Bill Clinton‘s 1999 impeachment trial in the US Senate is the gaily festooned robe that Chief Justice William Rehnquist wore while presiding. Far from the basic black that had been Supreme Court robe style since the 19th century, Rehnquist was inspired by a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe to have four gold stripes sewn on each sleeve of his robe in 1995.

Rehnquist’s sartorial derring-do confused Washington Post critic Robin Givhan, who noted that the pizazz of his robe was offset somewhat by the “rather slovenly manner” in which he wore it, which she described as a “hybrid of scruffy bathrobe and Vegas costume.” It was a metaphor for Washington dress, Givhan suggested: “Here, there is a sense that the greater authority one has, the more of a rumpled mess one can be.”

John Roberts 86’d Rehnquist’s stripes when he became chief justice (Rehnquist donated his impeachment robe to the Smithsonian and pocketed a tidy tax deduction for his trouble). Ruth Bader Ginsburg now exhibits the most zip among her colleagues—she jazzes her robes up with neckwear, including jabots.

Photograph by Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

If the Senate holds an impeachment trial for President Trump, Roberts will preside. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not immediately reply to a question as to whether he planned any amendments to his robes should he do so.


Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.