Style & Beauty

How To Dress For A Court Appearance, According To Legal Experts

Lori Loughlin and Anna Delvey have brought attention, once again, to the importance of style in the courtroom.

In the world of high-profile court cases, notably when celebrities (ahem, Anna Delvey, Lori Loughlin or Felicity Huffman) are involved, a visit to the courtroom can seem like its own sort of fashion show.

We can look at Delvey (real name Anna Sorokin) as an example. The “Socialite Scammer,” as she’s been dubbed, arrived for a court appearance on March 27 wearing a black choker seen ’round the web. Media outlets couldn’t help but bring attention to her choice of accessory and even seemed to focus more on her appearance than any other aspect of her case. It was even revealed that Delvey hired the stylist Anastasia Walker to help advise her on courtroom ensembles.

Then there’s Loughlin, whose tan suit and matching neutral boots were covered by various sites. And people noticed when Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of now-defunct Theranos, showed up to court without her trademark black turtleneck. We can’t forget the Bling Ring case, in which the suspects arrived for arraignment wearing Louboutin heels.

Actress Lori Loughlin exits federal court in Boston on April 3.
Actress Lori Loughlin exits federal court in Boston on April 3.

While it shouldn’t technically matter what someone wears to court when they’re on trial ― especially to the jury members, who are supposed to be impartial ― it’s human nature to judge people on how they look. And thanks to countless high-profile cases through the years, it’s clear that we have more than a little interest in seeing how the rich and famous present themselves in legal proceedings. In that regard, it’s easy to argue that one’s courtroom style can play a significant role in the way they are perceived.

So how common is it for people to seek help from a stylist or image consultant for court? And who really hires them in the first place? We spoke to lawyers and an image consultant who’s worked with courtroom clients to find out more about the ins and outs of dressing for the courtroom.

Courtroom “stylists” aren’t commonly used for court cases.

Julie Zerbo, a lawyer and the founder of The Fashion Law blog, told HuffPost that she was “mystified by the big deal made out of Anna Delvey having a stylist” for her court appearance.

“I think ‘stylist’ is a very interesting, fashion way of putting it,” Zerbo said, noting that the term “consultant” is much more commonly used to describe individuals who help with courtroom attire.

It should be noted that stylists and consultants are “closely related,” according to Diane Craig, an image consultant based in Toronto. She explained that consultants have a “deep understanding” of the elements needed to make a good impression in front of a judge and jury.

It’s not surprising to think that someone like Loughlin or Huffman, both of whom have been charged in the massive college admissions bribery scandal and are both wealthy, might have help with their courtroom wardrobe. The average person who’s headed to court to contest something like a parking ticket, on the other hand, probably isn’t enlisting the help of a stylist or consultant.

Lawyers and law firms are usually the ones who hire image consultants (or perhaps stylists) to help their clients, according to Craig. She added that her services are usually enlisted for defendants, and her focus is typically on using clothing to signify likability, credibility, power and trust.

“Your appearance is part of your presence,” Craig said. “We happen to have a very deep knowledge of different elements in terms of what makes a good first impression.”

Anna Delvey arrives in New York State Supreme Court on March 27 for her trial on grand larceny charges. 
Anna Delvey arrives in New York State Supreme Court on March 27 for her trial on grand larceny charges. 

First impressions say more than you might imagine.

Julie Rendelman, a New York-based criminal defense attorney, says “it’s not uncommon for individuals who are facing charges to care very much about how they appear.”

According to Zerbo, there have been many studies done that show jury members “are not in any way immune to the physical characteristics, including dress, of defendants in particular.” As a result, the first impression a defendant makes on a jury holds weight.

“First impressions are based on what I call actual undeniable facts,” Craig said. ”[They] are done very quickly.”

For example, if someone is on trial for accusations of fraud or embezzlement and they show up to court wearing a flashy Rolex or a garment with a visible designer logo, it doesn’t necessarily express humbleness or trustworthiness. Instead, it might lead to the conclusion that such garments and accessories were purchased with stolen or fraudulent money.

Zerbo outlined another example, saying, “If you are going to court and the jury is being tasked with deciding whether or not you murdered four people, I think showing up wearing a non-threatening look could play a role subconsciously, even given whatever facts are on the table.”

“I think it would be silly to overlook or undermine the role that the human subconscious plays in judging people,” Zerbo added.

She also brought up the court proceedings surrounding the infamous Bling Ring case, which involved a group of teens breaking into celebrities’ homes and stealing their belongings. At the time of the trial, journalist Nancy Jo Sales wrote a story for Vanity Fair titled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.” (It was this article that inspired Sofia Coppola’s movie “The Bling Ring.”)

“I think that’s a really good example of how big a role clothing and jewelry and makeup and all of these things play,” Zerbo said.

So, though it’s true that juries shouldn’t form decisions based on one’s outfit, Rendelman added, “it’s natural for individual jurors to see someone who’s dressed a certain way and have a certain opinion about them.”

Conservative style is key, according to our experts.

Generally speaking, “the more conservative, the better,” Zerbo said. That goes for logos, bold colors, flashy jewelry and the like. Rendelman said she typically advises clients to dress as though they’re going into “the most important job interview of their life.”

If you’ve been paying attention to recent court cases, like the college admissions scandal, it would appear the high-profile individuals adopted that philosophy. For instance, Loughlin wore a nondescript tan suit with a plain gray T-shirt for her court appearance on April 3, and Holmes wore a simple gray suit for her court date on April 22.

Delvey, however, arrived for one court appearance wearing a cleavage-baring dress and black choker. (She’s also worn a snakeskin-print mini-dress.) Craig said she would have dressed her much differently.

“To me, they made her look not so sophisticated,” Craig said. “If they had wanted to show a real portrait that she is trustworthy and somebody who is good, I would have dressed her the complete opposite.”

In Craig’s opinion, individuals on trial should do their best to cover up visible tattoos, facial jewelry and avoid wearing anything that can detract from their overall message in court.

“Show you made an effort and that you care,” she said. “You have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘This is the message I want to deliver,’ so always think about what is my main message. At the conclusion of everything, this is what people are going to remember.”