Forever 21’s Fashioning of National Bodies

In Nancy J. Parezo’s “The Indian Fashion Show,” we learn that Douglas designed the Indian Fashion Show “to promote interracial understanding” (Parezo, 245).  Douglas was able to accomplish this as he provided women with “new images of themselves as Indian princesses” and legitimized that image in the Indian Fashion Show (Parezo, 262).  Similarly to Douglas, many fashion directors try to present images of white women wearing attire that is not necessarily associated with American or European fashion in order to convince audiences that these images are “new, unique, and desirable” (Parezo, 263). 

 This notion is certainly manifested by the fashion directors working for Forever 21.  The Forever 21 website, which allows customers to browse through all of the clothes and make purchases online, features mostly (if not only) white models.  Naturally, all of the models on the Forever 21 website are also tall, thin, and pretty.  This specific look of the Forever 21 models affirms the assertion that the fashion industry endeavors to provide white women with images of themselves wearing the clothing that the company is trying to sell in order to increase profits.  Even though most American women’s appearance does not resemble that of the models’ on the Forever 21 website, the fashion directors at Forever 21 still appear to be fashioning national bodies. 

In essence, the fashion industry knows that despite this noticeable discrepancy in looks between American women and the models of Forever 21,many American women will still view images of these models as “new images of themselves” in different clothing.  The fashion industry understands that women will then want to buy the clothes the models are wearing because the images are “new, unique, and desirable.”  Some of the models on the Forever 21 website are modeling “tribal” clothing, or clothing that is typically associated with a particular culture or ethnicity.  This further demonstrates how fashion directors at Forever 21 are fashioning national bodies.  

Discussion Questions:

-Do you agree that Forever 21’s featuring of mostly white models is a way of fashioning national bodies?

-What are other reasons that Forever 21 features mainly white models?

-What do you think about the current tribal trend?

-What is the main purpose of Forever 21’s fashioning of national bodies? Is it pure economic interest or something more significant?

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7 thoughts on “Forever 21’s Fashioning of National Bodies

  1. Portraying only thin, white, females on the Forever 21 website offers a commentary on the demographic they are targeting. I believe they are fashioning a national body by indirectly indicating how the clothes look best. The models represent a “hanger” for the clothes. They typically have no shape or curve to them, so the clothes hang as if they do on a hanger. If the clothes were presented on an actual hanger on the website, young girls would be less likely to buy them. Young women identify with the models, and believe the product will “hang” the same way on them. I feel featuring only white, thin, females is a “safety net” for Forever 21. White models are the most common in the fashion industry, and therefore it appears Forever 21 believes the consumer will focus more upon the clothing on a white female because they have become accustomed to seeing white female models. Thus, they aid in furthering the concept of fashioning a national body.

    • I agree that Forever 21 is staying safe by only featuring white, thin, female models. As we have learned in class, Forever 21 is not a store that is known for its unique clothing or ideas. Their clothing is often just designs stolen from other smaller designers. They make clothing is mass quantities and are constantly changing the clothing in their stores according to the current trends. For this reason, I think Forever 21 is simply following the crowd by featuring the typical heteronormative ideal in their advertisements. Like most department stores, the majority of their models are setting an unrealistic ideal for teenagers. Because most Americans do not look like the Forever 21 models and other models featured in advertisements, the standard they are setting can be harmful.

      Also, I agree that they are targeting a certain demographic. Targeting white females who are likely to shop at Forever 21 is the most beneficial, which is why they would focus on having them as models. Forever 21 is showing that they feel as if this is what the national body should look like by only showing one type of model. They are not representing the diversity in the United States and are therefore not acknowledging the different types of bodies that could represent our nation.

  2. I feel that the thing with American society is that we like to commercialize other peoples’ customs. By taking something that’s theirs and westernizing it and turning it “white” it has found a new superficial owner. What’s the reasoning, besides demographics, for these clothes on only white bodies? If the clothes were put on models of color, or more specifically, on Native-Americans, would it imply the same message of “style” or trend?
    There’s the saying that “sex sells” but what I’m realizing more usually is the idea that “white sells”.
    I just see this current tribal trend as a way of dominating other cultures through means of borrowed ownership.

