Looking Bad Is The New Looking Good

Here’s an advertising trend that comes up every now and then: putting glamorous apparel on models made to look sad/greasy/hostile. I’m stumped by this. Why would it help sell an outfit to show that outfit on a person who looks miserable? There must be a method to this madness, or so many designers wouldn’t be doing it. But what? What’s the thinking?

To get my head around the idea, I tried to envision how each of these ads came to be, by imagining a conversation among these characters:

Ad Exec: Mike
Photographer: Steve
Models: Zelda, Daphne, Marcia, Lisette, Brenda, Chloe and Babs
(* None of these are the real people’s names, obviously. They’re just people I’m making up in my head.)

* * *

Celine

Mike: So Zelda, what we’re going for here is warmth of coat, coldness of heart, OK?

Steve: That’s right. Zelda, give us a look that says, “I fucking hate this navy scarf and my ex-husband who gave it to me.”

Zelda: Got it. Can you guys get the lighting a little more harsh? Let’s see if we can create the effect of bags under my eyes, symbolizing the baggage we all carry through life.

Mike: Zelda, you are a genius.

* * *

Prada

Steve: Mike, I don’t feel like this is going to work. The client wants “anemic, angry, and disheveled,” but Daphne here is just too damned attractive and perky.

Mike: You’re right, Steve. Here, let’s comb some salad dressing through her hair.

Daphne: What the SHIT, you guys?

Steve: YES. Get MAD, Daphne. THAT’S the look we want!

* * *

StellaMcCartneyMarcia: Um, this jacket is like four sizes too big.

Mike: Zip it, Marcia. We have a strategy here.

Marcia: Zip it? There’s no zipper.

Steve: He means “zip it” like shut up.

Marcia: You guys are mean.

Mike: Get in the pool, Marcia.

Marcia: Wha-?

Mike: GET IN THE POOL, MARCIA.

* * *

Zadig & Voltaire

Mike: So, Steve, what the company wants here is to reach the audience of women who bite their nails, cut their own hair with yard shears, and perform home perms on themselves.

Steve: Because those are the women most likely to wear red pantsuits?

Mike: Exactly.

Steve: Lisette, can you cover up all that exquisite bone structure with your bangs, maybe put your hands up in front of your face, too?

Lisette: I think so. How’s this?

Steve: Slap my grandmother, that’s perfect.

* * *

Barneys

Steve: Mike, I can’t work with Brenda. She’s too human.

Brenda: I don’t have to be human. I could be an inanimate object.

Mike: A day late and a dollar short, Brenda. Get out.

Brenda: Fuck you guys. [leaves the room]

Mike: Well, Steve – what are we going to do now?

Steve: I’m going to bring in this freaky life-size marionette instead. See?

Mike: I love it! This works out great, Steve, because as you know, this brand is really looking to target women who identify with giant-faced, creepy-eyed, disjointed wooden puppets.

* * *

Marc Jacobs

Steve: Wow, Chloe and Babs, you two are beautiful.

Chloe: Yeah, we get that a lot.

Babs: Honestly, it’s kind of a curse.

Steve: Well, let’s see what we can do about that. Both of you, close your eyes, take these scissors, and cut your hair. Make sure you leave about 5 inches in the back. Great. Now, rub this Vaseline on your heads. Perfect. OK, Chloe, give me a look that says, “My dad ran over my puppy.”

Chloe: Like this?

Steve: Perfect. Now, Babs, I want you to give me your best open-mouthed, double-chinned, borderline mentally disturbed look.

Babs: Like this?

Steve: No, more.

Babs: Lahk dis?

Steve: Bingo

Mike: We’re all going to be billionaires, people. This is cash money on the table, right here.

So remember this fashion lesson, folks: You’re never fully dressed without a simmering glower.

* * *

PS: If this is your kind of thing, you might also enjoy some tips on how to live the J. Crew lifestyle, or perhaps some seasonal fashion advice picked up from magazine ads.

* * *

In other news…

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 8.20.03 AM

I recently found out that The Random Penguins will be among the work of 30 artists (or, as the case may be, 29 artists plus me, an imposter who makes crude penguin drawings) featured in a special holiday collection at Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta, thanks to an organization called Spotlight on Art. This will probably mean a few new packages of stationery/notecards in the works. I’ll keep you posted. Yay!

 

logo-global-babble

Big thanks to Babble (and Fadra Nally) for including this site on their list of “10 Bloggers You Should Know About.”

I’m crazy-grateful for the support, friends. Thank you very much.

 

UPDATES:

Thank you so much to BlogHer for selecting this post in naming me a Voice of the Year for humor for the second year in a row. Wow! I really appreciate it.

And big thanks to WordPress.com for featuring this post on Freshly Pressed!

