One has to wonder whether Winona Ryder's stylish courtroom appearances worked against her. The actress was accused of shoplifting $5,560.40 worth of designer merchandise from the Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. She was found guilty this week of grand theft and felony vandalism.
It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge immediately that shoplifting is a serious offense that exacts a financial cost from every consumer. No matter the explanation -- and Ryder never offered one in court -- shoplifting is wrong. And so it is only right and fair that justice be served, even if the guilty party has been nominated several times for an Academy Award, once dated Johnny Depp and has been described as a pixie.
Yet the moral distinction between right and wrong does not obscure this fact: Throughout her trial, Ryder looked splendid. For all of her courtroom appearances she was outfitted in a perfectly chic, refined and demure ensemble. She may be a shoplifter, but she has impeccable taste.
Ryder's fame was the bait that drew crowds to the Beverly Hills courthouse where her shoplifting trial took place. But there was another lure. What might Ryder wear? What fabulous designer goods did she pinch? Would her pitch-perfect sense of style and its subtext help sell her case to the jury?
On the matter of aesthetics, it's tempting to suggest that other folks who stand accused of criminal conduct take a few cues from Ryder's smart but conservative courtroom attire. How nice to see a defendant rise above the tried-and-true dark suit and opt for a more fashionable facade.
But then, Ryder lost, done in by incriminating eyewitness testimony and illuminating videotape. And yet, with her style so self-assured, with her clothes so obviously of-the-moment, with her public presentation so clearly of the pampered-princess ilk, could it be that even for a Beverly Hills jury Ryder was just a tad too well put together? Did they sense in her an attempt at manipulative wardrobing so slick that it backfired?
All of her dresses and skirts hovered around her knees with an elegant primness. Her coatdresses were always buttoned up and even severe, but they never looked stodgy. How could they when paired with one of her fetching headbands? And the Marc Jacobs dress -- the one from the fall 2001 collection, with the trompe l'oeil contrasting collar -- was particularly well chosen. It was so ladylike and polished. Such an earnest dress. And it was a year old, as if to suggest to the jury members that they were dealing with a frugal young woman, not an indulged actress.
Ryder favored softly flowing skirts -- nothing tight or too fitted -- and delicate details such as lace and embroidery. Her ensembles announced -- loudly and repeatedly -- her delicacy, fragility and innocence. Over time, however, such emphatic declarations can become off-putting and suspicious.
The list of stolen items displayed on the courtroom evidence board was filled with curiosities and revelations. One can't help but note that at $80 a pair, Donna Karan's cashmere socks are overpriced. Selling a headband by celebrity hairstylist Frederic Fekkai for $140 is highway robbery -- it's cosmic justice that it was among the stolen merchandise. And even if Ryder preferred not to address the accusation that she happened to have a pair of scissors handy to clip security tags from merchandise that had mysteriously wiggled its way into her bags, she should have been required to explain precisely why anyone would ever bother with purple Calvin Klein socks or a $350 beret.
There were four handbags on the list of stolen goods. Since it's difficult to imagine that Ryder planned on setting up a card table in downtown Los Angeles to hawk stolen wares, one assumes that she intended to keep the bags for personal use. This is not particularly surprising, given that at each court appearance Ryder appeared to be carrying a different handbag. It seems that she is an adherent of old-school fashion in which one selects a purse to coordinate with every ensemble.
Ryder's decision to make off with a $760 Marc Jacobs floral top confirms that she is well aware of which designers are on a creative roll. She steered clear of excessively trendy designers such as John Galliano. But she also snubbed classicists such as Giorgio Armani. Instead, she selected from collections that can elicit a frisson but that also have staying power.
For instance, there was the white Yves Saint Laurent blouse that was found in her garment bag with a rectangle of fabric clipped from the bottom edge where the security tag had been attached. Anyone familiar with recent Saint Laurent collections can attest to the fact that this is one piece of fine fashion merchandise. Still, a good piece of advice: Dream the dream -- wait for the sale. Find the knockoff, but don't steal the merch.
$350 for a beret? Now there's a crime! The exhibit board the prosecution showed in court to detail Winona Ryder's non-purchases at Saks.