A few weeks ago, the E! network announced that Fashion Police, a show hosted by the late Joan Rivers (and friends and family of Joan Rivers) will continue on without the beloved comedian, starting January, right before awards season. The show, in case you didn’t know, is set up like this: a panel of people sit on a stage in a line and stare at pictures and video footage of celebrities and then talk smack about what those celebrities are wearing. Sometimes they also say nice things, but the fun of the show is being as critical as possible for laughs. The words “AWFUL” and “DISASTER” and “FATSO” are common, as are jokes about the celebrities’ personal lives. But E!’s show is not the only fashion policing game out there—not by a long shot. Each and every tabloid ’round the world has some version of the “these people are famous and got dressed up for something so we can say anything we want about them” magazine feature. And despite their various titles, each has a similar point-laugh-make-a-not-nice-joke format.
Before we go any further, something you have to know about me is that I love celebrity fashion with the fire of a thousand suns. I love seeing what Lupita Nyong’o wears on the red carpet, I love seeing what Taylor Swift dons when she leaves the gym and what Anne Hathaway’s rocking when she walks her puppies and what everyone put on for George Clooney’s wedding. It’s not just the clothes; I love the hair, the makeup, the accessories, I love the EVERYTHING about celebrity style. Every morning I wake up and for one second I deeply regret not being alive in 1935 so I could have written for Photoplay magazine. Then I wipe one shining tear off of my face, get out of bed, and greet the day.
I love celebrity fashion, but what I don’t love so much is our cultural conversation about celeb style. More to the point, how straight-up MEAN we are about what famous women wear. Yes, every once in a while a blogger will ding Chris Pratt for an ill-fitting suit or get on Brad Pitt’s case re: red carpet stubble, but make no mistake, when the celebrity fashion police come out with their sirens wailing, it’s 99.99 percent famous ladies they are pulling over.
“Whatever, I didn’t like Jennifer Lawrence’s haircut, are you saying I can’t say anything on the Internet about that? What about the First Amendment? What about freedom of speech?” you ask me.
Yes, of course you can use your First Amendment right to be super mean, that’s your constitutional prerogative, but instead of just mindlessly contributing to the noise, it’s worth taking a few minutes to sit down and really think about WHAT you’re contributing to. Somehow we, as by-and-large-not-famous people, now feel obligated to yell at and criticize and make Twitter jokes and hella snark at celebrities if we think their dresses/pants/bags/hairstyles are ugly. It’s become a kind of “I’ll out clever you” sport to make fun of what high-profile women wear. But what are we accomplishing with all this criticism?
Here’s what: We’re reducing famous women down to the quality of their wardrobe. It’s like we half-judge actresses for what they wear, half-judge them for the quality of their onscreen performances, and that just seems like a problematic rubric with which to judge any kind of artist (or person).
There are other problems with all of these celebrity fashion police, like the fact that almost any time a famous woman takes a fashion risk she gets dinged hard. Fashion is self-expression, but female celebrities have to express themselves in the safest way possible or they pay the price and endure ALL THE SCREAMING. Like, we’re STILL talking about Bjork’s 2001 Oscars dress. Yes, you know which dress, of course you know which dress, it’s the infamous swan dress. I bet more people can name what animal was featured on that dress than they can name what country the singer is from or the title of one of her songs. Which irritates me hardcore because Bjork shouldn’t become an international joke for shaking up her style. It also irritates me hardcore because I actually thought the dress was really cool. (Whatever, I said it.)
I also hate how we’re totally cool with yelling at celebrities for their fashion risks LIKE THE CELEBRITY ACTUALLY DESIGNED AND SEWED THE DRESS HERSELF. She didn’t. It was probably like Zac Posen or Michael Kors or some other rando designer who’s sat on the Project Runway judging panel. But we don’t yell at Kors or Posen. A bad dress is much more likely to be remembered for who wore it than who designed it. If we’re going to exercise our right to be angry over “bad” dresses, why does the anger feel so incredibly focused on the women wearing them? Even better, you should think about this: You know how you feel when you are dressed up and feel like you look really good? Like when you picked an outfit that makes you happy and you love it and feel like you’ve GOT THIS one and you just are confident and even strutting a bit and it’s a great day/night/moment? Now imagine if someone came running up to you and said you looked ugly during that moment. Or the next day on your Facebook feed one thousand people chimed in to say your butt looked fat or your boobs looked saggy or your makeup made your face look old or your outfit was the most HIDEOUS thing they’d ever seen. What is the value in this criticism? What does it do except make us feel superior and smug and laugh at another person’s expense?
Like I said up top, I love celebrity style, I love following it and obsessing over it. I’m not above being critical and opinionated when it comes to red carpet fashion. That said, I’m not going to confuse the value of an artist with the dress she picked to wear to the Grammys. Fashion is so much fun, it’s too much fun, but I think we need to get our heads on straight when it comes to celeb style, and when a famous lady’s haircut or handbag causes a commotion, let’s really check ourselves and try to figure out WHAT we’re commotion-ing about and WHY we’re commotion-ing in the first place.