The Most Iconic Celebrity Courtroom Looks This Year
"The law has always been seen as something people have to be on their best behavior for," one fashion expert said — but Instagram has changed that.
Soho scammer Anna Delvey's black choker from the ’90s. Cardi B's incredible sunglasses. Full House's Lori Loughlin signing autographs outside the court house in a shiny gold belt.
A plethora of celebrities have turned recent court appearances into red carpet moments. And while their alleged crimes are bad (please, kids, don't do [alleged] crimes) — their outfits are very, very good.
And that may be for a reason: Dressing up as a fancy rich person — rather than just a normal person in a conservative courtroom suit — can be a specific fashion strategy wielded by famous people.
"Obviously defendants often want the sympathy of the judge and jury but portraying themselves as a celebrity might have its own value," said fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.
That's right, looking like a celebrity might be the best court dressing strategy that a celebrity can take.
"They are creating a brand, just as they do in their public life, and it may not be the one we expect every time," she said.
Loughlin, aka Aunt Becky from both Full House and Fuller House, appeared in Boston federal court on Tuesday to face additional charges for her role in the college admissions scandal. She is accused of paying $500,000 to help her daughters secure a spot at the University of Southern California.
For her court appearance, she wore a glamorous camel-colored pantsuit with a gold belt over a gray knit top — and had immaculate hair and makeup — while being indicted for money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Loughlin even signed autographs before one of her court appearances, which added to her "looking like a celebrity and playing the part," said Chrisman-Campbell.
Contrast that with fellow actor Felicity Huffman. When Huffman accepted a plea deal for her role in the same college admissions scandal on Monday, she wore a plain black shapeless pantsuit.
"It's interesting how the two women approach the charges and how they’re dealing with the charges, versus what they ended up wearing to court," said Natalie Nudell, fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
When rapper Cardi B turned up to a police station Oct. 1, 2018, to face charges after a fight in a strip club, she wore a white ruffled shirt with pearl buttons, long gold nails, and a short blonde wig.
"She looks almost like she’s in costume as someone going to court," said Chrisman-Campbell.
For her first court appearance at Queens Criminal Court last December, Cardi B wore a long rainbow-colored wig. For her January appearance, the rapper dressed as a classic diva in a full-length fur coat and hat, carrying a mini Hermès Birkin bag, her nails painted yellow and green.
"Wait for me to put my glasses on," she told photographers after leaving the court room, according to Page Six.
That situational awareness — that paparazzi will be swarming and their images will be projected to the world — makes a difference.
"By using your fame to your advantage, people might be starstruck by that, impressed by that," said Chrisman-Campbell, whose upcoming book, Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History, looks at the courtroom fashions of Al Capone and OJ Simpson. "Or they see you as someone they know and love, rather than as a criminal."
Cardi B dressing in fur and luxury brands to defend herself against charges of assault against two women she accused of sleeping with her husband makes sense for her public image. "Is this bad for her reputation? Her fans expect her to do that to whoever is hitting on her husband," Nudell said.
Then, of course, there is the alleged Soho scammer Anna Delvey, real name Anna Sorokin, who rose to fame for frolicking around NYC pretending to be a wealthy German heiress and leaving a bunch of unpaid bills in her wake. She is facing charges of grand larceny and theft of services following allegations she swindled $275,000.
She hired a courtroom stylist to help her put together outfits for her trial appearances, with classic basics — such as a beige sweater and plain black pants — elevated by a velvet black choker and thick-rimmed glasses.
“I will say obviously there are challenges to styling someone who’s currently incarcerated — there’s a lot imitations to what you can and cannot wear in court,” the stylist, Anastasia Walker, said.
"The fact she thought about this and hired a stylist all goes with her entire MO," said Nudell. "The entire scam she did — it was all very conscious of self-presentation and how people read her and connected her to different people and different groups."
Sorokin was known for her love of esoteric niche fashion labels, such as Rick Owens, brands that are "less about being fashionable and more about knowing," Nudell said.
An Instagram account even chronicles Sorokin's courtroom looks.
"Part of her genius is that she really understands how all of that operated and took advantage of the fact that people rely on very simple cues to make larger assessments about people," Nudell said.
Jussie Smollett's polarizing case enraged the nation. He told police he was attacked in Chicago by two men who poured a bleachlike chemical on him, put a noose around his neck, and yelled racist and anti-gay slurs at him. Police charged him with filing a false report. He maintained his innocence, and the charges were dropped.
The image associated with the dropped charges was of the Empire star leaving court, confidently wearing aviator sunglasses.
Famous people have long known how to use fashion to help them with criminal charges. Marie Antoinette wore black to her trial for high treason in 1793 to remind those gathered that she was a widow in mourning.
"The black dress she wore made her so sympathetic that when she was sentenced to death they made her change clothes," Chrisman-Campbell said.
And when Al Capone was on trial for tax evasion charges in 1931, he "showed up in a natty suit, diamond belt buckle, rings," said Chrisman-Campbell, although the case was specifically about how he earned more than what he'd declared.
"So much of the media coverage focuses on his clothes; it was instrumental to the case against him," she said. "He was photographed going into courtroom. There were long descriptions of outfits. As the trial went on people were breathlessly waiting to see what he wore."
She noted that there were "lot of comparisons between Capone and Paul Manafort" and their trials, since the court's attention also focused on Manafort's luxury suits and a $15,000 ostrich leather jacket.
The recent fashionable celebrity court appearances may indicate a shift.
"This is a loosening," Nudell said. "Public opinion is a little more open.
"The law has always been seen as something people have to be on their best behavior for," she added. "Ultimately, I do think more and more people are more open to fashionability or self-presentation."
That's thanks to social media, particularly Instagram, which puts constant photos of celebrities and wannabe celebrities dressed in luxury goods in everyone's hands.
The one area that isn't seen a change? Mug shots.
"They haven’t prepared for that," Chrisman-Campbell said. "They're not in costume and makeup. It's very raw and very real, and they don’t look like that when they show up in court."