top of page

Promiscuity in Fashion: A Statement by Neha Avadhani

Fishnets, short skirts, lingerie, bodycon dresses, tight jeans, sports bras. We’ve gone through many iterations of what it means to be promiscuous in fashion. In the 90s it was bikini tops and low rise jeans, metallic chainmail dresses and lucite wedges, neon makeup and belly button piercings that came with the rave culture. In the 2000s we saw halter tops and strapless dresses, bodysuits and short shorts. But overall, showing skin, flaunting sex appeal, and embracing your body has been called promiscuous. And it’s grown to be embraced.

Telling women what they can and can’t wear has long been a form of oppression, so it’s no surprise that

reclamation of that has come with the idealization of promiscuous fashion. Underwear brands have tried to frame sex as empowerment and empowerment as sex. Agent Provocateur used athletes like Georgia-Mae Fenton and Sasha DiGiulian in their ads this year to market promiscuity as strength, and it’s working. Activist movements have adopted this too. MeToo has embraced women’s marches in lingerie and before that we saw the impact of controversial SlutWalks, to call attention to rape culture, making the statement that nomatter how promiscuous she seems, her consent is what matters.

Going beyond the political implications of promiscuity, some of it is just plain fun. Yes, sex sells, which is why the Bottega Veneta SS20 campaign used models in nothing but shoes. But that isn’t the only reason these moments in fashion have been so embraced. There is something to be said about feeling self-expression in a bodycon dress or a sheer skirt. It lends itself to the idea that feeling attractive isn’t about anyone but yourself. That can explain the American Apparel leggings in the late 90s just as much as the latex bodysuits in Saint Laurent Fall 2020. It’s about having a sense of agency.

Unfortunately, with that agency has come harmful stories of the kind of woman who exercises it. Allegations that being promiscuous is an expression of insecurity and a means of seeking validation have risen with empowerment, and only serve to tear down the very concept of free choice. Claims that promiscuity in fashion serve only to capture attention and have the intentions of some Odyssey-like siren on the rocks because of deep-seated ‘daddy issues’ is a damaging narrative.

There is also another double standard of body size. Seeing Karlie Kloss in a strapless little dress is acceptable; it’s empowering. But seeing Lizzo in a swimsuit isn’t? Barbara Palvin is sexy and elegant in her underwear campaigns but Ashley Graham is disgusting for posing nude? The sheer Likira Matoshi strawberry dress is delicate and feminine on Isabelle Chaput and Avery Mayeur, but on Tess Holliday it’s enough to garner a spot on a worst-dressed list? Promiscuity can’t only be acceptable on skinny bodies. As Lizzo said, we have to “make space for [her]. Make space for this generation of artists who are really fearless in self-love. They're out here. They want to be free.” And it’s this that matters. The ability to live in freedom, to live in choice.

Fashion has never agreed on what is truly empowering. We can argue if the commodification of female empowerment is actually a good thing. But overall I think we can agree that whether acceptance of promiscuity in fashion is real or just rebranded, it’s powerful. Dressing this way isn’t a representation of character. It isn’t a reduction of humanity. Whether or not you find promiscuous fashion empowering, some do, and that self-expression is what fashion is always about, modest or otherwise.

12 views0 comments
bottom of page