Turtlenecks and Courtroom Catwalks: The Fashion Distractions of the Female Scammer
Last week, it was revealed in GQ that Anna Sorokin, also known as scammer extraordinaire Anna Delvey, had hired a stylist to get her courtroom ready for her trial as she faces charges related to defrauding people, businesses and banks out of millions of dollars. She became a viral hit last Summer as her antics were posited as the ultimate scam, the Robin Hood of the millennial age: Steal from the rich and f*ck everyone else. Following two investigations in Vanity Fair and New York Magazine, Delvey’s story exploded across social media, with many declaring her an anti-hero of a crime whose only victims where the rich and gullible. That, of course, wasn’t the case, but the story was too delicious to let facts get in the way. Delvey/Sorokin posed as a German heiress as a way to infiltrate the upper echelons of New York society, throwing lavish parties and staying at only the most exclusive hotels. When the bill arrived, she’d suddenly be short of cash but plenty of people were willing or tricked into footing the bill because they assumed she’d pay them back. Delvey has rejected a plea deal and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Regardless of the results of the trial, she will be deported eventually.
Delvey’s back in the headlines as the trial unfolds, garnering headlines for her sudden style upgrade as she swans into court in a Michael Kors dress. According to Rachel Tashjian at GQ, her defense team hired professional stylist Anastasia Walker to dress her for the trial, although it remains unclear as to who is footing this bill. We doubt it’s Delvey herself. An Instagram account has already been set up to document the incoming cavalcade of looks.
It’s only fitting that our discussions of female scam fashion continue after the public went through yet another explosion of Elizabeth Holmes content. Between the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and ABC News’s podcast series The Dropout, the highs and lows of Theranos have become the obsession du jour. Every aspect of the case has proven enthralling, even to those for whom tech start-up gossip and SEC cases are the most boring things imaginable. How could it not when the entire story seemed tailor-made for a well-read paperback thriller? The dream of the Stanford drop-out who revolutionized the medical lab testing industry before she turned 35 was the stuff of dreams and every aspect of the story was primed for Hollywood, from the drops of blood to the Errol Morris directed ad campaigns to Holmes herself. The media has never been one to turn away from a pretty white woman with lots of money and they practically galloped towards Holmes.
But then there was her look. Now the stuff of memes and conspiracies, Holmes’s appearance was a carefully crafted façade that perfectly sold the image she wished to project. There was the blonde hair scraped into messy ponytails with a surrounding halo of frizz to convey a supposed lack of vanity, something that seemed at odds without obviously bleached it was. That voice, designed seemingly to be a preventative measure to any and all accusations of ‘vocal fry’, beguiled and bewildered in equal measure. And then, of course, there were those turtlenecks, the epitome of Steve Jobs cosplay. Sleek, authoritative, both eye-catching and designed not to distract. It was impossible to avoid who she was copying with her stylistic choices, even before John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup detailed her Apple obsession. This was a uniform, one that evoked the simplicity and timelessness of Apple’s aesthetic (something Theranos sought to replicate and did so by hiring many former Apple employees). For Holmes, it was another way for her to prove her mettle in the start-up world. She was one of them, and if she looked like one of the successes then she wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
(Credit: Getty Images)
Talking about Delvey and Holmes’s fashion choices feels like its own potential minefield of problems. Women are undoubtedly scrutinized more for their clothing than men, especially in high-profile positions, and reducing the entire conversation of their various insidious machinations to questions of turtlenecks and dresses is risky at best. With Holmes, it already feels like we spend more time laughing at that voice than wondering how it was used in the first place. Walter Isaacson’s biography Jobs details how the Apple founder saw his samey fashion as ‘having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style.’ It’s no wonder Holmes wanted to follow suit, allegedly turned onto the idea by former Theranos and Apple employee Ana Arriola. But therein was the double-edged sword of copying Jobs: When the man himself adopted the turtleneck to create his own iconography, anyone seeking to replicate that can never escape that comparison. Then again, it doesn’t seem like Holmes wanted to. She needed to be the wunderkind and fashion helped her with that.
Both Holmes and Delvey wanted eyes on them, and for women, one of the easiest ways to do that is with our clothes. Delvey has turned the courtroom into a catwalk because she knows there will be a lot of attention on her for the next few weeks and now she has a reputation to uphold. Much of the reporting on Delvey’s scammer days noted how she didn’t dress fashionably or style herself with much polish while living the faux-heiress life. That ended up being to her benefit because it helped to sell the image of her being genuinely rich. Surely if you’re truly wealthy then you have nothing to prove? Besides, these society people are just ‘quirky’. Bad fashion was privilege in action, and now we see the flip-side of that with her wardrobe upgrade.
Delvey and Holmes dress far differently now that they’re fallen heroes. Holmes’s attire for legal matters has evolved into cool blue shirts and staid blazers, still professional but less striking than her old favoured look. Where she has tried to shake off the image that helped create her downfall, Delvey has embraced hers, happy to put on a show for the morbidly fascinated keeping up to tabs on Instagram.
Delvey’s lawyer, Todd Spodek, said in his opening remarks, ‘There’s a little bit of Anna in everyone’, framing her fraud as ‘chutzpah’ that was merely her way of trying to keep up with the pressure of social-media obsessed millennial culture. It’s not her fault she scammed people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and destroyed the economic safety net of her supposed friends, you see. She was just trying to make it as a girl in her 20s in New York. As much as Spodek’s case churned my stomach, it’s not hard to see why he’s adopted this narrative. There are plenty of people online celebrating Delvey as a heroic figure, ironically or otherwise. It’s a weak case at best, but made all the sadder when the defendant sitting next to him is wearing Miu Miu.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.
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