This article was supposed to be about sweatpants.
PINK ones, to be exact. If you are a college-aged female, and took notice of the all CAPS, I am quite certain you know I am not talking about the color. I am referring to the less-than-sexy clothing line PINK by Victoria’s Secret, which is geared towards women between the ages of 15-22.
When the line was first created in 2002, I felt offended to see young women walking around in blue sweatpants with the word PINK stitched into the loose-fitting ass area. At the time—I was still quite young then, not yet out of college—I was less disturbed by the seemingly “I am stupid and proud” nature of the stamp that these girls were willingly flaunting than I was about the fact that the color they were exhibiting was blue, not pink.
How dare they diminish the credibility of words!
(Note: At that moment in my life, I also would have checked the box next to the statement that I was more offended by the grammar of “Your a bitch” as opposed to the message itself, which is a question I recently came across on a dating site. Now that I’m in my 30s, and a bit more in touch with my identification as a woman, I checked the latter, hoping that the site would match me with someone who also agreed that calling a woman a bitch was more troublesome than the omission of an apostrophe. Of course, I do still twinge at the misuse of such words, but the content is more important to me these days).
The irony, though, of women publicly sporting sweatpants with an incorrect name tag seemed like a less-than-interesting exploration in comparison to some of the other trends I found in researching for this article, trends that have made feminists, artists, parents and writers alike squirm like first time thong-wearers.
ATTRACTING THE YOUNG
To give credit where credit is deserved, PINK is not an overly risqué line. According to Morgan Maloney, an employee of Victoria’s Secret, “PINK is marketed as a fun, flirty, and comfy brand which is relatively PG/PG-13.”
Their intent, though, is to hook young girls early, assuming their taste will mature as their bodies do, said Maloney.
In our interview, Maloney further described what to expect when you walk into a PINK store: You’ll never find something in the store that doesn’t say “PINK”, have the dog silhouette, and/or some witty statement, such as: FRIES BEFORE GUYS, BLAME IT ON THE WEEKEND, THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
That’s cute when you’re 16. Cute, but not sexy.
Victoria’s Secret was not the only lingerie company reaching out to a younger crowd in the early 2000s, a time that called for a needed change within the industry. In 2002, Frederick’s of Hollywood, the warhorse that made millions of dollars on risqué lingerie, was forced to create a new image in order to redeem themselves from bankruptcy. As a result, they changed their target audience.
According to a 2002 New York Times article that was published a week before Frederick’s had to appear before a bankruptcy judge, the company switched its plain packaging to shiny Barbie pink and remodeled its stores with leopard carpeting and red velvet curtains.
Maybe they thought that associating themselves with tangibly soft products would appeal to the inner-child of stuffed animals and miniature-sized women? I’m not sure. Either way, this return to the primal didn’t work.
Just a year ago, the Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie retail operation closed virtually all its stores as it officially entered Chapter 11.
It’s true that Victoria’s Secret is still alive, but not without struggle (as most of us are after the calamity that was Election Day). This year, Victoria’s Secret has only one month of growth so far (February). This is an uncharacteristic slump for the brand. As a result, they did something of a large overhaul.
“Maybe they thought that associating themselves with tangibly soft products would appeal to the inner-child of stuffed animals and miniature-sized women? I’m not sure. Either way, this return to the primal didn’t work.”
They let go of their swimwear and clothing departments, and decided to exclusively focus on lingerie, beauty, and athletics/loungewear. Physical catalogues will fall to the wayside for solely a digital at-home purchase.
According to Maloney, these changes were due to the fact that adults and the young alike weren’t buying their suits or outfits. Millennials are the their targets, she said, and they are, fortunately, more interested in body positivity than they are in Kate Moss.
Unlike Victoria’s Secret, many of their competitors understood their changing clientele and adapted accordingly.
Remember what Abercrombie was like in 2006? Their look books were borderline pornographic and it was near impossible to determine what they were selling. Walk into an Abercrombie today, it looks like it was made for Instagram and the common Pacific-Northwest-dreamer.
“The most change Victoria’s Secret has made in recent years (prior to this overhaul) is to sell more bras with little-to-no padding because having boobs up to your chin isn’t stylish anymore,” said Maloney.
PICTURING THE UNREAL
One of their direct competitors, Aerie, a subsidiary of American Eagle, started a whole new campaign a few years ago called “Aerie Real,” in which none of their models are photoshopped. They encouraged consumers to show how they’re “Aerie Real”, enforcing an #aeriereal hastag for social media.
Victoria’s Secret, on the other hand, still markets an unattainable reality, i.e. a digitally manipulated woman who couldn’t possible exist in the real world. Morgan explains:
“While I was working there last fall, an ad came out for their “cheeky” underwear where a model’s butt cheek crease was photoshopped right off like a piece of lean meat. This photo was even in our store, on marketing displays.” (As a photographer and woman, I realize there are ways that the body moves and looks different depending on its position and the position of the camera, but this was clearly a photoshop mistake).
Image courtesy of Morgan Maloney
Last week, though, Victoria’s Secret put out an image of one of their “Angels” Jasmine Tookes; it appears that they didn’t photoshop out her stretch marks.
It will be interesting to see if this image pushes the company forward to embrace the real, said Maloney.
A few years ago, FORCE, a feminist art activist group, called out for Victoria’s Secret to use their popularity as a way to bring awareness to the real, specifically issues concerning consent and sex.
In order to bring these issues into mainstream conversation, and as a push to make consent sexy, the group organized a prank in which they hacked the social media accounts of Victoria’s Secret and promoted consent-themed slogans on underwear.
(FYI: Another recent FORCE project includes a hoax in which they tricked the internet into believing that Playboy had released an updated anti-rape party school guide dubbed, “The Ultimate Guide to a Consensual Good Time.” FORCE is currently working on The Monument Quilt, a public healing space by and for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence).
According to FORCE, by the time women in the United States graduate from college, one in four will have been raped.
After the hoax went viral, the Victoria’s Secret Facebook pages were flooded with “I heart consent” posts. Excited campus reps were retweeting pinklovesconsent.com, and the “pink hearts” at pinknation.com were declaring their love for “open sex talk.”
One employee tweeted: “I am so happy to currently have a job for a company that stands for something so beautiful!! @LoveConsent #victoriassecret #loveconsent”
High school students tweeted “I’m loving the new @LoveConsent! Victoria’s secret goes feminist!” At the outset, 100 young facebook users were in one the prank.
Victoria’s Secret could easily incorporate something like this into their marketing, especially for PINK, a line that has a special college collection for famous large universities such as UCLA, Penn State, Texas A&M, Syracuse and Villanova.
But, they didn’t bite. Instead, Victoria’s Secret tried to sue, but had no grounds considering FORCE was not selling products, they were selling an idea, one that could have been the change needed to save their photoshopped face as well as the confidence of millions of college-aged females.