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Fashion Isn't Sexy

How fashion brands are being depicted through a cis male lens

CW: This article discusses topics surrounding sexuality and gender which could be distressing to some readers.

3 black women smiling together in brightly coloured clothing and wearing sunglasses

We’ve been told for years that “sex sells" but is that really true in the fashion industry? Many brands try to market their clothes through an unrealistic depiction of sexualising women. I want to take a deep dive on why fashion is being sold in this way and how the new generation is breaking down the stereotypes.

History lesson

Since the dawn of time, women have been the subject of sexualisation through a cis-male lens and fashion is no exception; fashion brands have always used women’s sex appeal to sell more. Big brands are obsessed with the female form and finding ways to exploit this to drive more sales.

A brand which is notorious for this is Dolce & Gabbana; in Spring/ Summer of 2007 the iconic brand released a press image depicting several males restraining a woman. The image was banned from being published in Italian articles after it was determined that it ‘offended the dignity of women’. The whole comparison from D&G sparked uproar as it overly sexualised women while appealing to cis-men; there was another photo released for the campaign which showed the men fully dressed around the women still in a sexual position which was allowed to be published.

The reason for the photo being removed was that it ‘offended the dignity of women’. This almost belittles women’s feeling on being sexualised. Of course it ‘offended’ us, I mean, who wouldn’t be when being exploited in such a way?

Another brand who took the internet by storm (and not in a good way) was the once fashion power house, Balenciaga. In late 2022, Balenciaga released new promotional photos depicting what can only be described as young children dressed in BDSM clothing. The ad campaign fuelled disgust on the internet and shortly following the brand was cancelled and influencers started promoting destroying anything by the brand in a way to show support for the disgusting imagery the brand created.

All the wrongs

All of this over sexualisation of women in ads has led to young girls feeling the need to over dress for their age and dress for the male gaze rather for themselves.

High street brands such as ZARA are promoting young girls to wear more adult clothing which is leading to early sexualisation of women. These high street brands children clothing only goes up to 14 years and after that young girls are expected to go into women’s sizing to find clothes that fit them; young girls shouldn’t be expected to wear clothes for adults designed to please the male gaze.

This leads to the question: are women feeling exploited or empowered by fashion? Everything about fashion should be about empowering us to feel like ourselves, fuel us with confidence so we can perform to our best but how can women feel this when the clothes we are being marketed to make us ‘sexy’ for the male gaze.

The Gen Z revolution

Gen Z are known for being a kinder and more inclusive generation with more people coming forward as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and with doing so are pushing the meaning of gender and this it’s showing in today's fashion. More brands are promoting inclusivity and showing less sexualisation of cis-women and more variety of people in their campaign ads.

With this we’re seeing more of a rise in gender-less clothing and influencers showing that even if clothes are targeted at a certain gender doesn’t mean that’s the only one who can wear them.

Icons to know about

To round everything up, I thought I would compose a list of five Gen Z fashion icons, activists and pioneers who are breaking down the stereotypes:

Bretman Rock (Instagram: @bretmanrock)- As a social media star and influencer, he has worked with power house designer Robert Wun for a red carpet look in February 2022. He also made history being the first openly gay man to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine.

Rowan Blanchard (Instagram: @rowanblanchard)- A well known actress who started on Disney Channel, Rowan is known for her activism in the queer community and for her feminism. She showcases her androgynous style on Instagram and pushes the idea of gender less clothing.

Aaliyah Ramsey (Instagram: @aaliyahramseyy)- Aaliyah has been breaking down female beauty standards after being told to shave for their prom. They use their social media platforms to speak out and empower others on breaking down stereotypes and being themselves.

Grete Henrietta (Instagram: @grete.henriette)- The fashion designer who is pushing gender stereotypes with 16th century looks for queer bodies. Her goals are to change the stigma surrounding being queer in the fashion world and advocate for transgender and non-binary individuals.

Kenya Shania (Instagram: @kenyashania)- Kenya is a non-binary model who uses Instagram to show of their outfits and talk about their experiences with self-awareness, acceptance and gender.


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