The rise of court flow: why prison baes Nandipha and Thabo love to slay

A look at how courtroom apparel plays a role in keeping the fame alive in high-profile cases

20 June 2023 - 20:52
By Thango Ntwasa
Dr Nandipha Magudumana in one of her Nike sets.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Dr Nandipha Magudumana in one of her Nike sets.

In this internet age it is almost impossible to not see every moment of our lives as a commodity. We can see how the smallest thing can turn into a trend or viral moment, rewarding you with instant fame and fortune.

Dr Nandipha Magudumana, Thabo Bester and their co-accused are a case in point, with the way their alleged crimes have been eclipsed by the way they have presented themselves in court.

DRESSING UP FOR HIGH-PROFILE CASES

Bonang Matheba with her Lady Dior handbag.
Image: Kyle Zeeman Bonang Matheba with her Lady Dior handbag.
Court room soft luxury queen Gwyneth Paltrow.
Image: Photo by Rick Bowmer-Pool/Getty Images Court room soft luxury queen Gwyneth Paltrow.

It's not unusual for parties in high-profile cases to put their best designer foot forward in court. Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow placed her name in the fashion history books with her beige courtroom look, nicknamed “courtobes”. The outfits were part of the growing trend known as quiet luxury or stealth wealth. The same could be said for Bonang Matheba, who attended court in 2018 sporting a Lady Dior handbag. Both their looks were subtle, professional but ready for brunch. 

“It depends on who they are, but often celebrities have teams who are responsible for their image and they want to ensure that the celebrity continues to have a reputation beyond the case,” attorney Shawn Holley told The Cut when speaking of the many teams behind a celebrity's court appearance.

Headbands and pulled-back buns were the go-tos for rebels such as Winona Ryder and Holley's former client Lindsay Lohan for their respective days in court.

But why wear designer clothing?

“It’s finding the sweet spot between being respectful and being true to who the celebrity is so it doesn’t look like some contrived ploy,” Holley explained.

UNDERSTANDING COURT FLOW

Cardi B arrives at Queens Criminal Court on December 10 2019 in New York City, US. The rapper had been charged in a 14-count indictment, including two of felony attempted assault on two bartenders at Angels Strip Club in Queens.
Image: Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images Cardi B arrives at Queens Criminal Court on December 10 2019 in New York City, US. The rapper had been charged in a 14-count indictment, including two of felony attempted assault on two bartenders at Angels Strip Club in Queens.

During her 2018 trial, rapper Cardi B arrived in a number of outrageous outfits, including furs and plunging necklines more suited to a red carpet or TV interview.

It was titled her “court flow” on Instagram and became a monicker for her approach of never losing her swag. It deviated from the more muted looks seen on Matheba or Ryder and solidified her as a fashion icon. And it worked. The I Like It rapper walked away from the case with millions and still enjoys an abundant career. 

It would seem Magudumana and Bester are looking to the same approach with their court flow. While most lawyers require their clients to dress down, Magudumana's “glow up” is the work of the prison's accredited skills programme that allows inmates to access a beauty salon. To top it all, Magudumana wears matching Nike sets. An approach to athleisure that is replicated by Bester.

The prison escapee is a bit more brash in his styling choices, opting for Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. Bear loud logos or print, the latter complemented by a white shirt.

DRESSING LIKE A YOUNG F**KING LADY

Rapist and murderer Thabo Bester wearing a Monogram Bandana motif crewneck sweatshirt by Louis Vuitton valued at more than R20,000.
Image: Screengrab Rapist and murderer Thabo Bester wearing a Monogram Bandana motif crewneck sweatshirt by Louis Vuitton valued at more than R20,000.

However, there is an irony in the way these outfits are treated. Paltrow's seemingly demure, stealth-wealth outfits became a circus of self-advertisement, so much so that she was able to promote items from her apparel chain on Goop, that includes the R10,000 cardigans she wore to court.

Ryder may have channelled the spirit of a sweet schoolgirl in her Marc Jacobs 2001 sweater dress but this was a cheeky way of acknowledging the crime —  stealing from the designer — that got her in court in the first place. She wore his designs throughout the six-day trial, eventually scoring a deal to be the face of his ad campaign shortly thereafter.

It was contradictions like these that sent Cardi B into a head spin when she called out one of the lawyers in her case who admonished her choice of clothing.

“I don’t dress inappropriate when I go to court. I dress like a young f**king lady,” she told her Instagam followers on a live session. “Where am I supposed to get my suits from? H&M?”

A question that sits on many high-profile cases.

There is no law forbidding Magudumana and Bester from wearing their pricey items. Something that is relative to each person's tax bracket.

As explained by correctional services department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo, South African laws permit all those appearing in court to wear civilian clothing.

PAYING THE PRICE FOR COURT FLOW

Whether or not you have followed Magudumana's and Bester's cases, there is a sense of injustice in their flashy outfits. It becomes a middle finger to those who have suffered due to their crimes. And the attention they garner has helped soften the public attitude towards them. While it may be effective to present your most professional attire to a judge, perhaps the crazy outfits worn by Magudumana and Bester will be as profitable as that of some of their predecessors should they avoid prison.


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