A Wardrobe Malfunction By Any Other Name

Moments before the “Reveal”
.Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake

If I could get a nickel for each time someone used a modern day phrase of my choice, my phrase would undoubtedly be the dreaded “wardrobe malfunction.” I suppose we should blame Justin Timberlake (who’s currently in hot water for tweeting while being white due to perceived cultural appropriation about Jesse Williams’s speech during Sunday night’s BET Awards) — and possibly the WMS (wardrobe malfunction sufferer), Janet Jackson, for the term’s post 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show coinage. Since then, wardrobe malfunction has been used to indicate any occasion in which good clothing goes bad or embarrassingly fails to contain the wearer’s naughty bits.

Kim’s Butt Padding is Showing under her Tight Skirt

So, just how pervasive is this euphemism? It has not only been translated into several languages, but also was named the 2004 US Global Language Monitor as ‘Hollywood’s Top Word or Phrase for Impact on the English Language’. (Who knew that there was such a distinction?) Moreover, you will find this phrase used by the print, digital and broadcast media with alarming frequency to describe any near “nip-slip” (another egregious term) or potential panty (or derriere) flashing episode. Unfortunately, these seem to occur with disastrous regularity among the celebutards these days, thereby making the ubiquity of the phrase self-perpetuating.

Lindsey Vonn

Just in the last week or so we have seen Lindsey Vonn’s how-low-can-you-go top, Jennifer Lopez’s up-to-there skirt slit, not to mention actress Sara Barrett’s intentional auto-alight-wide-open-legged-paparazzi-pose captured by InTouch (thereby exposing her “kitty” er… cat-printed panties) which she herself then posted to twitter. Meow!

Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in the NikeCourt Premier Slam Dress
which flies up in a wardrobe malfunction

Even the courts and stands of Wimbledon proved not to be immune to the wardrobe malfunction. Players were supplied with the NikeCourt Premier Slam Dress, a lightweight baby doll style frock which tended to fly up exposing stomachs and spandex tennis pants. On the spectator front, Pippa Middleton’s floral mini posed a potential problem as she tried to sit without revealing anything.

Sara Barrett

I tend to think in terms of WMD (Wardrobe Malfunction Demerits) in more general terms. In my own personal definition, any time that an element of what I’m wearing lets me down, whether it’s in terms of fit, quality, durability, or even susceptibility to atmospheric conditions such as a sudden gust of wind, I will term it as such.

Jennifer Lopez

Therefore, while I haven’t necessarily exposed anything untoward, I consider myself to be a long-time WMD veteran. Infractions include: donning a skirt whose lining is all bunched up; wearing that dreaded combo of pants that induce muffin-top with shirts that ride up; and failing to sufficiently hide the little “paper clip” plastic gizmo which is supposed to convert regular bra straps into a racer back. I once believed a sales person at an upscale boutique who swore that a heavy brocade evening gown was meant to be worn off-the-shoulder. Trust me — it was clearly not designed to do so–and I have the cringe worthy photos from the important milestone event to prove it.

Pippa Middleton’s Near Wardrobe Malfunction at Wimbledon

I recently asked a group of womenfolk to recount their worst wardrobe malfunctions. Tales ranged from suddenly realizing that a garment is totally sheer in daylight (a la Princess Diana’s infamous preschool teacher photo), to an actual grade school occurrence which obviously still haunts its sufferer over four decades later. “I took a shirt out of the dryer not noticing that there was a pair of underwear stuck to the back,” she explained. “When I got to school the underwear must have fallen off onto the floor. Everyone asked whose it was but I said nothing.” I’m betting fabric softener and a can of Static Guard became her new best friends.

A lawyer friend recounted a more recent debacle in which she attempted to remove her jacket at work only to realize that it had become caught in the label of her top. She had to run through her law firm with her jacket dangling around her neck, not quite superwoman style, until she found someone to save her from near strangulation.

Mercedes Bass in Sunday Styles

After spending the last few days reading the many tributes celebrating the life of Bill Cunningham, I ended up on Hulu re-watching the 2010 documentary “Bill Cunningham New York.” I was surprised to see a part that I hadn’t paid much attention to in my initial viewing. A scene where Bill is laying out the Sunday Styles page with his assistant and discussing a photo of Mrs. (Mercedes) Bass who he calls “one of the most elegant women in New York” has an interesting twist to it. “She looks like a John Singer Sargent portrait…except” he whispers conspiratorially and points, ” she’s got a modesty bib filling in the v-neckline. What a crime! I’m sure the dressmaker got timid. What a shame! That should have been left open.”

I marveled anew at Bill’s astute eye for detail, wondering how he could be so sure that it was the dressmaker’s decision to close up the neckline. Perhaps it was the elegant Mrs. Bass who feared the inelegance of the dreaded wardrobe malfunction. The New York Times has teased a tribute in this week’s Sunday Styles dedicated to the original street style photographer. Although he chronicled and cycled onto one of the busiest intersections in the world, Bill took the road less traveled — the high road.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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