Stormy Daniels Makes a Statement in Court for Trump’s Criminal Trial

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There is a certain irony to the fact that the most consequential role Stormy Daniels, the adult entertainer at the heart of the Trump criminal trial, may ever play is taking place off screen. There are no cameras allowed in the courtroom where she is a crucial witness, as she tells her story of her sexual encounter with Mr. Trump and the hush-money payments and the nondisclosure agreement his fixer arranged to keep her silent.

That means that on Tuesday, the first day of her testimony, the watching world could catch only glimpses of her as she left State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan. She was in all black, in a scoop-neck jumpsuit with cropped black trousers, chunky high-heel boots and a long shawl-like cardigan with a hood enveloping her now famous body. Her blond hair was caught up in the back with bits escaping to shield her face, and she was wearing black-frame glasses and little makeup.

On Thursday, when her cross-examination resumed, she was obscured by the same dark cloak, though underneath was a plain green dress. She wore her hair down and a necklace her daughter had made.

Ms. Daniels has often been discussed as the most colorful part of the case — the bringer of salacious detail, the source of the juicy tell-all. The defense has portrayed her as a money-chasing, fame-obsessed self-promoter. But in her court appearances she didn’t look particularly colorful. She looked the opposite.

While her messy hair and subdued makeup may have suggested a lack of calculation, however, the jumpsuit she was wearing on Day 1 was the same jumpsuit she wore in her cameo in the 2021 film “Bad President,” a satire in which Donald Trump sells his soul to the devil to win the 2016 election. Given that the actual Mr. Trump was sitting across the courtroom from her, that’s quite a subtext.

In her presentation in court, as in so much else, Ms. Daniels has refused to conform to expectations.

Why does it matter?

Ms. Daniels is a singular figure in a singular case. In any trial, how a witness looks plays a meaningful role in how his or her testimony is received, in court and in the court of public opinion. In this case, it informs how Ms. Daniels and what she says will be judged: by the jury, by the public and, later, by history.

This is especially true for a witness like Ms. Daniels, whose mere job description — porn actress or stripper or adult entertainment writer-director-actor or all the above — comes with a host of deep-seated cultural and social associations and age-old moral levies that shape expectations long before any words are uttered.

As her story emerged in the news, followed by her book “Full Disclosure” and a documentary (not to mention assorted comic books), and as she was adopted as a figurehead by the anti-Trump resistance and appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Saturday Night Live,” she has embraced her own caricature as a means to subvert preconceptions, often with humor. There are more than 100 different items of Stormy merch on Redbubble alone.

Even before Ms. Daniels was called to the stand, an image of her that purported to be taken on her way to the courthouse had taken off online, showing her in a blue dress speckled with a toadstool print — a reference to a somewhat pointed passage in her book about Mr. Trump’s physiology. The photo had been doctored to include the mushrooms, but it reflects how much Ms. Daniels’s body and what she puts on it has become a symbol of her story — and an opportunity for derision and mockery, or for applause.

This is exacerbated in the spotlight of the witness chair, where conventional wisdom has it that, as Richard T. Ford, a professor at Stanford Law School and the author of “Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History,” said: “Women, especially when involved in any accusation or scandal involving sex, should dress in a conservative and demure style. Juries tend to trust women who seem modest and chaste.” The basic suit is the default solution.

When it comes to a porn star and stripper, however, the costumes of “modest and chaste” may seem less credible than contrived — may, in fact, undermine her testimony rather than enhance it. The last time Ms. Daniels was in court, when she sued Mr. Trump for defamation in 2018, she chose a more conventional lavender suit with a simple black blouse and wore her hair loose and curled — and lost.

According to Debra S. Katz, a founding partner at the law firm Katz Banks Kumin and a civil rights lawyer who represented several of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, dressing generically is important, but ultimately, conveying “authenticity” matters most. Ms. Katz said that in her experience with the Manhattan district attorney’s office during the trial of Mr. Weinstein, the prosecutors did not suggest what witnesses should wear, lest the result seem too manufactured, but left the choice to them and their counsel. As a witness, you want a jury to believe you are telling the truth, so everything about you should suggest honesty, telegraphing the sense that they are seeing the true version of you.

This may be especially relevant when it comes to Ms. Daniels, who has never fit easily into any specific slot in the spectrum of female stereotypes, which run the gamut from the angel and the nun to the floozy and the fallen woman. Since she came to general attention in 2018 after allegations of her encounter with Mr. Trump surfaced, she has refused to apologize for her chosen profession or renounce it. Rather, she has presented herself as a self-made woman who built a business on what she had at hand. That is not an accident.

Ms. Daniels is not only a performer but also a director and a writer. She understands the power of narrative structure and the telling detail — especially the telling detail of clothes, as her testimony about Mr. Trump’s satin pajamas reflects.

When she appeared on “60 Minutes,” she did so in a buttoned-up pink blouse and skirt, looking sort of like the executive next door. When she was on “The View,” she wore a long-sleeve blouse that tied with a bow at the neck and was covered in a skull print. She is willing to challenge the narrative. Now she is doing it yet again, using her appearance to stymie attempts to paint her as any identifiable “type.”

The question is whether the jury will be convinced.

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