Judges are to end centuries of tradition and abandon the wearing of wigs and gowns in hundreds of civil and family cases.

The decision to abolish the 300-year-old horsehair headgear, along with wing collars and bands, was announced yesterday by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.

However, in a compromise ending one of the most hotly disputed legal debates of recent years, judges sitting in criminal courts will continue to wear their wigs.

And solicitor-advocates, who have long fought for parity with barristers, will be allowed to wear the same traditional costume that is the hallmark of the Bar. The issue of what judges and advocates should wear has split the profession and been the subject of several lengthy consultation exercises.

Lord Phillips, Britain's most senior judge, acknowledged that there was still dissent. He said: "While there will never be unanimity of view about court dress, the desirability of these changes has a broad measure of agreement."

The reforms, to take effect on January 1, mean that all 1,300 judges from the High Court down to the rank of deputy district judge, who sit in civil and family cases, will wear a new, simple gown. There is still no agreement on design.

One suggestion is for a dressing-gown style of robe with a simple sash coloured according to rank; another is for a European-style gown buttoning up to the neck.

In most family cases judges already dispense with wigs and gowns and also in commercial cases where the litigants, often from foreign jurisdictions, are not used to legal costume.

But the change will be noticeable in other civil cases, particularly in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

One casualty of the changes will be the full-bottomed wig, worn on ceremonial occasions.

The allowance for newly appointed circuit judges of £2,595 to buy this wig will be scrapped.

Lord Phillips also announced the scrapping of the five different costumes worn by High Court judges.

The cost of supplying the new civil gown is estimated at about £200,000 but annual savings of about £300,000 are expected from the other changes.

Michael Caplan, QC, a solicitor-advocate, said: "This is very good news. Although court dress will not be compulsory, it will be the expectation that everyone will be similarly dressed; and this has to be right."

But wigmakers said the reforms would lead to job losses. Several companies make lawyers' wigs, employing about 100 craftsmen and women.

Judges' full-bottomed wigs can be bought off the shelf or made to measure, costing £1,995 from the outfitter Stanley Ley, which was established in 1903. Judges' everyday "bench" wigs are £795, while barristers' hairpieces are £458. Barristers' robes range from £134 to £180, or up to £1,094 for a QC's silk version.