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Fashion Bullying - You Aren't What You Wear...

Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega and Charisse Nixon...But try telling that to a 'tween or teen girl today. A recent Wall Street Journal article, Fashion Bullies Attack - In Middle School, focused on a dimension of adolescent bullying that is becoming more widespread. I have heard of it, but didn't realize how serious and pervasive it is. The article describes a fashion-aware mother who purchased items from high-end designers Dolce & Gabanna, Juicy Couture and Seven for All Mankind for her sixth-grade daughter. Unfortunately, girls in her daughter's class informed her that she was not wearing the "right" clothes. So what is driving this new heightened awareness of designer labels in such a young crowd?

The Journal article cites designers targeting the child and teen market in the last few years, creating lines for kids and including more affordable pieces and accessories for this market. Teen magazines and TV have also increased designer-brand recognition. My teen niece regularly quotes Stacy London on the TV show What Not To Wear: when I was her age, it was Glamour magazine and their infamous fashion Dos and Don'ts. Both underscore the importance of getting it right and elevating a fashion misstep to a critical life decision.

Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., Professor of Humanities and Women's Studies at Penn State University wrote the ground-breaking book Surviving Ophelia, which explored issues of development in teen girls. Dellasega is credited with labeling girl bullying as "relational aggression" and her book, Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying targets this troubling trend. In November's issue of her e-zine, Club Ophelia, Dellasega addresses fashion bullying and includes a revealing story shared by teen who was both a participant and victim of fashion bullying. Here's an excerpt from her story:

At lunchtime, my friends would talk about where they shopped and what outfits they liked. They would make fun of girls who didn't wear the same clothing they did. I would join in the taunts and conversations even though, secretly, I was one of those girls. My parents didn't have much money, unlike my friends. My mom and dad could not afford to buy me expensive clothing and shoes.

Although I didn't witness acts of fashion bullying at the small high school where I worked, I often heard about it from girls who talked with me about stressful situations. I assured them they were not unique, that many other girls could not afford to dress in designer-wear. To see if you have been bullied, take the following quiz, Are You Being Bullied? Or take this quiz if you suspect you have bullied others, Are You a Bully?

I asked guidance counselor Tammy Breymaier (grades 4-6th) how girls might handle fashion bullying. She shared a recent conversation with a 'tween,

Today, I had a girl who was wearing her brother’s basketball shoes because
she couldn’t find her shoes this morning. When questioned about it, she
responded with the explanation and 'Is that a problem for you?' She
exhibited confidence and an attitude that would make someone think twice as to
whether they would place judgment on her again.

Back when I was a teen, I remember feeling so sorry for those girls in parochial school who had to wear school uniforms - the long, (below their knees!!) pleated, navy skirts and "boring" cardigans. Private school attendees today tell me they like the ease of the uniforms - no big struggle figuring out what to wear each day. Now, I can see the rationale - the uniformity of dress allows the person to shine through.

Nancy L


  1. I'm glad to see this topic come to the fore, but puzzled why it's being treated as something new. Fashion and brand bullies were common in my teen and pre-teen days and I'm almost 41!

    These girls learned to behave this way from their mothers, who shunned the girls who shopped at Sears and K-Mart and ridiculed the ones who didn't wear Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Candie's (around 1980), or didn't dress in Izods and Bass penny loafers ('82-'83).

    And it goes back farther than that. I remember my mother being furious that I refused to wear a JC Penney brand polo with a fox on it (I would've been crucified!) when she herself told me of walking the halls of her high school in the 1950s and having girls sneak up behind her to turn down the collar of her sweater to make sure it was the "right kind."

    This kind of behavior goes way back, especially in urban areas where advertising has always been most pervasive.

  2. Bunnygirl:

    You're absolutely right - this isn't a new phenomenon by any means. Lately, though, it seems that the dollar amount of "fitting in" has become astronomical. I couldn't afford to dress like this even if I wanted to!

    And you are also correct in that we need to be really careful as adults what message we are sending by our own "snobby" ideas.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. I agree bullying, and even fasion bullying has always been around and yes sometimes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. "Relational Aggression" (female bullying) among women has changed the culture of sisterhood and we've (girls/women) become our own "best enemy" instead of BFF. Girls can be catty, form social alliances and have "fashion rules" that totally go against what we are all created for and that is connection. Change begins in the heart and an ability to emapthize with others( wheather they choose to dress differently or can't afford to dress "right" ). Together we can begin to help one girl at a time to step it up and stand firm for the sisterhood, after all "everyone else is taken, work on being yourself!"

    Allyson Bowen, LISW-CP
    Co-Author of "Mean Girls: 101 1/2 Creative Strategies and Activities for Working with Relational Aggression."


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