Living in Los Angeles (and the world, really), it’s nearly impossible to miss any news about Lindsay Lohan. This will certainly be true again come Friday, as Lindsay makes the latest in her seemingly never-ending string of court appearance (this time, in connection with charges that she stole a $2,500 necklace from a Venice Beach jeweler). You might expect that, as a lawyer, my observations about the proceedings will be focused on all the legal wrangling and/or nuanced issues of law. But it doesn’t look like there’s anything particularly legally interesting about Lindsay’s situation, and — like every other media-watcher in America — I’ve been conditioned to instead watch Lindsay’s monthly courtroom visits with a keen eye for the fashion.
No, it’s not that I saw a story about Lindsay’s courtroom fashion choices on Access Hollywood. … Okay, maybe I did see that story on Access Hollywood (a gal’s gotta relax after a hard day’s work somehow). But even “reputable” news outlets like CNN and the Los Angeles Times have been no less obsessive about the sartorial elements of the Lohan legal drama.
Terrifyingly, I have sometimes found myself agreeing with Lindsay herself in thinking, “Who cares what she wears to court?” But the reality is that courtroom fashion choices can represent a considered element of legal strategy — and are even subject to specific judicial rules.
As any dedicated observer knows, the ongoing furor over LiLo’s fashion choices reached fever pitch over one little white dress — emphasis on the “little.” As soon as she hit the courthouse steps in that little Kimberly Ovitz number, the Internet firestorm — FIRESTORM, I tell you…just Google it — began. TMZ reported that Lindsay’s dress was chosen to represent purity and innocence (good luck with that one). Kimberly Ovitz probably threw a little party, as the white dress immediately sold out everywhere. Mama Lohan reportedly reacted by instructing ‘lil Lindsay to wear a black pants suit the next day. (That black pants suit? Umm . . maybe notsuper conservative either, as the girls are on full display in this “toned down” Chanel outfit.) And the denizens of the Internet promptly demanded answers to all the burning questions — most prominently, “who on earth is picking these outfits?”
This is not the first time that celebrity court attire has made headlines — the press scrutinized Winona’s Ryder’s outfit every day during her shoplifting trial (the girl rocked the headband of innocence a lot, but it didn’t seem to help much), and how could anyone forget Michael Jackson’s pajama outfit? — and it certainly won’t be the last.
For that reason, responsible lawyers know that, even outside these high-profile contexts (and especially within them), clients’ fashion choices matter. In criminal cases, lawyers often advise their clients to “dress like you’re going to a funeral” (if that’s the advice that Lindsay got, she must be going to quite the raucous funerals). Suits are often chosen for videotaped depositions based, in part, on the color of the backdrop behind the videotaped deponent. Lawyers even worry about these choices for themselves, as attorneys in multi-day trials routinely consider the perceptions of jurors in considering how often, and how dramatically, to vary their appearances day-to-day.
And, lest you think that this is only lawyers being hyperneurotic control freaks — it is that, but it isn’t only that — the courts themselves have something to say on the topic. According to theCourt of Appeals for the United States, attire for counsel and spectators should be restrained and appropriate to the dignity of the Court. Indeed, judges have quite a bit of discretion and can (although VERY rarely do) hold someone in contempt for violating the court rules of decorum and dress. (Note to self, do NOT drop the F-bomb in court. Or the Oscar stage, for that matter.) In May, a woman was held in contempt of court and JAILED over a T-shirt the judge found offensive. But of course, we have it easy compared to women in countries like Belize, where women actually are not allowed to wear pants in court, or in Sudan, where they can be fined for wearing pants in public at all. (Talk about fashion police.)
The vast majority of judges won’t be jailing you for an inappropriate outfit, but there are a few who still have strong preferences about what people (cough, WOMEN, cough) should or should not wear to court. Some judges prefer women to wear skirts in their courtroom (and pantyhose with that is a given). Others just think women dress too sexy and create a distraction in court (Thanks Ally McBeal!). Apparently, this is such a problem that the Chicago Bar Association had a panel, complete with fashion show, telling people (again, focusing on the women) how to dress. (I assume 60% of the panelists had heart attacks when they saw Ms. Lohan’s court outfits.) On the other hand, some lawyers find that dressing out of the box helps their careers. According to this Wall Street Journal article, lawyer Bree Laughrun finds that wearing Balmainand Azzedine Alaïa helps her relationship with her clients because the more outlandish she dresses, the easier it is to cut the ice. Ummm…no comment.
My advice? If you’re going to court, stay the safe route. Remember, jurors are watching you and so is the judge. You never know what random idiosyncrasy someone has about clothing and you don’t want your clothes to influence the verdict or any sort of important ruling. But hey, at least we don’t live in Britain, where we’d have to wear this nonsense every time we go to court. Wigs just are NOT my best look.