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10 of the Most Offensive Clothing Items Ever Created

The Gap is the latest in a string of major companies to produce an offensive item of clothing.

Big clothing stores are similar to other large companies in at least one major way: they’re all about the bottom line. Some stores try to boost sales by occasionally (or frequently) putting out products that ruffle people’s feathers. Controversy can be a lucrative business plan!

Others stores have, on occasion, released products that are unwittingly offensive, but even those generate a ton of attention for the brand (there’s no such thing as bad attention, right?), and if handled properly by the company’s PR team, the offensive item usually fades from shoppers minds within no time.

The Gap is the latest major clothing chain to make headlines for an offensive clothing item. What follows is a recap of that controversy, plus several other major clothing disasters through the years.

1. The Gap’s “Manifest Destiny” t-shirt

The Gap is more known for selling sensible jeans and khakis than anything vaguely “edgy,” making the chain’s new “Manifest Destiny” t-shirt a real head-scratcher.


James Mackey explains the history of Manifest Destiny at The Guardian and writes:

America has never really come to terms with the contradiction between this bloody origin and its rhetoric of exceptionalism, and American popular history thus remains dependent on a now largely unarticulated form of manifest destiny logic. That said, it seems astonishing that nobody during the product launch process said "Hang on … doesn't this basically mean 'white pride'?" Artist Gregg Deal suggests the Gap should now launch "AMERICAN IMPERIALISM" or "FORCED ASSIMILATION" lines.

Even more disturbing, the designer of the shirt, Mark McNairy, may have known exactly what he was doing:

When activists contacted him to ask for the line's removal, he tweeting "MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST" (the tweet has been removed, but a screengrab is archived here). This seems to show that he is quite comfortable with a social Darwinist explanation for the destruction of indigenous nations.

2. Adidas’ racist shackle shoes

It sounds like some sort of terrible joke, but Adidas did in fact unveil a pair of sneakers with shackles attached to them earlier this year.


Adidas eventually had to cancel its plans to sell the $350 sneakers after everyone from Jesse Jackson to thousands of internet commenters protested the slavery-evoking shoes. But the company stood by the shoes’ designer, Jeremy Scott, who said the shoes were inspired by a toy from his childhood.

We can’t be too surprised about Scott’s bone-headedness, since he sent a model wearing an animal-print burqa and a minisirt down the runway just last month as part of a collection supposedly inspired by the Arab Spring. Ugh.

3-5. Urban Outfitters’ “pro-ana” and anti-Semitic shirts, and appropriated Native imagery

As I pointed out in a piece earlier this year, Urban Outfitters has a long history of producing all kinds of offensive merchandise. Here are just a few examples.

This “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) t-shirt:


A shirt that evokes the Holocaust:


And soooo much Native appropriation:


6. Abercrombie’s thongs and push-up bikinis for 7-year-olds

Abercrombie & Fitch has come under fire for a number of offensive items, but perhaps the most infamous dust-up involved a 2002 line of thong panties featuring sayings like “wink wink,” “eye candy,” and “kiss me.” The kicker is that the underwear was released through the chain’s Abercrombie Kids line, which is marketed to children ages 7 to 14.

Clearly Abercrombie didn’t learn its lesson about sexualizing young girls, because last year the store found itself in hot water once again when it started selling push-up bikini tops to children.

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