Freedom of expression, especially in fashion, is a great thing. But it can lead to freedom of stupidity. Urban Outfitters was recently called out by critics for a tapestry that was reminiscent of the clothing gay prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps.
“Whether intentional or not, this gray and white striped pattern and pink triangle combination is deeply offensive and should not be mainstreamed into popular culture,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who urged Urban Outfitters to stop selling the item.
This isn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters has drawn criticism for selling insensitive items. But they are not alone. Large apparel brands such as Zara and Gap have also been called out for creating offensive clothes. The worst part is that a simple Google search (or a basic knowledge of history) could have prevented the garments from ever being produced. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being not dumb.
Here is a recent history of some of the most offensive items.
ZARA SHERIFF SHIRT
The fast fashion retailer said that the star and stripes pattern on this children’s (yes, children’s) shirt was inspired by sheriffs’ uniforms in old western movies. If that’s what helps them sleep at night, O.K., but anyone with the slightest knowledge of history will instantly recognize this shirt as reminiscent of those worn by Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.
SEARS SWASTIKA RING
To be fair, Sears didn’t directly produce this jewelry. It was posted on a company site for third-party sellers. The third-party, CET Domain, promoted the ring by saying, “These jewelry items are going to make you look beautiful at your next dinner date.” I suppose that’s true if you’re on a date with Marilyn Manson’s character on *Sons of Anarchy.“
GAP MANIFEST DESTINY SHIRT
"Hey, I got an idea for a T-shirt, let’s give a shout-out to the philosophy that led the U.S. to forcefully remove Native Americans from their land and massacre scores of indigenous people.” Hopefully, that isn’t what designers at Gap were thinking when they released this T-shirt in collaboration with GQ, but the design displays about as much sensitivity as Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
ZARA “WHITE IS THE NEW BLACK” SHIRT
The tone deafness required to sign off on a shirt like this is tough to fathom. Sure, “[insert thing] is the new black,” is a popular phrase that spawned the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black. But there aren’t orange people (fake-tanned celebrities excluded). To not pick up on the racial undertones of this shirt is just stupid.
AMERICAN APPAREL TEENAGERS DO IT BETTER SHIRT
This is creepy, even by American Apparel standards, which is really saying something. The company founded by ousted CEO and sexual harasser Dov Charney sold this pro-pedophilia shirt in 2011. It was part of a collaboration with Ey Magateen magazine which celebrates “the magnificent vitality, energy and power of young male adulthood,” which makes it even skeevier.
URBAN OUTFITTERS VINTAGE KENT STATE SWEATSHIRT
In 1970, Ohio National Guard members opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State, killing four of them, in what became a defining moment of the anti-war movement. So when Urban Outfitters sold a sweatshirt with stains that looked like blood (and they definitely looked like blood despite the company’s statement that they were “discoloration from the original shade of the shirt” and “part of our sun-faded vintage collection”), people were understandably pissed.
ADIDAS JS ROUNDHOUSE MID SNEAKERS
Shackles are not a good way of adding ankle support to sneakers. These kicks from the mind of designer Jeremy Scott were criticized for being racially insensitive, much in the same way as Charles Barkley’s 2002 Sports Illustrated cover. Even though it was argued that the sneakers were a reference to the 1990s cartoon My Pet Monster, the fact that executives at the sneaker company didn’t pick up on the alternative interpretation is tough to excuse.
URBAN OUTFITTERS EAT LESS SHIRT
We’re not trying to gang up on Urban Outfitters here, but the company seems to keep finding new ways to appear clueless. This 2011 T-shirt celebrated eating disorders. There are so many other things to celebrate on T-shirts—like sports and being with stupid—why give props to anorexia?