Clothes Maketh the Man: Fashion & Insensitivity

This week has not been a good week for the fashion world as far as I’m concerned. For all those catwalk enthusiasts I am not talking about high fashion. In fact understanding fashion continues to elude me. No, I am talking about the clothes we wear everyday. The clothes we buy on the hight street. For high street brands it has been a week of insensitivity.

For those of you who are confused about my rant allow me to clarify. I was shocked and upset to discover Amazon is selling a t-shirt made by MegaCotton retailer entitled suicide watch (marvel at the insensitivity here). The t-shirt, sold in a variety of colours *note sarcasm*, depicts a cartoon man with popcorn watching someone attempting suicide by placing a noose around his neck. This is not funny. Not in the least. Not even a little bit. It makes me wonder what kind of person came up with this incredibly dark design. Which staff at MegaCotton thought this was an appropriate piece of artwork to be used in any medium, who at Amazon thought it was okay to sell this offensive piece of clothing? Who are these people? How dark is their sense of humour and quite frankly how insensitive are they?

This piece of fashion raises two questions and points to a two-pronged problem within our society. Firstly, what is wrong with people that think this is ok? Secondly, if they don’t realise there is a problem with this design this points to a worrying level of ignorance about mental health and the very real illnesses that can lead to suicide. One of the many ongoing struggles in the world of mental health is gaining recognition that mental illness is precisely that, an illness. No-one would ever suggest that staying in bed with a broken leg was lazy, so why say that about depression. No-one would make a t-shirt of an audience watching a person with lung disease suffer. You would never say ‘it’s just cancer get over it’ (see the advert here).

The enduring question in today’s world is why don’t we take mental health and illness seriously. We all have our mental health and we all need to look after it. With the Office of National Statistics reporting that 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and 1 in 6 experiences at any given time; this is a very real problem. This being the case why are we still hearing people claiming mental health isn’t real. Why did MegaCotton and Amazon think selling this t-shirt was ok. Why did Asda and Tesco sell mental health patients halloween costumes that they withdrew and admitted “should never have been sold and it was withdrawn as soon as it was brought to our attention.” (read full article here)

This was not the only fashion faux pas that occured this week. A good friend of mine, and an aspiring journalist, asked my thoughts on H&Ms new scarf which is almost identical to a Jewish prayer shawl or tallit (see here). Seeing people’s thoughts on social media revealed that some in the Jewish community recieved this new piece of fashion light-heartedly whilst others saw H&M treading on religious and cultural symbols. Although the scarf is not outwardly offensive like the Suicide Watch t-shirt it belongs in the list of culturally controversial fashion blunders. Another for the list was a child’s sheriff top withdrawn by Zara (here). This t-shirt was white and blue striped with a big yellow star, you could hardly avoid seeing the Holocaust parallels.

The question at hand here is the same as the question I posed above. Were designers aware of the parallels but thought that it was ok to release an item without taking into account the feelings of a community? This points to a definite lack of insensitivity. Or were the designers in fact ignorant to the parallels, pointing at a lack of cultural awareness of various communities. These clothes speak as a mouthpiece for cultural insesnitiviy and ignorance and this has got to change.

Whether mistakenly or no Amazon needs to stop selling the Suicide Watch t-shirt. Meanwhile, MegaCotton needs to seriously think about the fact that it let this t-shirt be made in the first place. These decisions call into question the integrity of the company. As for H&M this is up to the public to decide. Will it withdraw it’s scarf as Zara withdrew the sheriff top and Tesco & Asda withdrew the offensive Halloween costumes. Only time will tell. Either way, to my mind the fashion industry needs to stop and think about the messages it’s clothes send. Until such time as the next fashion offense you will find me keeping tabs on the fashion world.

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