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September 27, 2020

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Legend of Ginsburg’s sartorial statements

THE day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 presidential election, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the bench wearing a black necklace with crystals. It was a piece she typically wore to express her displeasure while reading a dissent from the bench. But Ginsburg, who had called Trump “a faker” before the election and later apologized, had no dissents to read.

Ginsburg’s collars were more than a subtle sartorial statement every time she entered the courtroom. Along with her glasses, lace gloves and hair ties known as scrunchies, they were part of the signature style of the justice, who died last week at the age of 87.

Ginsburg’s casket laid in repose outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday, and was moved to the United States Capitol on Friday where she became the first woman in American history to lie in state. She will be buried next week in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.

More than any other member of the court, Ginsburg struck a look all her own, and clothing became a way she connected with the public and even other justices.

She explained the genesis of her decorative neckwear in a 2009 interview. Ginsburg said she and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court’s first female justice, thought the basic black robe judges wear could use some sprucing up.

“The standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show and the tie, so Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman,” she said.

When Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the Supreme Court, becoming the court’s third woman ever, Ginsburg gave her the collar she wore at her investiture ceremony. But neither Sotomayor nor Justice Elena Kagan, the court’s fourth woman, have taken to regularly wearing collars on the bench.

Ginsburg, for her part, had a seemingly endless array of options — lace, beaded, white, multicolored, handmade and some that any member of the public could purchase — and they came from all over the world.

She got her first collar as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more than 25 years ago — a gift from Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, who served on Canada’s Supreme Court — and grew from there.

In 2014, Ginsburg gave journalist Katie Couric a tour of the collection hanging in a closet in her office at the Supreme Court. Ginsburg said her favorite was a white, beaded collar from South Africa, but the most well-known were a gold, crochet collar she received as a gift from her clerks and a black one with crystals. She would wear the gold collar when announcing a majority opinion, the black one for biting dissents.

“It looks fitting for dissents,” she said of the collar, which was actually a necklace sold by Banana Republic.

Just over 1,100 of them were produced. The original price was about US$80. Ginsburg received hers as a gift when Glamour magazine honored her with a lifetime achievement award. Banana Republic reissued the necklace in 2019, donating part of the proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, which Ginsburg founded in 1971. They sold out in hours.

As Ginsburg’s status grew in recent years, the public responded by filling her mailbox with new neckwear, and she responded with handwritten thank-you notes.

“Nowadays I get a collar at least once a week from all over the world,” she said at a Georgetown University event earlier this year. “I get two things — collars and scrunchies.”

Ginsburg wore scrunchies for so long they went out of fashion and then came back into style.

“I have been wearing scrunchies for years,” Ginsburg told The Wall Street Journal in 2018 for an article about the hair tie’s resurgence. “My best scrunchies come from Zurich. Next best, London, and third best, Rome.”

She said her scrunchie collection “is not as large as my collar and glove collections, but scrunchies are catching up.”

As for gloves, Ginsburg began wearing them at O’Connor’s urging in 1999 after she was treated for colon cancer.

“You are vulnerable now, and you’re going to receptions and shaking hands with lots of people, so you should at least wear gloves,” O’Connor told her.

“So, I wore gloves and liked them so much, I decided to keep wearing them,” she told The Washington Post in 2015.


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