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Michael Jackson,Tailoring His Defense

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page C02

Based on the images of Michael Jackson at the Santa Barbara County, Calif., courthouse this week, the pop singer and accused child molester appears incapable of wearing anything that does not resemble a costume, no matter how serious the circumstances.

For the first day of jury selection, Jackson dressed all in white. The obvious reading of the color choice was that it was meant to convey innocence. But Jackson was not merely wearing a white suit and shirt. He matched his white pants and shirt with a vest cut from white brocade and decorated with gilded charms. The white tailored jacket was emblazoned with a gold armband. Jackson accessorized the entire ensemble with a pair of reflective sunglasses. He looked as though he were dressed to lead a marching band through the streets of St-Tropez.

Michael Jackson attended the first day of jury selection Monday in typical fashion. (Robert Galbraith - Reuters Pool Photo)

_____Photos and Multimedia_____
Photo Gallery: First days of jury selection.
Photo Gallery: Michael Jackson's curious career.
Video: Michael Jackson arrives for the first day of his child molestation trial.
Video: Journalists and Jackson fans outside the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse.
_____FindLaw Coverage_____
Indictment (Calif. v. Jackson)
The Michael Jackson Case

On day two, Jackson made a sartorial shift. This time he was dressed in somber hues. But before anyone thinks that Jackson had given himself over to banker's navy and gray, understand that he was wearing a dove gray brocade vest over a red shirt. Instead of a necktie -- which he had skipped the day before as well -- he wore a medallion at his neck. It wasn't a bolo, which is typically a thin cord held in place by a sliding metal loop. Jackson's neckwear was vaguely militaristic and subtlety aristocratic. His blazer had an elaborate crest off to one side. Trying to parse all the references and symbols in this ensemble -- prep schooler, deposed royalty, honored citizen, embattled soldier -- would keep a doctoral candidate in semiotics occupied for months.

Each time Jackson arrived at the courthouse he was accompanied, as one would expect, by his legal team. But he was also escorted into the building by a burly aide with an umbrella. While Jackson may find the umbrella a necessity for protecting himself from the sun, he might have been better off symbolically had he carried it himself. Toting his own umbrella would have helped him look just a smidge less entitled -- something that defendants generally find useful. As it was, one could easily have mistaken the umbrella for a modern version of the giant fern leaves used to shade a pharaoh.

The typical person, with his liberty and reputation at risk, usually chooses a courtroom ensemble no more creative or distinctive than a dark suit and a lucky tie. But Jackson is not typical. Why wear a conservative suit and take on the Herculean task of trying to convince jurors that he is just like them?

For Jackson, wearing gold armbands and bejeweled vests might be a savvy decision. They underscore the widely held belief that Jackson exists in his own world. That he doesn't quite grasp the rules of adulthood because he never made the transition from childhood. Each ostentatious flourish sets Jackson apart.

His attire emphasizes that he is nothing like his so-called peers. And if he is so unlike them, the logic might go, do the same standards apply? Can the same assumptions be made about Jackson as might be made about a next-door neighbor?

Conventional wisdom says that a defendant should look engaged but not fretful, confident but not cocky. Jackson's clothes make him look distracted and narcissistic. It's a unique courtroom style for a one-of-a-kind defendant. And it may prove to be more beneficial to Jackson's case than a simple navy suit and tie ever could be.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company