  3. It has been noticeably apparent that many sites feature models that look like the “ideal” American representation of beauty. Companies like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, find white, tall, thin, models this ideal as well. I personally don’t think that only white models are a great way to fashion national bodies. Mainly because as you have stated they aren’t majority of national bodies. I believe there may be some validity in featuring white models when it comes to visual aesthetics. Not only are these models white, but they are often very fair skinned, and often plain looking with straight brown hair. This leads me to believe that these models draw less attention to the model and more attention to the clothing. I believe women of color, or even pigmented white women, are made to look exotic, thus more focus would be on the beauty of the model rather than the clothing. The tribal trend can directly correlate to this. To feature a model of the tribal decent may be seen as racist or demeaning. To dress and Asian model in a kimono inspired top, amongst white models in graphic tee’s and shorts seems a bit risky speaking for a public relations standpoint.

    cool post

  4. Personally I think by Forever 21 exclusively featuring white models in their ads wearing tradition looking Native American clothing denotes the importance of the Native American culture. I don’t think that Forever 21 was trying to denote Native American culture, I believe they were simply trying to be fashionable, however that’s what it does by not only mostly featuring white models adorned in this type of clothing, but no Native American models are pictured in any of the ads. I feel that even id black models were used exclusively, or Asian or Latino models, it would still denote the Native American culture because some of the pieces that Forever 21 is presenting as casual wear, are actually considered sacred pieces of clothing in certain Native American tribes.

    I personally don’t have a huge problem with the current tribal trend, I’ve worn pieces from the trend and I definitely wear clothing that is heavily influenced by other cultures however I do take precaution as to what I am wearing from a culture that I may not know much about because I don’t want to be disrespectful to that culture of people. I like pieces from the tribal trend because it simplifies fashion in a sense.

    I think Forever 21 fashioning national bodies is an ethnic interest thing. I don’t think that Forever 21 is headed by racist individuals who are trying to subliminally denote national cultures, however lie every company, business, especially on a scale as large as Forever 21, people and ethnic groups will be offended from time to time. I don’t think they target any particular ethnic group either, many many different cultures have been offended by Forever 21’s clothing selection, i think it more has to do with a bad idea being put into action on Forever 21’s executive end.

  5. Forever 21 and many other companies continuously represent non-American cultures in a way that will appeal more to the target group. The target group in most cases is the Caucasian female. I believe the reason for their decisions to have only white models is due primarily because of that goal. As we have seen throughout time, fashion has been constantly changing. This makes designers and clothing companies want to go out and discover new possible trends. This can have negative and positive consequences. The positive are that they take “ethnic or culturally different” looking garments and sell it to the white public, which will increase that company’s profit. On the negative side, this can take away the actual cultural significance that garment or design had previously. For example, the clip on ugly Betty came to mind when speaking about fashioning national bodies. You can clearly see the differences between the white woman’s poncho compared to Bettys. It was obvious that Betty’s poncho had a more traditional appearance not only because of the material it was made of but in how she wore it a well. Betty’s body type did not make the poncho appear fashionable.

  6. After I read your post, I went on the Forever 21 website if the models were all Caucasian. I had been on the website before, but I had never really paid attention to the ethnicity of the models. I knew that they all looked like the typical model-tall, skinny and pretty. I do think that Forever 21 is targeting a specific demographic. By featuring white, tall models they are trying to get the attention of white consumers. Of course not every looks like the typical model, but we as consumers find it more attractive to see the clothing on a certain body type. I think that Forever 21 features white models because that is who they want to target and how they think they will make their profit. I also agree that Forever 21 has a lot of ethnic clothing which I thought was interesting because the models who wear this clothing on the website are not of that certain ethnicity. I think that this is just a strategy that the company uses to make money and to get more consumers to buy their clothing. I definitely don’t think that this is an accident that the majority of the models on their website are white.

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