How Should Gwyneth Paltrow Dress for Court?

Gwyneth Paltrow, wellness guru, entrepreneur and actress, has given the world many things: conscious uncoupling, rectal ozone therapy and, now, a week and a half into that limited series officially known as Sanderson v. Paltrow and unofficially as the Gwyneth Paltrow Ski Crash Trial that is taking place in Park City, Utah, and streaming on the Law & Crime network, a new style subgenre that ought henceforth to be known as courtcore.

It may be more precedent setting than you might think.

Though less viral and with lower stakes than last year’s feverishly followed celebrity lawsuit, the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, the G.P. Ski Crash trial may be nominally about the 1 percent problem of who is at fault in a luxury skiing accident but is more broadly about celebrity — and the place it occupies in our mental and cultural landscape. The celebrity fashion stylist Brad Goreski has posted that he is “obsessed.” Katie Couric wrote, “Who isn’t?”

For those who have not been following: In 2016 Ms. Paltrow either banged into or was banged into by Mr. Sanderson, a now 76-year-old retired optometrist, while skiing at the Deer Valley Resort. Mr. Sanderson has claimed that he sustained a traumatic brain injury and broken ribs as a result of the collision and underwent personality changes; in 2019 he sued Ms. Paltrow for $3.1 million, accusing her of a “hit and run,” but a judge ruled that he was not entitled to punitive damages and that figure was reduced to $300,000. Ms. Paltrow claims that Mr. Sanderson skied into her and is countersuing for $1 and legal fees.

Mr. Sanderson’s lawyers are trying to paint Ms. Paltrow as an entitled famous person who walked away from the scene of an accident. (They have delved into her relationship with Taylor Swift, her height and the cost — thousands per day — of private ski instructors for each of her children.)

Ms. Paltrow’s lawyers have suggested that Mr. Sanderson is trying to exploit her high profile, perhaps in the hopes she will settle the suit to avoid the public humiliation of having to show up in court (or describe, as she did, the “strange grunting noises” made by someone allegedly crashing into her back with his skis between her legs). On both sides, celebrity is being held up as the motivating factor.

And celebrity is the prism through which most of the viewing public is seeing the … well, star of the show. Who has appeared quietly next to her lawyers every day, using her wardrobe as a tool in her performance of persuasion even when she isn’t on the stand.

It’s a complicated role. As Maren Mullin, the owner of a contemporary art gallery in Park City called Gallery MAR, said, “She can’t dress down too much or she’ll be criticized, but she can’t dress up too much or she’ll be criticized.”

She can’t be too much of an entitled, out-of-touch rich person, and she can’t be too woo-woo about “her truth.” She can’t deny her own profile, but she can’t lean into it. She can’t risk playing into the many stereotypes that already exist in the public mind about who she is and what her value system may be.

Celebrities have long struggled with how to dress for court, often falling into traps of over-privilege-signaling (see Martha Stewart with her easily identifiable, very expensive Hermès bags) or over-costuming (the girlish “little old me?” Marc Jacobs number and headbands Winona Ryder wore for her shoplifting trial in 2002). Ms. Paltrow, however, has carefully walked the fine line between obviously rich and successful but respectful of both the venue and the location.

She has favored a symphony of earth tones that echo the environment around her — cream, olive green, peach, gray and black — as well as its vibe. She has worn soft knits, often with sleeves puffed just enough to dip into our subconscious association with childhood; loose trousers and long skirts; Peter Pan-collared and pussy-bow shirts.

They are clothes that are buttoned up and conservative — and luxurious and relaxed at the same time: a plush ivory roll-neck on Day 1, with earthy tweed trousers and a long loden coat; a neat navy collared cardigan and wool midi-skirt when called by the prosecution; a loose gray trouser suit.

All of them paired with lace-up brown or black boots, a soft brown tote, chunky gold jewelry and reading glasses, either aviators or horn rims (also a reusable water bottle). None of them obviously branded, leaving viewers to guess at the make (and the cost). Are the boots Celine? Probably. The aviators, Gucci? Maybe, or they could be Ray-Bans. Is the coat by the Row? Possibly.

Some commentators have suggested that Ms. Paltrow is using the opportunity to shill for her company, Goop, identifying various items as from its clothing line or for sale on the site. Some have joked that the aviators reminded them of Jeffrey Dahmer’s signature accessory. Others compared the cream sweater to that worn by Adam Driver’s character, Maurizio Gucci, in the “House of Gucci.”

But this is missing the point — or reading the point through the perspective of Paltrow parody, a popular pastime when it comes to a woman who defied the Hollywood odds and achieved financial independence by building a direct-to-consumer brand on the basis of … vagina-scented candles. Either way, it’s not giving her the strategic credit it should, whether you like her or not.

What Ms. Paltrow is doing is offering up an image that does not pander to mountain town, celebrity or courtroom stereotypes. She isn’t wearing puffers (I’m a local cliché!) or retro Western wear (I’m a cowboy cliché!) or strict suiting (I’m a legal cliché!). She has avoided the trap of appearing obviously Not From Here. Instead, she is dressing, according to numerous locals, a lot like the people walking down Main Street.

“It’s spot on for how Park City likes to dress for events,” said Peter Metcalf, the founder of the outdoor gear company Black Diamond Equipment, who has lived in Park City for more than 30 years. Jen Shufro, another resident, noted that it was rare to “see Chanel and Louis Vuitton” or other recognizable luxury brands. By eschewing the blingy logos in favor of stealth-wealth style, Ms. Paltrow is playing to the local crowd.

In a city that is used to the sudden appearance of famous faces — Park City has been home to the Sundance Film Festival since 1985 — that effort matters. “They call the celebrities who fly in from New York for two weeks a year ‘PiBs’ — people in black,” said Phil Powers, a former chief executive of the American Alpine Club. On the other hand, Mr. Metcalf said, “As long as they attempt to fit in, they are well accepted.”

And, Ms. Maren said, Ms. Paltrow would in fact “fit right in.” Which may make her version of events just that much more believable.

Whatever happens, according to many interviewees, the sentiment in Park City at least seems to be leaning toward Ms. Paltrow. Which suggests that when it comes to image-making in court, “know your audience” is as much a legal maxim as a Hollywood one.

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