Forget Wedding Dresses. Divorce Style Has Arrived.

Off Brand is a quarterly column that focuses on fashion and beauty trends.

Wedding costumes attract all the attention, from tailored suits to non-traditional but equally strategic pieces such as suits, army uniforms and Renaissance costumes.

But the nasty look of half-sister divorce in marriage is in the air. When child and fashion star Mary-Kate Olsen and French banker Olivier Sarkozy finalized their divorce via Zoom last month, screenshots of the proceedings taken by court reporters went viral. Ms. Olsen, whose Row brand embodies quiet sophistication, wore a chic black turtleneck that was immediately dissected and remembered. With her long, wavy hair, she looked unique in her own way. And was it a hint of a smile?

In a widely shared screenshot of Mary-Kate Olsen’s divorce proceedings, she wears a black turtleneck.

The enthusiastic online reactions to the screenshot are reminiscent of the glory days of divorce in Hollywood, when the plebs watched in horror as stars like Elizabeth Taylor (eight marriages) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (nine marriages) glorified serial breakups. When Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe DiMaggio in 1954 after nine months of marriage, she wore a little black dress, pumps and white gloves until the trial date. She stood in front of the camera and waved it, a scene that could have fit perfectly into one of her films.

There is no rule that dictates what you should wear during divorce proceedings, whether it is mediation, a trial or now a video interview. Still, few people will deny that appearance is important: Money, house, custody. Family law attorney websites often post lengthy treatises advising men and women how to dress for court, emphasizing classic silk blouses, printed dresses and simple suits. Some firms go further: Claire Samuels Law, a family law and divorce mediation firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers high-end stylist services and displays style ideas such as Prada pumps and Valextra minimalist handbags on its Instagram account.

“I think divorce or separation in a way is a claim on who you are outside of the relationship, and I think that’s reflected in the outfits. The outfits are very specific

Janice Meredith, a Toronto-based personal stylist who has conducted workshops for women going through a divorce, recommends comfortable clothing that inspires confidence. “Of course, there’s nothing too tight or revealing, but there’s also no pieces you have to pull on or adjust that appear loose and undefined,” she said. For the Zoom procedure, she prefers a Mary-Kate-style turtleneck, which flatters her chin well.

The advice doesn’t stop with the clothes. An article on the Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere (ESME) website condescendingly reminds women to “go to the ladies room to check their makeup, comb their hair and assess their overall appearance.”

Despite all the high-minded advice out there, many women use the divorce process as a powerful way to make it clear that they have begun a new chapter in their lives. Bay Area author Aubrey Hirsch recently tweeted a call for women to share their divorce dresses, in response to a widespread phenomenon.


The tendency to share photos of wedding dresses. Women looked forward to: a tight red power dress; running shoes; a white lace wedding dress; a strapless jumpsuit; a sparkly tank top; a suit with a tie; a mini feather dress; pink corduroy jeans; a shiny kitten headband; lots of red; lots of high heels.

Ms. Hirsch said, “I’ve seen a lot of people wear bright colors, something that made them feel sexy, feel good about themselves. I think divorce is kind of a return to who you are outside of the relationship, and I think that’s reflected in the clothing.” The outfits are very specific”.

When Carly Grace Herrera, a 35-year-old life coach from Chicago, divorced her husband in court a few years ago, she purposely chose a gray dress as her top, a gold blazer, and a full floral skirt over it (“because I’m a flower, honey,” as she put it). For her, this warm and colorful combination was both hopeful and confident. “Whatever the outcome of this marriage, my prosperity depends on me, and my happiness depends on me,” she said.

In a 2018 cartoon in the New Yorker, Will MacPhail shows a smiling, costumed woman standing in front of a mirror surrounded by her friends. It reads, “Here she is, folks. This is the suit I’m getting divorced in.” The joke remains that no one wants a divorce. But with more progressive speeches about married couples (thanks, Gwyneth!), the idea of praising divorces seems a little more credible. As Ms. Hirsch said, “Divorce, like marriage, is a major life event, and it happens in your new life. ….We talk about the one in the other and the one in the other, and why the two can’t be a kind of celebration.”

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