Was Marcia Clark's Haircut Really Such A Big Deal In 1995?

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson)
You know the expression, “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t?” There needs to be a stronger version of that phrase to describe the constant scrutiny and ridicule to which Marcia Clark was subjected during the O. J. Simpson trial in 1995. As the sole female prosecutor on the case, her appearance, job performance, and personal life became a matter of public attention and record. No matter how she looked or acted, Clark couldn’t win. She was even subjected to sexist comments in the courtroom, where defense attorney Johnnie Cochran once called her “hysterical.” Clark challenged him on this remark, saying it was unacceptable. O. J. Simpson reportedly chuckled while watching this exchange.

Last night’s episode
of The People v. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story focused on the extreme spotlight in which Clark was forced to exist for the duration of the trial. The episode touches on all the ways in which Clark’s life became public fodder. Her estranged second husband used the fact that Clark was working extremely long hours on the case to publicly draw her into a custody battle over their two young sons. Her first husband sold naked photos of Clark to a tabloid, although the show fudges this detail a little — it was actually her ex-mother-in-law who sold the photos to The National Enquirer. Perhaps the most relatable moment for the majority of female viewers, however, is the extreme attention that’s paid to Clark’s appearance.

It starts at the very beginning of the episode. When Clark (Sarah Paulson) arrives home from a day spent entrenched in a custody battle with her husband (making her late for the Simpson trial), the TV is on in her living room. A style expert named Dolly Sugarman (Jennifer Birmingham Lee) is criticizing Clark’s appearance. “This is not a look. This is a cry for help,” Sugarman is saying.

Are any of the male lawyers' appearances attacked in this way? According to Paula Nicolson’s 2015 book Gender, Power and Organization: A Psychological Perspective on Life at Work, they were not. “Her colleagues and the defense lawyers (mostly men) were discussed in a variety of ways, but it was only with [Clark] that appearance was on the agenda,” Nicolson writes.

“Television programmes, news, and comment in the media focused on the length of her skirts and manner of clothing,” Nicolson notes. “This reached a crescendo when she changed her hairstyle.”

“It is the dirty little secret of the workplace that how a woman looks matters, and those of us who know that cringed as we watched the L.A. district attorney's office play Pygmalion with Marcia Clark.”

Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun
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The hairstyle change, which is the climax of episode 6 of The People v. O.J. Simpson, is heartbreaking to watch. It’s prompted by a comment from her boss, District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood), who notes all the negative attention the media is putting on Clark’s appearance. “I'm sorry. It's awful; it's inappropriate; it's sexist. Having said that, I can put you together with a couple of terrific media consultants,” Garcetti says.

In the series, Clark’s makeover starts out auspiciously. She asks the hairdresser for “something different, softer,” which mirrors what a jury consultant told Clark to do in real life ("Talk softer, dress softer, wear pastels,” Clark tells Vogue in an interview from January 2016).

“I’ve never had to think about anything like this before, so I’m a little nervous,” Clark confesses. Again, this rings true to her real-life experience. In February 2016, Clark told Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine, “It was wash-and-wear hair! It was easy. I had two boys in diapers, and I didn’t want to be bothered. That’s why I had the perm...I did the hair because I had no choice. I mean, my perm grew out. That’s why I cut the hair. I didn’t have time to get it permed again.”
Photo: Sam Microvich/AFP/Getty Images.
Marcia Clark in 1995
On the show, the hairdresser assures her that, “I’ve got it. I did it for Farrah, and I’m going to do it for you.” It sounds like he’s going to give her a life-changing, straight-haired shag à la Farrah Fawcett. The reality is, of course, the tight perm that Clark walks into the courtroom with the next day. The show deviates a bit from what happened in 1995 here, “My hairdresser wouldn’t do it anyway,” Clark tells Traister. “He hated it.”

The reactions to Clark’s new hairstyle both in real life and on the show are actually painful to witness. “Goddamn, who turned her into Rick James?” asks a reporter when she walks by on her way into the courtroom. O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) does a double take as Clark enters the courtroom. “Good morning, Miss Clark...I think,” Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi) says. Titters echo through the room.
Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi)
Apparently, none of these people have ever heard the expression “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Not only that, Marcia Clark’s appearance has no bearing whatsoever on the matter at hand — you know, the fact that O. J. Simpson is on trial for possibly murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

Later on, Clark goes to the grocery store to buy a few necessities. The tabloids at the checkout have headlines that blare “Hair-Raising Salon Disaster,” “Marcia Hair Verdict: GUILTY,” and “CURLS OF HORROR.”

“It is the dirty little secret of the workplace that how a woman looks matters, and those of us who know that cringed as we watched the L.A. district attorney's office play Pygmalion with Marcia Clark,” Susan Reimer wrote in The Baltimore Sun on March 5, 1995. She admits that her own mother refers to Marcia Clark with a familiarity that’s different than how she refers to the members of O. J. Simpson’s dream team. Men seem to command a different level of respect, it appears.

“It is ‘F. Lee Bailey’ and ‘Johnny Cochran’ and ‘Robert Shapiro,’ But for the state’s lead lawyer, it is ‘Marcia,’” Reimer writes. “As in: ‘Did you see Marcia’s hair is different?’”

Because Clark is a woman, she is constantly subjected to a different type of scrutiny than the men involved in O. J. Simpson’s trial. Her haircut really was that big of a deal in 1995. Her entire appearance was a huge deal for the duration of the trial — it even led to Judge Lance Ito’s censure by the National Organization of Women (NOW).

“I remember him interrupting me, upbraiding me in front of the jury during opening statements — and you never interrupt a lawyer during opening statements unless it’s something really egregious,” Clark tells Traister in New York Magazine.

Tammy Bruce, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, compiled a series of complaints about how Ito was treating Clark and other women during the trial and sent it to the judge. “Bruce’s points included the fact that Ito had made a comment about the length of Clark’s skirt, and his threat to hold Clark in contempt of court after the use of profanity in her opening statement — despite his failure to censure defense attorney Robert Shapiro for the same offense at other points in the trial. Bruce also noted the judge’s failure to reprimand defense attorneys who had described Clark as ‘whining’ and ‘overly emotional,’” Traister writes.

Bruce also pulled together video clips demonstrating that Ito did, in fact, speak to Clark in demeaning ways. Clark notes that after Ito watched the clips, he changed his behavior for a few weeks, but it didn’t last.
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Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) & Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown)
Clark also blew her hair out straight during the course of the trial, which is actually the day that Judge Ito made the “Ms. Clark, I think” comment. In an interview published yesterday, Clark tells Maria Elena Fernandez of Vulture that she managed to rise above remarks like that on certain occasions. “It was silly. I was like, ‘Whatever, dude. Let me call the next witness.’ That was not so upsetting to me. I didn't care. If the jury wasn't there, I didn't care what he said. It was when they were in the room that things got hairy. That's when it was upsetting.”

No woman should have to use words like “upsetting” when describing her experience in the workplace. It’s unbelievable that Marcia Clark has to apply it when dredging up memories of how the judge in the “Trial of the Century” responded to her hair.
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