There was a verdict in the Elizabeth Holmes trial makeover case.
Can her new courtroom image make a difference in her fraud trial as it nears its end?
People in the tech world and history will look back on the three-month-long Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial in the future. It will be interesting to see how we got to this point. This case study will show how clothes can change people's opinions (both public and judicial). If not, at least they can make people change their minds. To try to.
A big part of the story will be how the wunderkind founder of Theranos went from being a black-clad genius to being a well-dressed milquetoast. Did it work, or did it seem like a cheap way to play the relatable card? When it comes to Before and After, there hasn't been a case as clear as this.
In April, when Ms. Holmes made her first court appearance in San Jose, Calif., to be arraigned, she began to change.
It was a big change for her. She used to wear black turtlenecks with black pants. She used to wear bright red lipstick and her blonde hair was either ironed straight or pulled into a chignon. There were no more magazine covers like Fortune, Forbes, and Glamour with the same look on them (and, yes, T: The New York Times Style Magazine). The look that made a lot of people laugh at the start of her trial. The look that many people think of when they think of Steve Jobs and Audrey Hepburn at the same time. In Silicon Valley, people believe that having a uniform means more time to think about important things, not clothes. This is the one that tapped into this myth.
Sartorial neutrality wasn't there, but there was a light gray pantsuit and a light blue button-down shirt, with baby pink lipstick on the shirt. When she went for an interview, she looked more like a college student who was trying to look more grown-up than the person who was in charge of a multimillion dollar fraud scheme.
New look: A no-name skirt suit (or dress and jacket or pantsuit) in a color so dull it almost blends into the background was perfected by September. It looked like Christie Brinkley or a contestant on "The Bachelor." Her hair was in loose waves around her face, like Christie Brinkley or a contestant on "The Bachelor." A power heel or power shoulder was not to be found. When her son was born in July, she bought a diaper bag backpack from Freshly Picked that cost about $175. The only thing about her outfit that was marked was her shoes.
The Hermès bag Martha Stewart carried in her insider trading trial in 2004 caused a lot of people to say, "Let them eat cake." It was a bad example of what not to wear to court, especially when you're charged with mishandling money. However, when Cardi B showed up in court with her Hermès to reject a plea deal in an assault case, the bag served as a symbol to show that the rapper wasn't just a street brawler, as people thought.
Because of her makeover, Ms. Holmes became a middle manager or backup secretary in an online show about powerful people, but not her! For extra support, she often went to court with a member of her family in tow, as well as a hand to cling to. In this case, it was code-switching at its best. It was a good match.
One of the stereotypes about Silicon Valley's best-known people is that they are different: they speak in bits, connect with machines more than people, and live in a different world. When you want a jury to feel sorry for you, you have to make them picture themselves in your shoes. You need to look, if not like them, at least like someone they know.
As an article in the journal of the American Bar Association said, "How you dress has an effect on how a jury or judge thinks about you." The goal is to look appropriate and not dangerous while not taking away from the case.
She tells her clients not to use bright colors (check) and to keep things simple and conservative (check) (check). As the celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred told the New York Times, people should dress for court as if they were going to church.
These images get into our lizard brain and make us think about power, threat, and how we can act. When she was in her previous persona, her image was meant to show confidence, control and a single-minded, even ruthless, pursuit of a goal. This was a big part of the case made for investors. Now, on the other hand, she looks soft and dependent, so unassertive that, as her defense said, she would be a perfect target for a man to Svengali her.
(While Holmes's lawyers told the court about Ramesh Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and partner at Theranos, they didn't say that Balwani came up with the idea for the black turtleneck. This suggests that she came up with the idea for the turtleneck on her own.)
The way she looks now is like a version 2.0 of how Winona Ryder looked when she went to court in her 2002 shoplifting case, when she was wearing a Marc Jacobs outfit that made her look like a polite schoolgirl, complete with a Peter Pan collar and other discreet knee-length hemlines and headbands. Anna Sorokin, the society thief who was on trial in 2019 for stealing, wore baby-doll dresses that almost said "innocent."
They were interesting to watch, but in the end, they didn't work. Both Ms. Ryder and Ms. Sorokin were found guilty of the same crime. Perhaps, Ms. Holmes will have more success than she did the first time. People already know what they think about this subject.