I do not think it means what you think it means.
Yes, I’m perfectly aware that the term “wardrobe malfunction” was coined due to the fateful 2004 Super Bowl halftime mishap involving Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, a pierced nipple, and an absurdly large number of people watching live. I’m also aware that the phrase has ingratiated itself into American culture as a reference to any type of accidental public exposure. But the term is being tossed around again, this time because of what happened at the end of Nancy Grace’s most recent Dancing with the Stars performance, and it’s high time someone call it out for what it really is: incorrect terminology. (Miss Janet and Miss Janet’s “people”—I’m looking at you. JT gets a pass here, because, well, he’s kinda perfect.)
What happened at the Superbowl was not a “wardrobe malfunction,” and quite frankly, neither was what happened to Nancy Grace last night on Dancing with the Stars. Janet and Justin pulled a stunt, the clothing did not actually fail. Nancy Grace had a stylist shove and tape her into a dress too low-cut to contain her—eh-hem—massive, breasts for her activity level. Again, the garment was not actually at fault. The dress didn’t move; Grace’s boobs did. By calling it a “wardrobe malfunction” it’s easy to escape the fact that these people simply exercised poor judgement. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan crotch-shots … wardrobe malfunctions? No. Just poor judgement.
But, what then, you might ask, constitutes the actual failure of a piece of clothing to operate properly—ie. a real wardrobe malfunction?
- Snapped straps
- Stepped-upon hems
- Buttons falling off
- Seams unraveling
- Broken heels
And yet all of these are conditional. If the incident is a product of shoddy workmanship, wear, or just freak circumstances, then we’ve got a wardrobe failure on our hands. If it’s the result of a person wearing something inappropriate—whether the wrong size or poorly tailored, without undergarments, or not suited to the activity at hand—don’t blame it on the clothes, no, no. Blame it on the stars. Or possibly the people dancing with them.