Here’s What Was REALLY Wrong With Bill Cosby’s Sweater…

Cosby sweater

Washington Post fashion editor Robin Givhan set off a lively controversy by alleging that the “grandpa” sweater Bill Cosby wore to court was a calculated and manipulative ploy to gain public sympathy. “Bill Cosby’s perp walk was striking for its overwhelming lack of grace and power. It was an exploitation of our assumptions of fragile old age,” she wrote.  “It was the explicit manipulation of a studiously unattractive sweater.”

Was it? Lawyers often micro-manage a clients’ appearance in court; when it amounts to deception, I have written that it is unethical. Cosby’s attire seems hardly deceptive; after all, he is famous for his sweaters. There is even a pop song called Cosby’s Sweater. Ann Althouse agrees with Givhan that it was “a con,” but suggests that it’s an ethical con because “everybody does it.”

I don’t understand either Givhan’s logic or Althouse’s, and if Cosby’s lawyers talked him into this costume, they did him no favors. Cosby’s best armor against the verdict of public opinion is that Cliff Huxtable would never do the horrible things he’s being accused of.  There is no better, more benign, more appealing image of Bill Cosby than “TV Bill Cosby” as we fondly remember him. In court, he looked like a dirty old man, which is what he apparently is. Cliff Huxtable wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a sweater like that to court. (Bill would have also been well-advised to shave.)

I recently had an opportunity to watch a day of arraignments and sentencing in Fairfax, Virginia, and was shocked and depressed to see that virtually all of the African American defendants, and most of the white defendants too, showed up at court looking like slobs—you know, like Bill Cosby. Not only did this show disrespect to to the judge, the court, the justice system, the state and society, it is stupid beyond belief. This deportment plays into the hands of cognitive dissonance with a vengeance. A defendant wants, or should want, a judge to look at him as a remorseful, justice-respecting, flawed but honest citizen who made a mistake, but who takes the law seriously. Dressing like a central casting extra in a street gang movie is not the way to accomplish that objective. Never mind the tactical advantages of looking respectful, it is a civic obligation to be respectful.

Was it an accident that the one defendant who received what appeared to be the most lenient and compassionate sentence of all those I saw stand before the judge was the one who was clean-shaven and wearing a suit and tie? Maybe. And maybe not. For decades, Bill Cosby has held himself out to African American men as a role model, and when the role model had to appear in court, he dressed like a homeless person.

That’s what was wrong with Cosby’s sweater.

17 thoughts on “Here’s What Was REALLY Wrong With Bill Cosby’s Sweater…

  1. said, “For decades, Bill Cosby has held himself out to African American men as a role model, and when the role model had to appear in court, he dressed like a homeless person.”

    Bill Cosby is an actor; ya think there may be a bit of role playing going on here, ya’know a helpless little old homeless man with nothing left in life to do but go crawl in their refrigerator box die?

    I believe that absolutely everything I see and hear from Bill Cosby these days is 100% an act!

  2. I want to go on about the use of oversized garments but considering Cosby is a man of means and men’s fashions being what they are, a skilled tailor* could have made him look like a strong man of middle age or a frail old man and de-emphasized anything in his torso he wanted hidden.

    If they’re trying for a dementia look, I don’t see how it could fly. Not when someone else could dress him.

    *Something of a hobby. My preferences are to dabble in more historic fashions, just picked up a wonderful book of patterns for American ladies fashions 1877-1882. There’s this gorgeous walking jacket that looks like a double breasted tailcoat, but I digress.

  3. Happened to be in court the other day and stood, mouth agape, staring at a young man whose jeans defied gravity. His back pockets were level with the backs of his knees. How those pants stayed up is beyond me. And he appeared before the judge like that.

    • I’ve joyfully avoided courts for most of my life, the one time I had to appear was a landlord/tenant issue… I was 22, working as an assistant manager at a retail outlet while putting myself through correspondence. I panicked. I couldn’t afford a damn thing, but I could afford a loss less, so I took out a small loan to buy a suit for court and represented myself. It blows my mind when I hear things like this. Who thinks it’s OK to wear that? You can’t buy nice clothes? That’s OK, I’m sure a judge might understand that…. I’m sure they’ve seen worse… But pull up your damn pants.

  4. “Dressing like a central casting extra in a street gang movie…”
    Judging from my own experience, this has been the de rigueur court appearance “look” for anyone under 40 for nearly the last 20 years.
    I have to presume that anything related to Cosby’s defense is by now being carefully scripted to some end; how intelligently is another question.

  5. A suit isn’t even needed. About five years ago I accompanied a young man of 18 to court and he wore the best clothes he owned. Clean jeans and a clean polo shirt. He and I were shocked as defendant after defendant wore sloppy clothing and LEANED on the judges bench. Both men and women did this as they made excuses for their behavior. Saying Yep and Nuhuh. When called my young friend stood straight, said “I’m guilty Sir. I did something stupid and I am sorry.” (There was no damage or harm to property or person involved.) He was turned over to the ADA and sent on his way with a lecture. I think the respect he showed to the judge and the court set him apart from the others.

  6. It might all be a ploy, but then again, to have all of this catch up with him at the age of 78, see his life’s work come crashing down, and face the prospect of doing what may prove to be the rest of his life behind bars? Deserved or not, this probably aged him by a couple of decades at least. Actually, being a predator, this probably hit him particularly hard, being that he might not be able to console himself with the thought that he’s doing just penance for his crimes.

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