How Elizabeth Holmes Modified Her Fashion for Trial


Because the fraud trial of the Theranos founder attracts to an in depth, might her new courtroom picture have an effect on the choice?

Elizabeth Holmes, center, with her mother, Noel Holmes, and her partner, Billy Evans, arriving at her trial in San Jose, Calif. 
Credit score…Justin Sullivan/Getty Pictures

Vanessa Friedman

Some day, the three-month-long Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial will change into fodder not only for the pundits of the tech world, or for historians trying again on how we acquired 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 usage of clothes and styling to have an effect on opinion (public and judicial) and, if to not make associates, not less than to affect individuals. Or attempt to.

When the decision comes down, the transformation of the wunderkind founding father of Theranos from black-clad genius to besuited milquetoast can be an integral a part of the story. Did it work, or was it a seemingly clear effort to play the relatable card? Not often has there been as stark an instance of Earlier than and After.

The reinvention began even earlier than the trial formally started, when Ms. Holmes made her first court docket look in San Jose, Calif., for her arraignment in April.

Gone had been her signature black turtlenecks and black slacks; gone the brilliant 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 journal covers of Fortune, Forbes and Glamour (and, sure, T: The New York Occasions Fashion Journal). The look that impressed a bunch of ironic imitators originally 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, during which having a uniform means having extra time to consider substantive issues reasonably than garments.


Credit score…David Orrell/NBCUniversal, through Getty Pictures


Credit score…Lucas Jackson/Reuters

As an alternative there was … sartorial neutrality, within the type of a lightweight grey pantsuit and lightweight blue button-down shirt, worn untucked, with child pink lipstick. She seemed extra like the faculty pupil attempting on a grown-up interview look than the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.

By the point opening arguments started in September, the brand new look had been perfected: a no-name skirt go well with (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 had been mild blue and inexperienced — the colours of nature. There was not an influence heel or an influence shoulder in sight. The one a part of her outfit that was branded in any method 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, but it surely’s nothing just 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 court docket — particularly when you’re charged with mishandling funds. (Alternatively, when Cardi B appeared in court docket together 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 web impact of Ms. Holmes’s makeover was center supervisor or backup secretarial character in a streaming collection 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 usually entered the courthouse with an precise member of the family — her mom, her associate — in tow, and a hand to cling to. It was code-switching of essentially the most skillful type. It was relatable.

One of many stereotypes of Silicon Valley’s superstars, in spite of everything, is that they’re different: talking in bits, regarding machines greater than individuals; dwelling, actually, in a distinct actuality. Once you need a jury to sympathize along with your plight, it’s important to make them think about themselves in your sneakers. Which suggests, you could look, if not like them, not less than like somebody they could know.


Credit score…Brittany Hosea-Small/Reuters


Credit score…Ethan Swope/Getty Pictures

As an article within the journal of the American Bar Affiliation put it: “The way you costume makes an influence on a jury or choose’s angle about you. The purpose is to look applicable and nonthreatening whereas not distracting from the case.”

The writer, Brenda Swauger, advises her shoppers to keep away from vivid colours (verify) and hold it easy (verify) and conservative (verify). Gloria Allred, the celeb lawyer whose shoppers have included Rachel Uchitel and Invoice Cosby’s accusers, advises individuals to decorate for court docket as if it had been “church,” as she as soon as advised The New York Occasions.

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 recommend 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.

(Whereas Ms. Holmes’s attorneys described the efforts of Ramesh Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos associate, to regulate what she ate and the way she got here throughout, and although they submitted into proof a textual content that learn “I’ve molded you,” they didn’t say it was Mr. Balwani who got here up with the thought of the black turtleneck. Which means that the image-making, not less than, was all her personal.)

On this, her makeover is sort of a model 2.0 of the strategies 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, within the ultimate days of her 2019 trial, wore candy baby-doll clothes that virtually blared “harmless.”

Fascinating as they had been to observe, nonetheless, these methods didn’t show efficient ultimately. Each Ms. Ryder and Ms. Sorokin had been discovered responsible. Maybe Ms. Holmes can have extra success. On this, the jury is already out.