Some day, the three-month-long Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial will develop into fodder not only for the pundits of the tech world, or for historians trying again on how we received to right here, however for anybody contemplating how we form the perceptions and unconscious prejudices of others. It has been a case research in the use of clothes and styling to have an effect on opinion (public and judicial) and, if to not make pals, not less than to affect folks. Or attempt to.
When the verdict comes down, the transformation of the wunderkind founding father of Theranos from black-clad genius to besuited milquetoast will likely be an integral a part of the story. Did it work, or was it a seemingly clear effort to play the relatable card? Rarely has there been as stark an instance of Before and After.
The reinvention began even earlier than the trial formally started, when Ms. Holmes made her first courtroom look in San Jose, Calif., for her arraignment in April.
Gone have been her signature black turtlenecks and black slacks; gone the vibrant pink lipstick and blond hair ironed straight as a board or pulled right into a chignon. Gone, in different phrases, was the look immortalized on magazine covers of Fortune, Forbes and Glamour (and, sure, T: The New York Times Style Magazine). The look that impressed a host of ironic imitators at the starting of her trial. The look that famously referenced each Steve Jobs (however glamorous!) and Audrey Hepburn. The one which tapped into the Silicon Valley fable of the thoughts beloved of the tech world, by which having a uniform means having extra time to consider substantive issues moderately than garments.
Instead there was … sartorial neutrality, in the type of a lightweight grey pantsuit and lightweight blue button-down shirt, worn untucked, with child pink lipstick. She regarded extra like the faculty scholar making an attempt on a grown-up interview look than the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
By the time opening arguments started in September, the new look had been perfected: a no-name skirt swimsuit (or costume and jacket or pantsuit) in a coloration so banal as to virtually fade into the background. Her hair was set in unfastened waves round her face, like Christie Brinkley or a contestant on “The Bachelor.” Her face masks have been gentle blue and inexperienced — the colours of nature. There was not an influence heel or an influence shoulder in sight. The solely a part of her outfit that was branded in any approach was her diaper bag backpack (her son was born in July), which was from Freshly Picked and prices round $175.
That’s not low cost, however it’s nothing like the Hermès bag Martha Stewart carried throughout her 2004 trial for insider buying and selling, which prompted let-them-eat-cake comparisons and have become a traditional instance of what to not put on to courtroom — particularly when you’re charged with mishandling funds. (On the different hand, when Cardi B appeared in courtroom along with her Hermès to reject a plea deal in a misdemeanor assault case, the high-end bag served as a symbolic riposte to the concept that the rapper was a avenue brawler.)
The internet impact of Ms. Holmes’s makeover was center supervisor or backup secretarial character in a streaming sequence about masters of the universe (however not her! uh-uh), with the diaper bag functioning as an implicit reminder of her maternal standing and household values. In case that accent wasn’t sufficient, she typically entered the courthouse with an precise member of the family — her mom, her companion — in tow, and a hand to cling to. It was code-switching of the most skillful variety. It was relatable.
One of the stereotypes of Silicon Valley’s superstars, in any case, is that they’re different: talking in bits, regarding machines greater than folks; residing, actually, in a distinct actuality. When you desire a jury to sympathize together with your plight, it’s a must to make them think about themselves in your footwear. Which means, it’s worthwhile to look, if not like them, not less than like somebody they may know.
As an article in the journal of the American Bar Association put it: “How you dress makes an impact on a jury or judge’s attitude about you. The goal is to look appropriate and nonthreatening while not distracting from the case.”
The creator, Brenda Swauger, advises her purchasers to keep away from vibrant colours (test) and maintain it easy (test) and conservative (test). Gloria Allred, the movie star lawyer whose purchasers have included Rachel Uchitel and Bill Cosby’s accusers, advises folks to decorate for courtroom as if it have been “church,” as she as soon as instructed The New York Times.
Such pictures faucet into our lizard mind, calling up impressions of energy (or lack of it), menace (or not) and company. Put merely: If in her earlier incarnation Ms. Holmes’s picture was crafted to counsel confidence, management and single-minded, possibly ruthless, pursuit of a purpose — and it clearly labored, a part of the case made for traders — she is now conveying softness and dependency, so unassertive that, as her protection argued, she would make an ideal goal for a person to Svengali her.
(While Ms. Holmes’s legal professionals described the efforts of Ramesh Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos companion, to manage what she ate and the way she got here throughout, and although they submitted into proof a textual content that learn “I have molded you,” they didn’t say it was Mr. Balwani who got here up with the concept of the black turtleneck. Which means that the image-making, not less than, was all her personal.)
In this, her makeover is sort of a model 2.zero of the methods employed by Winona Ryder in her 2002 shoplifting trial, when she wore a Marc Jacobs outfit that made her appear like a well mannered schoolgirl, full with a Peter Pan collar, in addition to assorted discrete knee-length hemlines and headbands; or Anna Sorokin, the society grifter who, in the last days of her 2019 trial, wore candy baby-doll clothes that virtually blared “innocent.”
Interesting as they have been to look at, nevertheless, these methods didn’t show efficient in the finish. Both Ms. Ryder and Ms. Sorokin have been discovered responsible. Perhaps Ms. Holmes could have extra success. On this, the jury is already out.