The appeal of pop court fashion.
On November 20, 2023, Shakira is photographed exiting the courthouse in Barcelona after attending a hearing for a potential $15 million tax fraud case. She wears a pastel pink blazer with lighter pink trousers and a tight-fitting top. Her hair is long and styled down in flowy waves. Sunglasses with matching pink square frames and dark lenses cover her face. She looks fabulous.
Instagram user @unareinadeldrama (“A queen of drama”) shares an illustration of Shakira’s stunning outfit, surrounded by splashy lettering: “Comparte esta Shakira de la suerte para siempre tener plata para pagar tus deudas” (“Share this Good Luck Shakira to always have money to pay your debts”). Naturally, I post it to my story.
The Colombian pop-powerhouse reached a settlement with the Spanish tax authorities to pay a debt of €14.5 million and a fine of €438,000 to avoid a three-year prison sentence. Overwhelmingly, though, the conversation online was centered around how good she looked — and not around the fact that she allegedly committed tax fraud in Spain between 2012 and 2014.
Shakira’s case is only the most recent in our culture’s obsession with pop personalities appearing before law enforcement — sometimes proving their innocence but often admitting to their crimes. Last March, Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in a Colorado court for a ski collision civil trial and lookbooks and style guides popped up everywhere. Her outfits were labeled “rich mom aesthetic” and “quiet luxury.” The clothes were expensive, but without any logos in sight. A mostly-neutral palette of creams and grays, only interrupted by an olive green floor-length coat and stack of gold jewelry, turned Paltrow into an aspirational icon for lux minimalists.
Even Anna Delvey, who conned the New York party scene pretending to be a German heiress, got a style story in The Cut while on house arrest in November of 2022. Journalist Tahirah Hairston and photographer Daniel Arnold followed Delvey on her journey via NYC Subway to meet with her parole officer –– in nine-inch Manolos and her ankle monitor styled a la Lindsey Lohan in 2007. Lohan’s iconic ankle-monitor-high-heels-bikini combos even inspired Chanel to accessorize their Spring / Summer 2008 collection with ankle bags.
These appearances of stylish women and their run-ins with law enforcement seem to have a ripple effect — like somehow seeing them breaking through the glass of glamour results in cracks in the spell of the rich and famous. Suddenly, they’re closer to us. Actual human beings, whose actions have consequences, and who face those consequences with, if not grace, unapologetically risky looks. It’s the logic behind the good-luck-charm-Shakira: if she can pay her debt and look fabulous doing it, so can we.
Whether or not it’s sustainable to take these incidents and these women as aspirational is beside the point. The images they create serve the same purpose as a controversial Vogue Italia editorial shoot from the early 2000s: they provoke us in a way that makes us want to connect with our dark side — and wish that we could be bold and break the rules. In a world where brand campaigns are scrutinized for their ethical and moral implications, having a problematic fave is sometimes the easiest way to interact with the legacy of the risque fashion world of the ‘90s and ‘00s. 🌀
Laura Rocha-Rueda is a Colombian fashion and fiction writer based in Brooklyn who holds a Creative Writing MFA from The New School. She is your local Swiftie and will gladly chat about anything glittery and soft, and about why dismissing pop culture as frivolous is misguided and sad.