376 comments

  1. Aaaahhhhhhhhhhh! The marionette is creepy! I read the story behind it and one of the comments was, “She looks so real and fresh.” No, wooden puppets on strings do not look real or fresh. That is why they are creepy.

    And the one in the swimming pool is just stupid.

  2. I always save reading your posts until I get to work. I literally laugh out loud in my office! Babs and Marcia are my faves! Thanks for being the humor that jump starts my day!! Now I can crack into my email.

  3. Oh my god THANK YOU for bringing up that weird looking Marc Jacobs ad. I cut that out of a magazine and sent that to my partner as a laugh, as it was so ridiculous – not exactly caring about selling the clothes, just freaking out readers. Strange.

  4. Woah! It’s like you were in the bathroom with me while I thoroughly read over Lucky Magazine! I kept wondering if it was photoshop on the models or leftover slime from Nickelodeon and if the latter was the case, did the models get to keep the ruined clothing? Because who else would wear them? Well, stalkers of the models, I suppose. And museums might want them. So, no, the models probably had to give up their gooed-up gear. Sad.
    Zelda’s going to go far, though.
    Babs looks more like one of my friends. Most of us make that face. Unintentionally, thinking it’s a smile.

  5. This was great fun to read…very creative! It’s sad to think that young women all over the world will copy these grotesque images in their own style and manner. Hopefully this new “look” will disappear quickly along with the “crotch to the knees” pants!

  6. Fashion counter culture. Why should one always look good? This is a reflection on how women are sick of being abused and sexualized and women here are tired of being pretty dolls and are dressing down. The industry supports this new look, if women feel safer.

  7. Oh my goodness! I love this blog. The Marc Jacobs photo looks like a facebook selfie after a LONG night. I started following your blog after reading only one entry. This was hilarious and smart!

  8. Ha! I was like, “That red pantsuit is kinda awesome.”– then I read your notes… I totally bite my nails, cut my own hair (might as well be with yard shears), but no home perms yet. . . This was hysterical.😀

  9. Love the Prada one – she looks like she just got out of a tussle to save her fur, maybe got thrown into a pool in the process. Very insightful – why DOES the fashion industry to this?

  10. I’m really happy to notice that I’m not alone asking myself where the pretty models are? Since when greasy is the new black? Loved reading your post!!

  11. It’s a good observation. The models today don’t even have beautiful faces, I think they choose the ugly ones on purpose🙂 Not even mentioning sometimes they almost look like they have deformed bodies, in strange poses.

  12. This is brilliant. The Prada one looks like she’s just run away from her parents for making her tidy her room, it’s raining and she’s just landed at the bus stop -.and just happens to be wearing the most expensive clothes she’ll ever own!

  13. I’m with you on this one… it is weird, where is the artistic talent that photographers always profess to posses?
    Perhaps the models had to pay for the items they are wearing, then realised that they don’t want to pay that much for that item – perhaps it is a real life representation of how you feel when you have just spent a fortune on very average clothes and realise that you have just been shafted!

    I’d far rather look at pretty people on a beach or a mountain having fun!

  14. Brilliant! ) The logic, though, is simple. If you look more or less ok in this garb after a near-death cocaine experience/alco overdose, etc. – you’ll be paying top dollar ’cause you can wear it to the party. I can’t see any other logic ))))

  15. Used to shop for fashion magazines. I stopped, but I reconsider it given the fact your comments would accompany the images! NOW that would bring the fashion industry to a whole new level of approachable fashion.Thanks for opening the “can of worms”, I can finally say; was delicious. Loved your post, looking forward for more laughs.

  16. First off, you are super funny. Really liked reading this. But also, because I am so fascinated by the messages or meanings in ads, I had to consider your original question. I think making women look less beautiful, oddly, is supposed to point to a different kind of beauty, like something more real or raw, something ephemeral. It’s art really, this kind of advertising. That’s why the elite lines use it. I don’t look at the pictures and think about the clothes at all. I think of the feeling of the picture, the lifestyle it evokes. For instance, these woman are so secure, they don’t have to try, they are the epitome of complacent, which is a luxary only the truly wealthy can afford. They can wear an oversized coat in a pool if they want to, and they don’t have to smile for you, they can look grave and severe and cold because they don’t need you, they don’t need anyone, they are whole and complete, if they want to go out into the world with their hair all a mess, they fucking will and they will do it in a $5000 red suit. There are no occasions which require them to smile, smiles are something the poor don to secure their forever threatened but necessary associations. These lady’s are so over the rainbow, they are free to to look like greased rats. Afterall, only the truly liberated can be ugly.

    In the end what the ads are selling is the lifestyles and the transcendent state of the models; the clothes appear ancillary, mere threads connecting us mortals to a mythical world.

