‘Hipster’ Glasses Might Get You Off the Hook in Court

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The Washington Post reports on the latest courtroom fashion trend of hipster glasses in Washington D.C. It’s what New York defense lawyer Harvey Slovis calls a “nerd defense.”

“Yes, it works,” he told the Post, saying it makes defendants look less intimidating to jurors. Slovis makes all his clients wear glasses, whether they need them or not.

In one particular case, at the March trial for a series of 2010 murders in D.C., all five men charged showed up to the trial with large, thick-rimmed, non-prescription glasses. Prosecutors called them out on this costume, calling it a “schoolboy act.”

While one defendant’s attorney said it’s “part of the professional look,” wearing glasses is becoming a calculated strategy in the courtroom, helping paint a more scholarly and innocent picture of their clients. However, the eyeglasses trend doesn’t work for everyone.

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A 2008 study in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology showed that when students were asked to judge a fictitious case, the eyeglasses advantage only worked for African-American defendants. Students found these individuals to be “more intelligent, more honest, and less threatening” than those defendants without glasses. The same traits were not associated with white defendants wearing glasses.

Michael Brown, a SUNY Oneonta psychology professor who conducted the study, told the New York Daily News, “It’s the whole idea of presenting yourself as intelligent and a little emasculated.”

The Post notes that there are other strategies to gain sympathy from the jurors besides glasses, including dressing in oversized suits or in boyish sweaters to appear younger, gentler, and less intimidating.  Dressing younger is a strategy even stars like Paris Hilton have capitalized upon; Hilton wore childlike, cutesy cardigans and headbands during her own courtroom appearances—a far cry from her normally risqué sartorial choices. Lindsay Lohan wore lots of white in her own countless meetings before the jury, no doubt trying to create a more innocent and pure image.

Lawyers can continue handing out frames to their clients and putting them in oversized clothes, but their act may have run its course if prosecutors continue to expose their gimmick. Maybe adopting British accents to sound smarter in court is next?

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