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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Court Costumes : The Way They Dress Is One Way Attorneys Can Manipulate the Show, Experts Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Tuesday, prosecutor Marcia Clark wore a blouse with a bow.

“Dignified but feminine,” decreed Karl Fleming, a consultant who trains lawyers in how to communicate better.

Defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. wore blue--a shade close to periwinkle and far from navy.

“This is kind of a regular-guy Valley suit,” mused Fleming. “Given who the jury is, it would be a mistake to show up wearing a $2,000 Armani suit.”

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If lawyers are on stage before juries, then clothes are their costumes. And they matter. They should be non-issues, says Fleming, but they shouldn’t be ignored. After all, the jury is watching everything. And clothing is just one aspect of the courtroom show that a lawyer can manipulate, whether the lawyer is a man or a woman.

Cochran’s bright blue suit reinforced his friendly, unpretentious demeanor, surmised Fleming. “I think given Cochran’s persona it’s an extremely effective ploy,” he said. “Johnny comes across being sort of plain, over-the-back-fence chatty, just the sort of guy you’d want to have a beer with . . . a regular guy.” Anything Armani-like might come across “snobby, maybe a little arrogant.”

And is Cochran paying this much attention to his clothes? “He’s awfully smart,” Fleming said. “I don’t think he misses much.”

On the other hand, Clark’s choice of attire projects another element of her image. “She sometimes has a tendency to come across as a little severe, so this plays against that,” said Fleming.

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Though some sartorial analysts wondered if her outfit Monday--the day that she and everyone else thought the crucial opening statements would be given--was not the perfect statement of who Marcia Clark wanted to be in that courtroom. On that day, she wore a white mandarin-collared jacket with black buttons.

“The advantage of wearing white for a woman suggests innocence and purity--she represents the injured party,” said Alison Lurie, novelist and author of “The Language of Clothes,” opining that it wasn’t Clark’s personal innocence but that of the murder victims that she might have been trying to convey.

“I predict when the part of the trial comes when they’re talking about blood that there’ll be something red in her costume,” Lurie said.

No courtroom wardrobes may be as scrutinized as those used in the most publicly chronicled trial of the century. But you don’t have to be a lawyer in a nationally televised case to believe that the clothes you wear into the courtroom affect the jury.

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“When I go to court I try to be as toned down as possible,” said one management litigator for a large firm in Los Angeles. “For example, if I were in my private life prepared to spend the money on a Chanel purse, it is not something I would wear to court.”

And those words of wisdom about dressing subtly go for men as well as women, said the litigator: “When you represent a company (against employees) you have to worry about not giving the impression of the big guy overpowering the little guy.”

“I want to project a very professional appearance,” said Cathy Conway, a 41-year-old labor litigator with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who describes herself as stylish but conservative and says she has an Armani suit or two in her closet. “It’s very important that you’re comfortable. I never wear very high heels, because you don’t want to be stumbling around the courtroom. . . . I don’t wear anything wild, where the jury would be looking at the fashion statement rather than listening to your message.”

But the jury notices just the same.

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When Conway was an Indianapolis prosecutor in the early 1980s, she said, “I had one jury come back and they said that the first thing they discussed was how nice I looked throughout the trial.” She laughed. “I got a conviction. And it was murder.” In the end, Conway said, “I think they really discussed the evidence.”

Conway said she thinks she has a certain confidence in her style. “I think I have a Cathy Conway look,” she said. “I think I always look very well put together.”

She didn’t see Clark in the courtroom Tuesday, but when her attire was described, Conway gave it a thumbs down.

“She’s an excellent, persuasive lawyer,” Conway said. “A Peter Pan collar with a little string tie doesn’t portray to me a powerful lawyer. “

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Other women lawyers agreed.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in that blouse,” said one. “But that’s just personal taste.”

Some thought there was nothing wrong--but nothing special--about what Clark wore Tuesday.

“Well, she just looks like every other lawyer,” said Lurie. “It’s fine for later on in the trial . . . but it doesn’t say, ‘I represent innocence, I represent someone who is dead.’ ”

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Of course, some lawyers think that having a strategy on how to dress, other than being neatly groomed, is just so much voodoo.

Business litigator Patricia Glaser, who successfully represented Main Line Cinema in its damage suit against actress Kim Basinger for not filming “Boxing Helena” (though the case was overturned on appeal), claims she can’t even remember what she--or Basinger--wore in court. Other than the fact that it was a suit.

“I don’t think you score points on what you wear,” said Glaser. “But I think people notice it if it’s inappropriate.”

Similarly, defense attorney John Yzurdiaga pleaded ignorance as to what Cochran was wearing Tuesday.

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“I haven’t noticed what he’s wearing. Swear to God. Is he wearing a black suit?” Told of Cochran’s suit, Yzurdiaga noted, “Johnnie doesn’t dress like the typical navy pin-striped lawyer.”

There was a time 20 years ago when Yzurdiaga, then a public defender, didn’t either.

He chose long hair and corduroy suits, and jurors “wanted to know who my tailor was,” he said, chuckling. Now he wears dark suits.

But clothes make only the first impression, Yzurdiaga noted:

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“If you look like a slob and you’re a brilliant lawyer, they’re going to figure that out.”


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