  17. Love the pictures. I actually went in for haircut and decided to thumb through a fashion mag, thinking I’d get some ideas. Silly me. I actually saw that stupid girl (there were PAGES of them), wearing those stupid oversized coats. I started laughing out loud, to the chagrin of all the males waiting for their cuts. My husband was with me and when I looked over at him amongst my laughing, he had the most confused, disturbed and somewhat angry look on his face.
    “This is fashion???” He exclaimed. “People pay money for this?”
    This of course just made me laugh more.

    Thanks for bringing this up in a blog. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks the world is going insane.

  18. Thanks for posting. This was an interesting article…maybe designers and marketing are telling us that the bags look better than the consumer, but whatever the message the models really look bad. I like the blackchandelier’s repiy the clothes were so expensive she’s sad now..or I think she fell ill.

  19. I wonder the same thing all the time. Her conversations were dead on. Awesome and so clever! Now some of those girls really aren’t that attractive to begin with, but it does seem that really ugly, awkward, strange is what the fashion world wants these days. Well, I’m certainly not motivated to try a new look now (though I can probably pull of a lot of these if I just don’t wash my hair and stay in my PJs all day. Hey, that may be an idea!

  20. Hilarious! I’ve been wondering about this trend recently. I see that from time to time in magazines where I wonder, “What was the photographer thinking?!?” I love the dialogue for the last photo! “Give me a look that says, ‘My dad ran over my puppy.'” I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this “ugly-up-pretty-models” trend is crazy.

  21. Do me a favor? Would you please put a little disclaimer before your next blog post – something along the lines of “may cause involuntary urination in people over 40, those who have never heard of Kegel exercises, or women who have birthed at least one child. So, slap on your adult diaper and enjoy!”

    Thanks. I’m sending you my dry cleaning bill….

  22. OH my gosh this post made me laugh hilariously out loud. You are completely right! Fashion has been doing this lately in Vogue, Bazaar, and even Elle mags. I love your creativity shown through the conversations under the photos. Your humor really shines through, awesome, thanks for the post. Someone had to say it…….thx yo!

  23. Oh, intelligent views at fashion…I am intrigued. The last on is the best: I’m waiting for drool to drip from the bottom lip. They do look like the village idiots of old… Aspirational!🙂

  24. It reminds me of when I saw an image of a woman’s face for a United Colors of Benetton ad…how does her face represent the brand? Let alone it’s clothing that isn’t even showing? lol
    This was really funny!

  25. “Slap my grandmother, that’s perfect” is officially my new favourite expression! And that Marc Jacobs ad is really weird, I thought adverts were meant to be aspirational?

  26. I’m at work…so I’m trying not to laugh really loudly. This is fantastic. GREAT post, spot on. I mean there’s ugly-pretty and there’s just, Daaaaamn! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  27. I can’t breath, this just made my life xD Thank you SO much for this post. I love fashion and modern fashion (sometimes) but I’ve also wondered why the models look like they got hit by a tornado and punched in the breadbasket. This was just… amazing.

  28. Every time I look at Babs, it cracks me up…even more when I read your commentary. I’m gonna use Vaseline and salad dressing to style my hair from now on. Thanks🙂

  29. well this was really really really funny. I live in the suburbs so never get to see people wearing weird clothes with dark circles around their eyes and salad dressing in their hair. I thought they were just in ‘art’ in fashion magazines. If I dressed like this the keyboard would be a mess. Guess I am a bit too provincial. Great post.

  30. Being so beautiful that you can get away with looking like a sewer rat’s anal region and still be hit upon is called “handicapping.” Because that much raw awesomeness needs to be handicapped in order to be approachable by the rest of us uggos.

    It’s the same principle behind wealthy young people dressing as if someone dropped them naked in a Salvation Army donation bin and then said, “And…go!” Hell, celebrities will dish hundreds of dollars for a T-shirt that’s ripped and stained just right. (Hint: it’s who does the ripping.)

    The rest of us actually button our crotch region, shave things, and wash our hair…it’s like we have something to prove. Oh, right: self- respect.

  31. I relay my thought to you,
    Though I speak not in word direct.
    Art is from the soul,
    Desire and pain and the longing to connect
    Cached in a language most intimate.
    These images speak volumes,
    Do not condemn
    What to you
    Is unclear.

  32. Hmm! It’s like the theory of looking ‘accidently perfect’. Like you’re naturally perfect, but are not too uptight to let your blouse become untucked or your hair a little sloppy.
    By the way I really like the title of your blog. Makes me feel happy🙂

  33. Women should be soft and easy to look at. Not cold and distant. Trying to be too different sometimes is more of a turnoff. Do people really look at store dummies with pleasure.

