Iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg Collar Comes to Auction
Alexandria, Va., July 19 – The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who changed the course of history for women’s rights and gender equality, famously became known for her iconic collars and jabots worn on the bench. For the Justice, each had a powerful coded message coupled with a fashion statement.
Potomack Auctions is honored to offer in our Sept. 21 auctions one of RBG’s favorite collars, The Pegasus, featured in a Time magazine commemorative piece not long after she died in 2020. Time called her a fashion pioneer, stating she subtly encoded “meaning in her dress.” The Ginsburg family shared details with Time about the collars represented in the article. These collars are the subject of a forthcoming book, “The Collars of RBG: A Portrait of Justice” by Elinor Carucci and Sara Bader, available Nov. 14.
The Pegasus limited edition silver metallic bib by Stella & Dot was one of RBG’s favorite collars evoking power and strength with the imagery of battle armor in its layered metal pointed feathers. 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 collar sent the unspoken – but very clear – message that the justice was back in action and ready for duty. When previously asked when there will be enough women on the court, she replied, “When there are nine.”
RBG follows a long tradition in American history of women using fashion to communicate an important message. In the late 18th century, Martha Washington gave portrait painter Gilbert Stuart a piece of lace ruffle to include in his important depictions of the first president. According to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, lace in the 18th century “communicated statements about one’s position in society, wealth, and purchasing power” and was “the ultimate power accessory.”
“The Notorious RBG’s Pegasus collar will be remembered as an important 21st century historical artifact that silently spoke volumes about her fierce dedication to the cause of women’s rights. The collar conveyed RBG’s belief that women need to tackle adversity, and to armor themselves and remain strong in the ongoing battle for equality,” says Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, owner of the Potomack Company. “It’s a unique piece of modern material culture, and it tells an important story about America and a great American. The Pegasus collar captures the essence of Justice Ginsburg and her passion for the cause of equality.”
Included in the Sept. 21 auction with the Ginsburg metallic collar is the Martha Washington fragment of lace given to Gilbert Stuart for his presidential portrait. The fragment is evocative of the lacy jabots worn more than 200 years later by Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court.
For other examples of Stuart’s detailed rendering of Washington’s lace, see the Lansdowne Portrait in The White House Collection and the portrait in the National Gallery (1954.9.2.). A strong resemblance to this lace is evidenced in a 1795 portrait of George Washington by Swedish artist Adolph Ulrich Wertmuller in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (24.109.82), which clearly shows the “fussy lace ruff” worn by Washington. Two similar lace fragments are in the collection of George Washington’s Mount Vernon (W- 448/A and B), and a third is in the collection of the Dorothy Quincy Homestead in Quincy, MA.
In 2021, Potomack sold RBG’s modern art and memorabilia collection for more than $1 million to benefit Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. To support Justice Ginsburg’s vision of equal protection under the law for all Americans, the Potomack Company will donate a percentage of the commission to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Endowed Fund for Research in Civil Rights and Gender Equality of the American Bar Foundation, an organization founded in 1952 for which Ginsburg served many years as an officer and board member.
Bids may be placed on the collar and the lace now through the Sept. 21 auction, when the lots close.