Roger Stone wants you to know that you should wear boxers — never briefs — to court.
This is just one piece of advice from Stone’s tutorial on how to dress for your day in court, in case you’re ever charged with witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, and making false statements like Stone was, or are just trying to get points taken off your license.
The video, published by the conservative website the Daily Caller, includes other useful tips. If you’re trying to raise your arms in a Nixon-style victory pose, as one does after posting a $250,000 bond, you should not wear a double-breasted suit — “it doesn’t ride up properly.” Speaking of suits, don’t wear a fancy bespoke one in the first place. “It would be a little too wealthy-looking,” Stone says in the video, “and I’m dirt-poor at this point, having been destroyed financially by a two-year inquisition by Robert Mueller and his partisan hit squad.”
Stone’s Daily Caller video is clever political countermessaging disguised as a cheeky how-to guide. Stone, a longtime political consultant and former political adviser to President Trump who also runs the fashion blog Stone on Style, paints himself as a victim who has been bled dry by a “partisan hit squad.” He shows this by wearing a slightly-less-nice-than-usual bespoke suit. His shoes are custom but were made “25 years ago, when [he] could afford them,” his tie is silk (an “absolute requirement for every gentleman”), and, of course, he’s wearing a pocket square, albeit an “understated,” “pedestrian” one.
The subtext is clear: Despite being “destroyed” by Mueller’s attacks, Stone is maintaining his dignity, his sense of style, and, most importantly, his control over the narrative surrounding the special counsel’s investigation.
“It’s all deliberate,” Phillip Smyth, a menswear enthusiast and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. “He’s marketing an image, and the image is one that allows for all this flamboyance.” Smyth added that Stone is by no means the only person in Washington who uses expensive clothing to convey power. “You have a lot of peacocks in DC. It’s kind of a thing,” he said. Capitol Hill staffers are known for their low salaries and pricey clothing, according to a 2016 report by the Washington Post, precisely because expensive clothes suggest the wearer is powerful. (Interns are also expected to dress well, even though many of them aren’t paid.)
“Stone is known for using these older suits — and, by the way, the construction of these things is incredible, especially the Savile Row ones and the bespoke ones from the US. You don’t throw those away when they get old,” Smyth said. “It’s about that projection of power.”
Stone isn’t the only Trump ally who uses his wardrobe to send a message. Paul Manafort, who was indicted in 2017 on charges of money laundering, making false statements about his work, and hiding assets from the federal government, was prohibited from wearing a suit to his court appearances. “Defendants who are in custody post-conviction are, as a matter of course, not entitled to appear for sentencing or any other hearing in street clothing. This defendant should be treated no differently from other defendants who are in custody post-conviction,” Judge T.S. Ellis III, who oversaw Manafort’s trial, wrote in a court order.
As Eliza Brooke wrote for Vox, Manafort’s suits were an attempt to “reclaim some control over his private image.” Showing up to court in a prison jumpsuit sends a much different message than showing up in a bespoke suit. Both Manafort and Stone are white, wealthy, powerful men. It’s likely that both of them know that to look innocent before a judge, you have to look polished, but not flamboyantly so. (This especially applies to Manafort, who was accused of money laundering and whose expensive clothing, like his $15,000 ostrich skin jacket, could alternatively read as evidence of guilt.) Studies suggest that defendants’ clothing choices can affect whether they’re perceived as guilty. When it comes to poor or working-class people who are on trial for crimes of poverty, like petty theft, dressing “appropriately” can help convey innocence.
“If you’re putting on a suit, it’s almost like a suit of armor — a contemporary suit of armor,” Smyth said.
In Stone’s case, however, an understated (at least compared to his usual attire) bespoke suit with a coordinating tie and pocket square says, “I’m a respectable political consultant, not the kind of person who would help interfere in an election.” (Even though he idolizes Richard Nixon, who tried to do just that, so much so that he has a tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back.)
There’s power in Stone’s clothing choices, but the point is to suggest that he doesn’t have too much power — the kind of power one needs to meddle in an election; just the right amount.