  34. I just didn’t realise how ‘on trend’ I was….
    My face in repose figures a natural frown/scowl = scrowl.
    Sadly I’m old enough to remember the ‘girl next door’ look, Christie Brinkley et al… those were the days…

  35. Congratulations on being one of the “Voices of the year”. I hope you don’t mind if I follow your blog, I love to read in the morning. A cup of coffee and a good story goes hand in hand🙂

  36. Omg, fabulous. My husband, of all people, even noticed this trend when we passed a billboard on a highway two weeks ago. He never notices this stuff but he immediately asked, “How is being miserable going to sell your brand?” LOL.

  37. Well, the salad dressing was vague, so I went in the kitchen and put Ranch on one side and Italian on the other… OMG! You are soooo dang funny! Thank you!!!

  38. Absolutely loved this! I know I’m just adding to your numerous comments of adoration, but you can never have too many. I hope I can do something similar too…sometimes fashion just needs to have a laugh!

  39. Reblogged this on usiegraphy and commented:
    I always being told ” you looked sleepy or puffy” the moment I stepped into office. But I guess it’s my trend of fashion now since impossible is nothing now😉 – A

  40. Absolutely hilarious. Even more so as there is an element of truth in it! Who wants the girl-next-door preppy look all the time right? Although there is no comfort in the fact that these girls are made up…to look bad. I’ve got it down as an art without trying!

  41. Both Mike and Steve equate just shy of being a pimp and chump. What a sleazy discredit to all male professionals of the craft. In a single old school word to sum it all….. “priceless.”

    Haven’t laughed so hard since Nirvana perfected “Grunge” into a lifestyle. Thank you Blink for this model piece commentary. WTG on this killer VOTY.

  42. I think this should be a new TREND! im sooo for it! It is edgy and different and the truth is people arent always happy and cheery all the time, they have sass and attitude!

  43. That picture of Marc Jacobs or whoever he is, it scaring me. Like, I am very sorry for his parents to get to see him like that. Poor kid, its like he is suffering from leukemia or something

  44. I had a high fashion magazine (whose name I can’t remember) some years back that had a large spread for a luxury label in which the models – men and women – were all done up to look like dead heroin addicts. Literally. Track marks and all. It gave another meaning to the term “heroin chic”. As a note, I can’t for the life of me remember what the brand was so maybe it worked better as an art installment than an advertising campaign.

  45. Every year people say this. Not everyone’s going to like the look of up coming fashions otherwise they would be the fashion.

  46. Reblogged this on ragsandramblings and commented:
    This is pretty much what goes on on set. When I started modelling and I had no idea what to do in front of the camera, I was told by a photographer there were a few standard poses I could always try. The first is “Headache”, and involves looked pained whilst holding your head. The second is “Stomach Ache”, and involves looking pained whilst clutching your waist (this also makes your waist look smaller, bonus!) And the last is “Back Ache”, which of course is looking pained whilst arching and holding your lower back.
    I haven’t had a photographer to ask me to look mentally disturbed. Yet.

  47. love this post – genius. Sad thing is, you’re probably quite near the mark. Still, it did make me laugh – GET IN THE POOL MARCIA and the last one, something about double-chinned manaic lol

  48. Haha I’m currently blogging about fashion and I also subscribe and read dozens of magazine and online blogs so I can totally relate to all of this odd advertising. What in the hell are they thinking LOL . Oh wait, it made me look and inquire so that must the ultimate purpose haha, love your content!

  49. I feel ridiculous lying here like a freak laughing by myself at the “now Babs…” until it strikes me that anyone that can get a reaction out of my nocturnal ass at 3:20am is an effen comical genius

  50. Maybe the photographers are going to shock value? I’ll probably stop, stare, and contemplate “WHY?” if I saw these images in a magazine. Does it make me want to buy the clothes? No. Then again…there is a lot of modern art I don’t understand.

  51. Love it! I’ve been wondering the same thing about model poses recently, it is honestly like they are told to look miserable these days. Personally I’d rather by the clothes a happy looking person is wearing.

  52. So that’s what’s behind it all! really crazy when you think what all these upscale clothes probably cost. Plus the photos can actually make you overlook that some of the stuff is really cool: wouldn’t mind the gorgeous navy scarf and the red pantsuit🙂 Looking forward to 2016 here…

  53. If we walked out of our houses looking like this – people would think we were homeless or need help…. However if you are dressed like that for a photo shoot then it’s chic. Lol

  54. Reblogged this on Estelea's Blog and commented:
    Last time I went to the hairdresser, I was mesmerized by pictures of models in the so called “fashion magazines”. Did all those years living out of the First World totally disconnected me with the Real meaning of Style? So glad I came across this post, it made me laugh so hard that I had to share. Enjoy😉

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