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what makes celebrity courtroom style so compelling?

As the trial of infamous scammer Anna Delvey continues, we examine the camp fabulousness of this particular celebrity spectacle — the guilty pleasure that is courtroom fashion.

by Tom Rasmussen
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09 April 2019, 9:51am

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What, really, is gay culture? There are plenty of memes and tweets which aim to succinctly define it — iced coffee, perhaps; Lisa Vanderpump, for sure; continuing to masturbate over the lads in sixth form who bullied you, totally! But there’s nothing that screams gay culture more than the outfits celebrities wear to court while fighting against minor (or sometimes major) offences. Slebs-done-bad makes for some of the most compelling fashion stories out there.

We were reminded of this once again with the onset of Anna Delvey’s trial last month — the infamous Soho Grifter who allegedly tried to con friends, bankers and corporations out of $22 million and almost succeeded. Delvey’s story is one for the ages: a tale of wondrous lies and fairytale betrayal, of a young woman playing the New York social scene at its own game of fakery and, with the help of Photoshop and wire transfer receipts, spinning a web of money-coloured lies so complex that she has become a living millennial icon. And what better way to retain that status than to turn up to court in some incredibly smug looks. A Saint Laurent sheer shirt with a Victoria Beckham pant? A Michael Kors dress (that she, of course, makes work against all the laws of Kors)? Big glasses and a little choker?

“I really tried to focus on classic silhouettes and classic pieces in general," Anastasia Walker, Anna Delvey’s trial stylist (goals), told Elle in an interview. "[The all-black] may change in the future — we may go lighter. It is mysterious chic, and although it's getting a lot of media attention, this is still her real life. People have made comments that she doesn't take life seriously, but to me black is just a strong and powerful colour. It's serious.” According to the very same interview, the Celine glasses and the choker were all Anna’s idea, to create a signature, an instantly recognisable trademark. And all of it is curated on a Instagram page aptly named @annadelveycourtlooks. It’s a sensation, despite there only being four outfits to study on an almost constant loop. It’s entertaining, and perhaps a little sick, too. My interest in celebrities and their court looks started in the womb, but peaked back in 2013 when Goddess Of Power Nigella Lawson entered court in a black coat, a stunning barrel brush blow-dry and a pursed lip so poised she looked as if she was the judge. The very same day she would go on to admit, “I’ve taken cocaine twice in my life”, upholding another sacred celebrity practice of revealing, to the number, exactly how many times you have taken cocaine — while in public. Unless you’re Kate Moss and can argue that you were just pretending to do it.

Another stylish court attendee, linked by similar cocaine admissions — although this time it was “I really haven’t done it more than ten to 15 times” — is everyone’s favourite DUI accumulator Lindsay Lohan. Her court looks range from cornflower blue suits with a neat chignon bun, to a bleach blonde shock of hair and 50s-style polka dot shirt, to a 60s-style kicky cream dress, all of which screamed “innocent”. LiLo is a master at courtroom style — both ensnaring paparazzi, magazine covers and looking appropriate for the judge and jury. It’s the definition of a media circus, played ingeniously by LiLo and her press team. As everyone’s favourite influencer Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

It’s thrilling, truly; more compelling than most of Lohan’s movies (since 2007’s I Know Who Killed Me, of course). It feels so cheeky, so irresponsible and so powerful at the same time: to take control of your appearance in a scenario which, for many, might look pretty damning. It makes the archaic and flawed idea of justice seem minor, undermining the whole thing by making it a media outing, a PR moment. And these are often the moments that affirm a celebrity’s icon status. Of course, there’s a tonne of privilege to be deconstructed here — a cavalier attitude toward a system that wrongly incarcerates countless poor people and minorities.

Yet, there are endless brilliant, genius, legendary court looks pulled by all your favourites. Remember Naomi’s chic up-do teamed with a symphony of perfectly fitted beige as she told the court “this is a big inconvenience for me” at the Hague to a tribunal investigating war crimes in Sierra Leone. Legendary, although not to be confused for the time she turned up to community service in a floor-length metallic Dolce and Gabbana gown. That’s power. What about Lil’ Kim’s court clothes — the sandy brown suit, tan courts, French tips and Louis Vuitton purse. The height of elegance, the height of business. Nobody would convict a person so in control. What about Winona’s see-through knitted black dress? Or Linda Evangelista’s impossibly Jackie O floral look during a custody battle? Innocent, even if proven guilty.

It’s the psychology of fashion in action: playing a specific role to escape the claws of justice, a sartorial mirage that allows those convicted celebs to rewrite their own narrative. It’s about defiance in the face of danger — something many of us are so often searching for. Queers and women are often punished by society for the clothes they wear, and there’s nothing that quite captures a fuck-you attitude than rocking up to court wearing something glam, making a moment out of it.

It’s the definition of camp — dressing glam for court, for punishment. It’s what most of us do most days — dress for the world to look at you, to make assumptions about you, and deciding to fuck ‘em all at the same time. To make a publicity stunt, to plan an outfit, to decide that your court looks will have a theme running through them. Susan Sontag would get it. It’s concurrently thrilling and tacky; ingenious and so dumb; entertaining and tragic. It’s the many-layered, unspeakable power of clothes and celebrity colliding into one.