Criticism And Attacks On Fashion

Over the course of history, fashion has been the subject of a lot of criticism and attacks. Fashion has been the center of intersecting perspectives and different views that have caused diverse scandals across the years.

Clothes have been blamed for social disturbances and issues, being considered to promote vanity, loose sexual morality, conspicuous consumption, and effeminacy (in men). But where does this originate?

The reason for all this is because fashion intersects so obvious with other fields such as gender roles, social class and sexuality. Because our bodies have been the subject of a lot of social, moral, sexual pressure and prohibition, the things that represent them have seen a lot of criticism of their own.


In order to understand the historical condemnations of fashionable dress, we need to examine the attitudes toward gender, sexuality, and clothes. Women are the ones that have always been associated with fashion and clothing, but also with inconstancy and change, which are two of fashion’s characteristics. Women have also been seen as weak and wicked, and there is an old background to that.

Within Judeo-Christian teachings, it all really starts with Adam and Eve. In these teachings, nakedness became to be a shameful thing after the Fall, which in the eyes of many was the ‘work’ of Eve who convinced Adam to fall into temptation, so the connection between women, clothing and sin is easily made.

Because women are so attached with sexuality and sin, it is obvious that women’s clothes have been the battlefield of many debates. In the Middle Ages, it was clearly stated that a woman must dress in a very modest way, as Christian teachings believed that redemption was found in the renunciation of decorating one’s body and modesty in dress, which was thought to be a a moral duty born out of Eve’s guilt.

A photo of Audrey Hepburn wearing pants. Just think that 100 years ago that would not have been acceptable. The other way around (men wearing a dress) is still not culturally accepted.

A photo of Audrey Hepburn wearing pants. Just think that 100 years ago that would not have been acceptable. The other way around (men wearing a dress) is still not culturally accepted.

It’s interesting how, even though men’s clothes were extremely sexual, it was only women who could be accused of seduction in dress. This is something that is also found today in quite an amount of rape cases, in which the clothes of the victim are considered relevant in court. We notice again how we communicate things through our clothes, whether we want it or not.

Later, as society developed and the different social classes started to mix, the fear of the breakdown of class distinctions created anxiety among the wealthy. For example, you might not know this, but in the 18th century, there was a time when prostitutes were not allowed to wear fur, so that they don’t get mistaken for “respectable women”. But it was not only a social and sexual thing that got people talking (or acting without talking better said), it was also the time’s morality that directed another wave of criticism towards fashion.

Today, Peta protests against fur coats.

Today, Peta protests against fur coats.

It was believed during the 17th and 18th century that many women would refuse to feed their children and spend their money on clothes. The concept of the superficial woman concerned on fashion was as powerful as it had ever been. It was thought that being too decorated meant that the person had fallen in the sin of vanity.

But where are the men in all of this? Yes, men did not start to be criticized for their clothes until the 18th century, when the dandy movement first appeared. Just imagine how the men who were interested in clothes were seen, in a time when women and all the negative things about them were associated with clothes. Not only were the dandies seen as superficial, vain, immoral etc, but they were also seen as effeminate. It was believed that men were supposed to be “above” fashion.

Since then, these types of discourses have mellowed down, but sadly they did not disappear.

Other forms of criticism towards fashion took the spotlight though, such as the idea that fashion is a waste and it was associated with a new way of consumption. Being well dressed became an indicator of wealth and transcendence from the realm of necessity.


More modern critics of fashion believe that fashion is irrational in it’s constant ‘not fashionable anymore’. This is something that is sure up to debate, whether fashion is a reinvention of “ugly”, which we don’t realize is ugly until the new fashion kicks in. Maybe here is a good moment to take and and remember that saying: “Fashions fade, style is eternal”.

Whether fashion is (sometimes) immoral is hard to tell, many will agree that the corsets worn by women in the 18th century were not in any way a step up for women, but some things are still up and come up as new times come by. In recent times we see a lot of discussion regarding clothes and often it’s tied to religion (again): should Muslim women wear a veil in schools or not, should the Pope wear designer shoes or not and the list can go on.

Pope Benedict XVI was the subject of a debate discussing whether his shoes were Prada or not. Talks about that move, "The Devil Wears Prada". Turns out his shoes were not Prada after all, but it doesn't really matter since the opinions were laid out there.

Pope Benedict XVI was the subject of a debate discussing whether his shoes were Prada. Talk about that movie, “The Devil Wears Prada”. Turns out his shoes were not Prada after all, but it doesn’t really matter since the opinions were laid out there.

What we feel clothes should be criticized for is the fact that at often times, they create a hierarchy. Rich people many times don’t like to talk about money, but they let the clothes do the talking. We make decisions regarding one’s skills and personality based on their clothes and we judge people according to the way they dress. We are the first ones to say that clothes do play an important role in our contemporary culture, but often we give them roles they should not have, and that’s the issue we should be commenting on.


