Why Is Scammer Style So Bad?
Cultural fascination with people who do wrong has never been higher. In our never-ending season of scammers, there are the big-bad guys (the Paul Manaforts and Michael Cohens), the lesser-but-still-quite evils (Elizabeth Holmes, the central figures of “Operation Varsity Blues”), and the pop-cultural phenoms (Anna Delvey, the congressman who expensed Tommy Bahama shirts and then resigned, and pretty much everyone involved in Fyre Fest). Our fixation is such that we’re not only discussing the scams and the scammers themselves, we’re also analyzing why we’re hooked on the schadenfreude of watching others fail. The scammers have begotten a society of scamming fanatics. How could anyone believe her? Couldn’t they tell it was fake?
We’re also, always, talking about how the scammers look. We’re talking about Anna Delvey’s black Celine glasses. We’re obsessing over Paul Manafort’s ostrich bomber jacket. We’re vaguely fascinated with those aforementioned Tommy Bahama shirts. The scammer beauty routine seems to be grounded by the lack of a hairbrush and a semi-dazed look in the eyes, which is heightened on female scammers by a haphazard application of black eye makeup. But the scammer wardrobe might be the biggest scam of them all.
In the wake of not one, but several, multimedia projects about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, the fashion world has honed in on Holmes’s obsession with black turtlenecks. As the legend goes, she copped the look from Steve Jobs, though in Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary series, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, Holmes claims to have been wearing black turtlenecks since she was seven years old. The turtlenecks, to this fashion editor at least, are the least fascinating aspect of Holmes’s look. That she would borrow the most legendary bit of style inspiration from the most cult-like figure of modern technology and Silicon Valley success seems obvious—though it is curious that Holmes, a onetime billionaire, didn’t spring for the Issey Miyake mock-necks Jobs loved, but stuck with her own floppy roll necks.
What’s more compelling is the rest of Holmes’s personal style. Why is it that the buttons on her blazers always seemed to be done up in reverse, with the bottom one secured and the top one breezing open? Why, also, did her blazers never match her trousers? If she had chosen her uniform to save time, as she says in the HBO doc, why not just buy matching suits? Why was she routinely, though not religiously, wearing black stockings or knee-highs with ballet flats or strappy sandals?
Like Holmes, Soho scammer Anna Delvey was intentionally sloppy. Were her bubble-hem dresses and black leggings designed to suggest that she was so rich that she was above caring about fashion? (A 2014 Harvard study declared that customers in sweatpants receive better service at luxury boutiques because sales people presume the jogger pants–clad to be so loaded, real pants don’t even matter.) She was recently reported to have entered into a fashion-related panic over what to wear to court, ultimately choosing the banal combo of a beige sweater and black suit. Paul Manafort took the opposite track, choosing to dress so capital-R rich that you couldn’t help but stare at his boxy pinstripe suits and egregious outerwear. In the Hulu documentary about Fyre Fest, Fyre Fraud, Billy McFarland appears somewhere in the middle, choosing a wardrobe of black jeans so tight and low and waxy, you wonder how he ever sat down in them.
Common sense would dictate that to execute a scam well, one would want to draw the least amount of attention to oneself, to slip in and out of scenarios unnoticed with a chameleonic ease. All of our favorite real-world scammers are screaming for attention with their oddball fashion choices. Perhaps the cardinal rule of scamming is to believe that you are above the law. And if you’re above the actual law, you might find yourself to be above certain style laws, too.