Fashion Sense

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“Lookin’ good!” “Hot chick!” “Sooooo sexy….” Rushing through the school hallways and browsing through Facebook profiles, remarks such as these are a familiar soundtrack, background expressions as common as “How ya doin’?” and “Hey there.” Although they have become part of the blur of groups of teens, these comments express typical reactions to the way girls dress. They also articulate the way many girls approach their clothing decisions, asking themselves if their attire will prompt these expressions.


Associating clothing with sexuality has become part of our culture. Advertising, clothing in stores, and photos of popular singers and actresses, are frequently accompanied by remarks about sexual attractiveness. Depending on the format, these are spoken, written, or sometimes simply suggested. One line of clothing prevalent in schools across the country is Abercrombie & Fitch, which is currently running an ad in magazines and on its website that defines a look as “Soft & Pretty,” explaining, “Preppie has never looked this hot.” The television show “Gossip Girls” has inspired a line of clothing that is advertised on the television and internet through vignettes that center on the female model’s sexual attraction and suggestion of intercourse between her and a young man, with the only mention of the clothing appearing at the very end of the commercials. American Apparel runs a series of ads that recall dating service profiles, and include descriptions of the female models and their clothing such as “platinum blonde bombshell, wearing our super sexy…cotton bodysuit.” This is a small sampling of common descriptions surrounding the clothes being marketed to girls.

For the many teens who are interested in following the latest fashions, or in emulating the styles of celebrities, these advertisements influence their clothing decisions. Others are affected by hearing and seeing these ads, as they are peripherally told what they should wear or what they see others wearing. Judging by what is worn every day, the majority of girls dress in conformity with the current trends as they are defined by these ads.

But just where are these trends originating? Most designers of clothing for young girls are male, and they are most often old enough to be teen girls’ fathers or even grandfathers. The designer for the teen girl characters on “Gossip Girl,” Eric Daman, is 40 years old. According to a 2009 interview in “The New York Post,” he acknowledged that when he researches high school students, he is “like the creepy guy hanging around the corner, behind a tree with sunglasses on.” The line of clothing inspired by the television show is designed for Romeo & Juliet Couture by David Shamouelian, 45 years old, who strives for “an interesting combination of sexy, sparkly, tight dresses,” he informed fashion blogger Mary Salmon. The founder and head of American Apparel, Dov Charney, 42 years old, guides the firm’s advertising and frequently locates and interviews models himself. Strolling the streets of New York City with a reporter from Inc. magazine, “spotting a beguiling bosomy girl in a tight American Apparel T-shirt, he smirks, “See – I’m keeping America beautiful!”” The Chairman of Abercrombie & Fitch is a 66 year-old man, Michael Jeffries, who- according to the company’s website- hired photographer Bruce Weber specifically to imbue the company’s ads “with a sexiness that appealed to target customers.”

These clothing brands aren’t producing the only popular designs for teen girls, nor are they the only companies who are directed by middle aged male designers and executives. Gap Inc., dELia*s, and J Crew are just a few other companies that successfully market clothes to this demographic; the heads of these firms- all men- are 49, 56, and 67 years old, respectively. Similarly, the principle advertising firms for these companies are also headed by men who are significantly older than the young women who will be wearing the clothes.

With corporate leadership, designer, and advertising jobs often held by older men, their view of what young girls should be wearing is the one that prevails. Clothing and advertisements that portray teens in a sexual context, or that anticipate a sexual context, reflect this approach. In their October 2011 study of girls and sexuality, psychologists Murnen and Smolak present “empirical evidence from the U.S. …that societal representations of sexuality are gendered and promote male control over female sexuality.” While their research revealed that an astonishing 72% of the clothing sold to teen girls by Abercrombie & Fitch had “sexualizing characteristics,” overall in the United States the psychologists determined that an amazing 30% of clothing marketed to this group “emphasized or revealed a sexualized body part.” Considering the role of adult men in the teen clothing industry, this is not surprising.

What effect do these clothes and advertisements have on teen girls? A 2011 study by the American Psychological Association contends that “the sexualization of girls is associated with many negative consequences” that lead to girls’ evaluating and controlling their bodies more in terms of other people than in terms of what is best and desirable for their own health and well-being. Their self-esteem, then, becomes more and more linked to their effect on other people.


From parents to educators, teens are constantly being told to be true to “who they are.” Avoiding peer pressure is commonly discussed. However, when a significant portion of the clothing industry is working to have girls wear clothes that compromise their self-esteem, the challenges are great. The typical teen girl is growing and changing every day, evaluating herself and her place in the world. Psychologists of the United States Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls report that adolescent girls are “particularly vulnerable to cultural messages that promise them popularity, effectiveness, and social acceptance through the right “sexy” look,” based on their 2010 research. Fitting in by wearing clothing that the media claims is appropriately trendy can be very alluring, especially when surrounded by teens wearing and reacting positively to clothes that sexualize teen girls.

Every day we face the question of what to wear, and most of us want to look good. We enjoy the positive reinforcement that comes when friends and acquaintances compliment our choices. For most teen girls, though, dressing for middle aged and older men is not a goal. Awareness that their point of view directs the design and advertisement of female teen clothing should alter the choices many young girls make. Greater self-esteem can come from greater independence in clothing decisions. Exposing the source of much of the fashion marketed to teen girls will inform the daily fashion dilemma, prompting girls to take charge, and fashion their own identity. Who would choose to be dressed by the self-avowed “creepy guy hanging around the corner”?





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