Fraquoh and Franchomme






Further reading:

The Politics Of Dressing Up: Masculinity Vs. Femininiy

Men’s Body Image Considerations

How The Dandy Movement Impacts Today’s Fashion

P.S. What do you think of all of the attacks on fashion? Share your thoughts below!

27 thoughts on “Criticism And Attacks On Fashion

  1. Very interesting thoughts there, people are so stuck up on being “general” and “safe” that when a movement like fashion, specially in case of men, tries to take a different twist, opinions are raised immediately.
    After all it takes immense amounts of guts to follow your heart and dress and feel the way you want, so all such opinions can simply remain where they are, in safe boundaries

      • Thankyou!:)
        Sorry for my late reply, been caught up pretty much.
        Rather than attacked I would say that I have been glared at by questioning eyes, androgyny is quite my personal style and being a girl, people often expect me to be glamorous and decked up, but my heart feels for everything raw, unfinished and understated. I guess each time any of us, gathers enough guts to visually portray ourselves through the reflection of our heart, a counter attack is already ready.

        • That’s a tough question. Today there are a lot of drag queens and subcultures such as the cosplay fans who find it acceptable to for men to wear dresses.

          Therefore, we can imagine that in some time, sooner or later, this will become socially acceptable, just as short skirts were, short hair for women and revealing swimsuits for both men and women.

          The thing is, that if you look at these changes, they happened in or after a cultural change that was neither predicted or expected. Women started wearing their hair and dresses short after WWI because there was no time and there were no means to take care of all that hair and dress, women started working mostly after WWII when society needed to be rebuild etc.

          All the fashion forward moments in history including the Middle Ages when people had to cover themselves and so on were the result of an abrupt moment.

          So, if it will ever become acceptable for men to wear dresses, it will either be a long process or a reaction to something we can’t think of now (not necessarily something bad).

          What do you think?

          • Yes it is a tough question, I personally don´t think as you say it will (if it happens) through force/marketing. At this point it is most likely wasted time and money. Deep-rooted views about acceptable attire is difficult to change. Quite a barrier for a man to put on a dress, with the mentioned views of what´s acceptable.

            That´s why I lean towards your closing statement, force is not the key, it´s uncertain variables.

  2. This was a very interesting article. I’m the one who wants the rules to be broken (for example men in dresses are fine for me and most dress codes do suck) and altho I’m not the one who judges others due to their style, I’m too chicken to break the rules enuff by myself :/

    Thanks for the comment on my post. I wish I could answer for guys with style blogs, but I don’t know any personally. I have never seen or heard male style / fashion bloggers stereotyped in the same way as female style / fashion bloggers, that’s why I wrote about women only (that I usually avoid btw).
    Perhaps you could tell me anything about this topic?

    • Hello Lara,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear that in your heart you’re a rule-breaker! Maybe you’ll find the courage to break them on the outside as well.

      When it comes to men and fashion, there’s another story, maybe this is why you didn’t find so much info You can read about the issues guys face looking through our fashion editorials.

      Looking forward to seeing you again soon on our blog!



  3. I’m not at all sure if my last comment came thru :/ Just delete if Im posting it twice.

    However, I found your article interesting. I’m the one who think fashion / style rules should be broken, for me men in dresses are fine and most dress codes suck, but I’m still too coward to go breaking them enough by myself :/ .

    2nd, thanks for your comment on my post. I have never seen / heard guys with fashion / style blogs being stereotyped in the same way as women. That’s why I wrote about women only, which I usually avoid. Perhaps you can give me some insight about this? Have you came across to prejudice peeps?

  4. This is so interesting. There are so many different criticisms on fashion and I honestly have to question why something the majority of women like (fashion) is so criticized, when something such as cars, which the majority of men like, are not.
    Thankfully, however, society norms has improved a lot for women (which is a bit sad, because it’s still not quite as good as it should be) and we can wear what we like! x

  5. I promised I would read this, basically what I think fashion is a very diverse way of expressing oneself, personally I think it is more approachable nowadays than ever although there are some restrictions for men, like dresses or skirts “although some designers are trying to make them IN” I don’t personally think they will ever be acceptable we shouldn’t mistaken femininity with masculinity , I don’t judge within culture but there are things we should follow, unwritten rules, being a man makes you want to stay within the acceptable lines toward your own masculinity which is not a dress, although in the arabic culture there is something that they were “DishDasha” which is almost like a caftan but it has a masculine look and it is actually good and let the breeze in, a lot of the youth don’t like wearing it unless it is a formal event but they actually wear it all the time.
    which leads us back to the main point!
    the culture will have it’s toll in the end or you will live like an out cast.

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense but I hope i did, million things are rushing in my brains and I can’t express it all at once.

    • Hello Sash,

      Thanks for your input! It’s great to have your point to view represented here and to learn about the “DishDasha”. We’ll see basically how it all goes.

  6. I think that today your clothe are also a wealth statement, it’s just that good clothes are more availble to the masses!

  7. I think any industry can be criticized just as much, and even more. I don’t see why peole need to demonize the fashion industry!

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