clothes/fashion

Samantha Moore sent in a screenshot of the front page of the website for Aerie, a brand of lingerie marketed to 15-21 year-olds.  I thought it was quite the stunning example of the impossible bodies that young people are offered as the ideal.

Adding more perspective, Samantha writes:

I shopped at American Eagle before I turned 15, and I would say that’s part of the draw — girls like to shop where the older kids do. Though aerie may be officially targeting older teenagers, this bra campaign wipes away the transition from puberty to sex; you know, that time when you bra shop out of necessity and dreadfully weird body change, not sexual enticement.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The clothier H&M is in the news this week and Craita, Ann C., and Marjukka O. all sent in links to the story.  It turns out that they are using a mannequin to display their clothes. Nothing new here.  Except that the mannequins are appearing on their website (instead of their brick-and-mortar stores) and they are photoshopping heads of real models onto the figure and changing the skin color, giving it the illusion of being a real person.

The practice is getting plenty of vaguely negative press (ABC, FOX, Guardian, Jezebel). The critique seems to be that the use of a “virtual mannequin” creates even more unrealistic bodily expectations for women than the use of “real” models (with “real” in quotes because of the degree of photoshopping that goes into creating any images of women that appear in fashion-related advertising).

To be honest, I’m having a hard  time feeling that this is either qualitatively or quantitatively different than the range of techniques used to produce impossibly idealized bodies (including photoshopping images, using mannequins in stores, using models with unusual body types, and requiring those women to exercise and diet their bodies to achieve an extreme look even given their biologies).  (In fact, Nadya Lev at Coilhouse has a positive spin on it.)

What is more interesting, in my opinion, is the way this illustrates the deskilling of labor. Models no longer have to have just the right body, nor do they have to be good at modeling (e.g., posing in ways that flatter clothes while simultaneously looking natural, not to mention the endurance and emotion work).  No, instead, modeling is reduced to a pretty face that can be nicely composed.  Everything else is done digitally.

Those in the modeling industry, then, don’t see this as an insult to women everywhere, they see it as an insult to models specifically.  FOX quotes Michael Flutie of E!’s model search show “Scouted” saying:

It is disrespectful and lazy. It is the job of the brand to properly scout for their models and find those that represent their brand in every aspect. They need to take the responsibility of looking deep into the model pool to find the right people instead of digitally creating what they need…

If this continues, models may face the same deteriorating working conditions that factory workers and many other segments of the U.S. workforce have faced: becoming increasingly obsolete.

For more on modeling, see our posts on the invisibility of labor in modeling, the dismal pay in the modeling industry, the fraudulent “model search,” and the contrasting aesthetics for “high” and “low end” modeling (all based on the work of ex-model, now-sociologist, Ashley Mears).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Notice how disapprovingly he is glaring at her icky, untidy stockings.

Via Vintage Ads.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Ms.

According to a BBC News story sent in by Leiana S. and Kinesiology professor Mary Louise Adams, the International Boxing Association may soon require female boxers to wear skirts.  The President of the Association, Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, argues that it will allow viewers to tell the difference between the men and the women who currently wear the same uniforms, including headgear.  Right now the skirt is an optional variation on the official uniform but, Dr. Wu says, “After we hear about its comfort and how easy it is to compete in the uniform, it may be compulsory.”

At the European Championships in Rotterdam last week, female boxers from Poland and Romania adopted the new uniform.  A coach of the Poland team said: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.”

This might be an example of officials assuming that (1) men are the main audience for boxing and that (2) men will watch women’s boxing more if they differentiate/sexualize women.

It might also, however, be an example of an attempt to retrench difference between men and women exactly when those differences start to dissolve.  Discomfort with the lack of actual differences between men and women sometimes leads individuals to encourage or enforce artificial ones.  I would say that this is one of the main functions of clothes today. Yeah, I said it. I think exaggerating what are actually rather weak and strongly overlapping differences between men and women is one of the primary functions of clothes.

In any case, it’s probably a combination of both.

Earlier this year they tried this with Badminton, but it didn’t take.

The idea that female athletes aren’t sufficiently feminine has been around as long as sports have been around.  Today, the feminizing of athletes is ubiquitous.  See our posts on Serena Williams’s ESPN cover, Candace Parker “is pretty, which helps,” press photos of female athletes in dressesgroundbreaking female sailor is also prettysexualizing female Olympic athletesdiets of championsmedia portrayals of female athletes, and valuing dads in the WNBA.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I am re-posting this fun counterfactual in honor of October 19th Love Your Body Day. Crossposted at Jezebel.


