Calling the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a fashion icon is something of a stretch, but her impact on feminist and political fashion is undeniable.
RBG’s accessory game was notably strong. Her bold glasses, fishnet gloves, statement earrings and scrunchies, along with her love of vibrant colors, ensured her tiny 5’1” frame stood out among her towering male colleagues in Washington.
Then there were the collars. Justice Ginsburg took a uniform designed to downplay difference—the staid and shapeless black judiciary robe—and elevated it.
“The standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie,” she said in a 2009 interview with The Washington Post. “So Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman.”
That ‘something’ was initially a strikingly white lace jabot that made RBG and Justice O’Conner, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, stand out in each of the SCOTUS “class photos.” Over time, Justice Ginsburg’s collars morphed into more: the feminine transformed into the feminist, neckwear encoded with political messages.
Her collection of beaded, embroidered and bejeweled neckpieces was vast enough to star in not only a Time magazine feature but also a forthcoming book, “The Collars of RBG: A Portrait of Justice” by Elinor Carucci and Sara Bader. Given to her by friends, colleagues, artists and admirers, they provided RBG with a visual lexicon with which to express herself on the bench.
She favored more subdued collars while issuing majority opinions—including a bright yellow bead and crystal collar necklace from Anthropologie—and her collars from her travels may have been a nod to civil rights and economic issues. Meanwhile, Justice Ginsburg’s ‘dissent collars’ tended to be darker—armor against injustice.
Now one of RBG’s favorite collars, The Pegasus, is heading to the block as part of a September sale hosted by Potomack Auctions. “She chose to wear this collar for the official 2018 Supreme Court justices photograph, which was also her first day back after recovering from a fall that fractured her ribs,” the auction house said in a statement. “The collar sent the unspoken—but very clear—message that the justice was back in action and ready for duty.”
Part of the commission from the sale of the limited-edition Stella & Dot bib necklace will be donated to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Endowed Fund for Research in Civil Rights and Gender Equality of the American Bar Foundation.
This isn’t the first of Justice Ginsburg’s collars to go to auction. In 2022, Bonhams auctioned a gold judicial collar crafted with gilt glass beads for $176,775 after giving it a high estimate of $5,000. RBG collars are in the Smithsonian and the Newberry Library and on display at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. Others went to friends and family upon her death at age 87 in 2020.
The lasting impact of Ginsburg’s collars
Her signature ‘dissent collar’—Banana Republic’s Notorious Necklace, which she received in a swag bag at an event in 2012—is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History and has sold out every time the retailer reissued it. That, and the white, beaded collar from South Africa seen in her official SCOTUS portrait, have become emblems of justice, equality, fairness and feminism.
RBG and her collars can be found on merchandise and memes, on protest signs and in costume shops. A google search for ‘dissent collar enamel pin’ yields millions of results. The same is true for ‘dissent collar art.’ While one could make a solid case for the commercialization of the Notorious RBG’s legacy being a bad thing, a dissenter might argue that the broad and lasting reach of her status as both an accomplished Justice and a feminist icon can only be positive. We remember, replicate and acquire her collars not for their beauty but to celebrate Justice Ginsburg as a role model and to remind ourselves there is always a path forward.