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  • Maegan Stracy

  • Illegally Blonde: Performing Femininity in the 21st Century Courtroom

    Fashion Studies (MA)

    Maegan Stracy
    My thesis assesses how dress affects the way female celebrity defendants are perceived in the courtroom and how American mass media influences public perception. An unfair portrayal can be damaging in any instance, but when a subject is facing prosecution for a criminal charge while contending with high saturation in media coverage, the stakes are higher. To appeal to the court of public opinion, female defendants must consider implicit gender biases by performing femininity that is perceived as authentic and appropriate. Fashion can be utilized to reaffirm this performance. The celebrity defendant introduces a unique dynamic into the courtroom. Their previously achieved fame reconfigures the everyday occurrence of a court appearance into a sensationalized event. The way each celebrity achieved, maintained, and enacted their celebrity status before and during the trial contributes to how their cases are presented to the public while race, age, gender, and perceived wealth influence how dress is analyzed. This dynamic is evident in the case studies of Patty Hearst, Paris Hilton, Winona Ryder, Martha Stewart, Cardi B, Lindsay Lohan, and Anna Sorokin. Through a close examination of how defendant dress is described in media, fashion contributes to the perception of innocence, guilt, and authenticity.
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