Wardrobe Malfunction


A wardrobe malfunction is accidental exposure of intimate parts. It is different from indecent exposure or flashing, as the latter ones imply a deliberate exposure. There has been a long history of such incidents, though the term itself was coined in the mid-2000s and has become one of the most common fashion faux pas. In everyday context it often happens as a ‘nipple slip’ to women and is relatively common, but wardrobe malfunction suggests a public event or performance, particularly when there are allegations that it was deliberately staged for publicity reasons.

The American Dialect Society defines it as ‘an unanticipated exposure of bodily parts.’ Global Language Monitor, which tracks usage of words on the internet and in newspapers worldwide, identified the term as the top Hollywood contribution to English in 2004, surpassing words like ‘girlie men’ and ‘Yo!’

The term is credited as having been coined by singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, on February 1, 2004, to explain the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy wherein Jackson’s right breast was briefly exposed. After the incident, the term ‘wardrobe malfunction’ appeared in numerous stories in major US consumer and business publications, newspapers, and major TV and radio broadcasts. Journalist Eric Alterman described the incident as ‘the most famous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ since Lady Godiva.’

The American Dialect Society had a number of related terms for Word of the year nominations in 2004, including ‘Janet moment’ (unplanned bodily exposure at a public function), ‘boobgate’ (scandal over Janet Jackson’s exposed breast), ‘nipplegate’ (mentioned in the squawk over Jackson’s nipple ring), and ‘wardrobe malfunction’ (overexposure in a mammary way). The term has been translated into other languages to describe similar incidents, including ‘garderobedefect’ (Dutch), ‘incident de garde-robe’ (French), ‘disfunzione del guardaroba’ (Italian), and ‘mal funcionamiento del guardarropa’ (Spanish).

In ‘DJing for Dummies,’ John Steventon describes a range of wardrobe malfunctions from a revelation of butt cleavage to visible panty lines. In some US cities, low hanging pants and whale tail flashing (thong exposed over the top of pants or skirts) are considered wardrobe malfunctions and are a school dress code issue. Bikinis also present celebrity wardrobe malfunction opportunities to the paparazzi in the form of wedgies or bikini-top malfunctions.

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