Why H&M’s $20 jumpsuits are all kinds of controversial

H&M just rolled out a line of $20 jumpsuits for fall. They’re cute. They’re functional. They’re baggy olive-colored numbers that have a vague military look to them. Also, as some people have pointed out on Twitter, they look almost identical to the uniforms worn by female Kurdish soldiers fighting ISIS in the Middle East.

According to the Daily Mail, complaints began flooding into the Swedish retailer after an advertisement in which a model sported the jumpsuit with military-style boots and a big brown belt, a look that’s strikingly similar to the uniform that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units uses for their soldiers. On social media, some users were irate about the trend aping the women who were serving. “Disgraceful to say the least,” one user protested on Facebook. “At times like these, they choose to capitalize from the brave kurdish fighters in Kurdistan. They should be ashamed of themselves!”

Another commenter added, “Wtf this is our traditional uniform it is not for every one.”

H&M apologized, but insists that the whole thing is just a coincidence. “We are truly sorry if we have offended anyone with this piece, this was of course never our intention,” Ida Ståhlnacke, a press representative for the brand, said in a statement.

“At H&M we want to offer the latest within fashion and trends and we continuously listen to our customers requests. The last seasons we have seen an increasing demand on jumpsuits and therefore we currently offer a selection of jumpsuits in different colors and materials, such as denim blue and deep red. The jumpsuit in question is made in a light and comfortable material and is a part of a larger collection consisting of many garments in khaki green, which also is one of the trendiest colors this season. The opinions of our customers are very important to us and we will keep this feedback in mind for future collections.”

Still, H&M’s apology may have sparked further backlash. For those who considered the outfit an empowering celebration of Kurdish soldiers, the company’s about-face was more of a slap in the face. “I find it ridiculous that H&M have had to apologize for this,” wrote one Twitter user on Tuesday. “This is the type of mentality that lets kurds down.”

Then there’s the camp that sees this whole jumpsuit controversy as entirely overblown. “The thing is, jumpsuits, unless they’re of the spangly variety, generally are influenced by military wear,” writes Refinery29’s Leeann Duggan. “But, over time, they’ve also evolved into a fashion staple and are now largely divorced from their original connotations, just like denim is no longer a signifier of a Gold Rush prospector or a factory worker. . . Despite any similarities, we see the H&M piece as no more offensive to Kurdish soldiers than a pea coat would be to a member of the Navy,”

Unlike say, the Urban Outfitters’ Kent State’s sweatshirt, which sparked unequivocal widespread outrage a few weeks ago, it seems like this retail controversy is a little less cut and dry. Are these jumpsuits offensive or emboldening? Are they actually making a political statement? Are they just another example of a cultural imprint on fashion? If you’re in the market for a fall jumpsuit, that may just be something you have to answer for yourself.

(Images via H&M and Twitter)

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