How Elizabeth Holmes Changed Her Style For The Trial


One day, Elizabeth Holmes’ three-month fraud trial will become fodder not only for experts in the tech world, but also for historians examining how we got there. the. It will be a case study on the use of clothing to influence opinion (public and judicial) and, if not to make friends, at least to influence people. Or try.

When the verdict comes down, the transformation of Theranos’ founding prodigy from genius clad in black into a tailored milquetoast will be part of the story. Did it work or was it a seemingly transparent effort to play the link card? Rarely has there been such a striking example of Before and After.

The reinvention began even before the trial officially began, when Ms Holmes first appeared in court in San Jose, Calif., For her arraignment in April.

Gone are the black turtlenecks and iconic black pants; Gone is the bright red lipstick and blonde hair pulled back like a board or pulled back into a bun. Gone, in other words, is the look immortalized on the covers of Fortune, Forbes and Glamor magazines (and, yes, T: The New York Times Style Magazine). The look that inspired a host of ironic imitators at the start of his trial. The look that referred to both Steve Jobs (but glamorous!) And Audrey Hepburn. The one who tapped into the Silicon Valley myth of the beloved mind of the tech world, where having a uniform means having more time to think about substantive things rather than clothing.

Instead, there was… sartorial neutrality, in the form of a light gray pantsuit and light blue button-down shirt, worn un-tucked, with baby pink lipstick. She looked more like the college girl trying on an adult interview look than the brain of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme.

By the time the opening arguments began in September, the new look had been perfected: an unnamed skirt suit (or dress and jacket or pantsuit) in a color so mundane it fades. practically in the background. Her hair was tied in loose waves around her face, like Christie Brinkley or a contestant of “The Bachelor”. His face masks were light blue and green – the colors of nature. There was no strong heel or strong shoulder in sight. The only part of her outfit that was branded was her changing backpack (her son was born in July), which came from Freshly Picked and costs around $ 175.

It’s not cheap, but it’s nothing like the Hermès bag Martha Stewart wore during her 2004 insider trading trial, which prompted cake comparisons and has become a classic example of what ‘don’t bring it to court – especially when you are accused with mismanagement of funds. (On the other hand, when Cardi B appeared in court with her Hermes to reject a plea deal in an assault tort case, the high-end bag served as a symbolic retaliation to the rapper’s notion that the rapper was a street brawler.)

The net effect of Ms. Holmes’ makeover was a middle manager or backup secretary character in a streaming series about the Masters of the Universe (but not her! Uh-uh), with the diaper bag functioning as a booster. implicit in her maternal status and her family values. . In case that prop wasn’t enough, she would often walk into the courthouse with a real member of the family – her mother, her partner – chasing her and a hand to hold onto. It was a clever code change. It was relatable.

One of the stereotypes of Silicon Valley superstars, after all, is that they are different: they talk in pieces, relate more to machines than to people; to live, literally, in a different reality. When you want a jury to sympathize with your plight, you have to make it imagine itself for you. Which means you have to look, if not like them, at least someone they might know.

As an article in the American Bar Association newspaper put it, “The way you dress affects the attitude of a jury or a judge towards you. The goal is to appear appropriate and non-threatening without distracting from the matter. “

Author Brenda Swauger advises clients to avoid bright colors (check) and keep it simple (check) and conservative (check). Gloria Allred, the famous lawyer whose clients have included Rachel Uchitel and Bill Cosby’s accusers, advises people to dress for court as if it were a “church,” as she said. once told the New York Times.

Such images tap into our lizard brains, evoking feelings of power (or lack of power), threat (or not) and agency. Put simply: While in her previous incarnation, the image of Mrs. Holmes was designed to suggest confidence, control, and the pursuit of a determined, possibly ruthless goal – and it clearly worked, part of the record made for investors – she now conveys gentleness and dependence, so unasserted that, as her defense has backed her, she would make a perfect target for a man to Svengali her.

(While Ms Holmes’ attorneys described the efforts of Ramesh Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos partner, to control what she ate and how she met him, and although they submitted in evidence a text that said “I modeled you”, they did it I’m not saying that it was Mr. Balwani who had the idea of ​​the black turtleneck. Which suggests that the creation of the image, at least was his.)

In this, her makeover is like a 2.0 version of the techniques Winona Ryder employed in her 2002 shoplifting essay, when she wore a Marc Jacobs outfit that made her look like a polished schoolgirl, complete with a Peter Pan collar, as well as an assortment of hems and discreet bands up to the knees; or Anna Sorokin, the corporate con artist who, in the final days of her 2019 trial, wore sweet babydoll dresses that practically snapped “innocent.”

As interesting as they are to watch, these strategies ultimately did not prove to be effective. Both Ms. Ryder and Ms. Sorokin were convicted. Maybe Mrs. Holmes will be more successful. With that, the jury is out already.


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