Ginsburg’s style was more than a subtle courtroom statement

Published 6:50 am Wednesday, September 23, 2020

WASHINGTON — The day after Donald Trump beat 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 ahead of the election and then apologized, had no dissents to read.

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

Ginsburg’s casket is to be on view beginning Wednesday at the Supreme Court, outside at the top of the court’s iconic steps, and later privately at the Capitol. She is to be buried next week in a private service at Arlington National Cemetery.

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

Ginsburg explained the origins of her decorative neckwear in a 2009 interview. She 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,” Ginsburg said.

When Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the Supreme Court, becoming its third woman, Ginsburg gave her the collar that she wore at her investiture ceremony. But neither Sotomayor nor Justice Elena Kagan, who followed her, have taken to wearing collars regularly on the bench.

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

Ginsburg got her first collar as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more than 25 years ago. It was a gift from Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, who served on the Supreme Court of Canada. Her collection grew from there.

In 2014, Ginsburg took journalist Katie Couric on a tour of the collection hanging in a closet in her office at the Supreme Court. Ginsburg’s favorite was a white, beaded one from South Africa, she said, but the most well-known were a gold, crochet number that was a gift from her clerks and the black one with crystals. The gold one she would wear 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 in 2012.

Just over 1,100 of them were produced. Original price: about $80. Ginsburg got hers as a gift in a bag when Glamour magazine honored her with a lifetime achievement award. The clothing chain reissued the necklace in 2019, donating part of the proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, which Ginsburg founded in 1972. It sold out in hours.

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

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

Ginsburg wore scrunchies for so long that the 1980s accessory went out of fashion and then came back in 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 told the paper that her scrunchie collection “is not as large as my collar and glove collections, but scrunchies are catching up.”

As for those gloves, Ginsburg started wearing them at O’Connor’s urging in 1999, after she was treated for colon cancer. O’Connor told her, “You are vulnerable now, and you’re going to receptions and shaking hands with lots of people, so you should at least wear gloves.”

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