When Jessica Clary and her mother visited Los Angeles as a teenager in 1995, the attraction they were most excited about wasn’t the Hollywood sign or Rodeo Drive. It was the courthouse where OJ Simpson stood trial for murder.
Ms. Clary, who grew up in Plano, Texas, said she and her mother, like millions of Americans, were transfixed by the case then described as “the trial of the century.” On the day the women went to see the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, they weren’t the only people on the street. Several vendors had come to sell merchandise.
“We bought my dad a ‘Dream Team’ shirt,” said Mrs. Clary, using a phrase as a nickname for Mr. Simpson’s lawyers. “I have a ‘Free the Juice’ button,” she added, using a nickname for Mr Simpson, who was found not guilty.
Ms. Clary said they were not buying the products as a way to communicate opinions about the process. The merchandise was intended to commemorate an event she described as “such a big part of pop culture.”
During the Britney Spears conservatory case, which a judge ended in 2021, the hashtag #FreeBritney was tacked onto coffee mugs and T-shirts, one of which was worn by Ms Spears. Other people whose legal affairs have spawned merchandise include Anna Sorokin, the fake heiress better known as Anna Delvey; Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos waiting in prison; and Jen Shah, a star of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” who went to jail after pleading guilty to participating in a fraudulent telemarketing scheme. (Before pleading guilty, prosecutors said, Ms. Shah sold T-shirts inspired by her case.)
In March, Ms. Clary, now 44 and living in Los Angeles, started an Etsy store that sells trial-related merchandise. Items include mugs and t-shirts inspired by the case of Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina attorney convicted of murdering his wife and son, which read “Murdaugh Family Law.”
There are also pieces inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent ski crash trial in Park City, Utah, where the actress was found not guilty of a hit-and-run on the slopes. Some pieces read “Gwynnocent,” while others include Mrs. Paltrow’s famous quote from the trial, “Well, I lost half a day of skiing.”
Ms. Clary, a fundraiser for the Coast Guard Foundation, designs the pieces using Canva software. Her products typically cost between $25 and $35. The Etsy store, she said, is a modern version of “people with folding tables in front of the courthouse.”
Chantal Strasburger, 32, who lives in Austin, Texas, has also sold merchandise inspired by Ms. Paltrow’s trial. Her pieces include quarter-zip sweatshirts ($65) embroidered with the actress’ skiing quote and baseball caps ($30) that read, “Wishing you the best,” which Ms. Paltrow heard telling her accuser after the verdict was handed down.
Ms. Strasburger, who featured the products in a TikTok video that has been viewed nearly two million times, said she’s sold more than 400 since she started offering them through her embroidery company, Read Receipts. She thinks customers appreciate the merchandise because it references a specific point in time. “They want to capture that moment,” Ms. Strasburger said, “and immortalize it forever.”
Tara Ann Stridh, a 43-year-old writer in Queens, said when she bought a hat inspired by the defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, it was mainly a gesture of support for Ms Heard, who lost the lawsuit. The baseball cap, which Mrs. Stridh bought for $25 on Etsy, read: “Believe Amber.”
“I thought, well, I can’t contact her and I’m just buying this for myself because I want to support her,” said Ms Stridh.
Lorynn Divita, an associate professor of apparel merchandising at Baylor University, described sample merchandise as an evolution of band T-shirts and other trinkets sold at concerts. These kinds of products, Ms. Divita said, can be a way for their owners to show off their cultural awareness and interests.
For some, even the possibility of a proof is enough to light up the screen printer.
After the Justice Department appointed Jack Smith as special counsel overseeing the investigation of former President Donald J. Trump, Scott Horner, 53, teamed up with two graphic designers to create merchandise, including $25 T-shirts with Mr. Smith’s face next to phrases like “Mr. . Smith Goes to Washington” and “Somebody’s Gonna Get Jacked Up!”
Mr. Horner, a travel agent in Orlando, Florida, began selling the products online last December. He said he’s sold about 1,500 since then and wouldn’t be surprised if other people start selling similar merchandise as Mr. Smith’s work progresses.
“I think there will definitely be more interest as trials come along,” said Mr. Horner.