I was thinking the other day about fashion advice for women with different body types. The advice is almost always aimed at getting women’s bodies, whatever shape they might be, to conform with one ideal body type: the (skinny) hourglass figure. The advice video below, sent in by Tara C. and aimed at women with “pear-shaped” bodies, does exactly this (excerpts and commentary after the clip):

So, the advice, as I mentioned, is all about trying to hide the shape of her actual body and make it appear to be more hourglass. To “transform it into an hourglass,” they say:

  • slim your hips and thighs”
  • “draw attention to the upper part of your body”
  • balance your figure” with shoulder pads
  • “a roomy top will de-emphasize your bottom”
  • offset your hips”
  • “avoid side pockets, they add bulk where you least need it”

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where the fashion industry encouraged us to “emphasize” our differences from one another, instead of trying to make us all look the same. If you were pear-shaped, for example, the advice would be all about highlighting that awesome booty and tiny waist and shoulders. Work that pear-shape!

If you were broad-shouldered and thin-hipped, the advice could all be aimed at broadening your shoulders (shoulder pads and fancy necklines) and thinning your hips (dark colors and no pockets)! Work that triangle-shape!

If you were apple-shaped, advice would be aimed at looking rounder with even skinner arms and legs. Work that apple-shape!

If you were petite, advice could be aimed at looking smaller; if you were tall, advice could be aimed at looking larger.

If you had short legs, advice would tell you how to elongate your torso; if you had long legs, advice would tell you how to shorten it.

I think this would be a super fun world to live in.

Title slide image from Lemon Drop Clothing.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Naomi and Katie sent in a link to a fabulous photo project in which typical model poses are reproduced in real life by real people. The photos, by Madrid-based artist Yolanda Dominguez, reveal just how distorted fashion, and expectations for women, have become. In an interview, Dominguez explains:

I tried to express what many women feel about women’s magazines and the image of women in the media – absurd, artificial, a hanger to wear dresses and bags, only concerned about being skinny, beautiful. We don’t identify with this type of woman – we are much more. I used the impossible poses to represent this type of woman and to show how absurd it is in a real context… [The] poses of the women are ridiculous – they seem dead, twisted, pulled. Why are men never put in these positions? They are always straight, successful, able and healthy… I try to express deep questions (sometimes dramatic) but always with irony and humour. I feel that when you can laugh at something you can get rid of it.

See more from Yolanda Dominguez at her website.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Jezebel.

Sometimes marketing is so absurd that I am tied into knots trying to understand how an advertisement could possibly have been made and set loose into the world.  Like this ad for Zappos, sent in by Cheryl S., that claims it sells jeans in “fits for every body type”:

Are they actually mocking us?  Do they really think we are so stupid as to not find the text and visuals in this ad laughably mis-matched?  Are they trying to offend all people outside of this “range” of body types so that they don’t wear their clothes?  I just… I don’t know.

UPDATE! Business Insider featured the ad above and included another example:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This seems like a good time to reiterate a simple truth: It can be art/fashion/satire/cutting edge etc. and… and and and it can be offensive, trivializing, and triggering.

Eight readers sent in links to an ad for a hair salon called Fluid. The salon, which has a history of using “shocking” ads (like this one after the Gulf oil spill), is attracting criticism for an ad featuring a woman being offered jewelry by a man; she appears to have a black eye.  Six more sent in a link to a Glee star, Heather Morris, in a photoshoot by Tyler Shields, also with a black eye.

Responding to the criticism, Fluid said it was being “cutting-edge,” “satirical,” “high fashion,” and “editorial,” and “artistic.”  It doesn’t matter what you call it, what tradition it references, or whether you’re trying to get a reaction; your product is still part of a wider cultural context.  Accordingly, you may get called out for being insensitive to other people’s pain. In which case, probably best not to call the critics hypocrites and suggest that there are bigger problems in the world than the trivialization of domestic violence.  Or go right ahead, I guess.

Thanks to Eric S., Kristina V., YetAnotherGirl, Dave S., Caitlin R., @CreativeTweets, Meghan H., Dave S., Judith B., Olivia G., Alexis W., Theresa W., and an anonymous reader for the tips!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.