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The 25 Most Controversial Clothing Brands

American Apparel

Has American Apparel ever been free from controversy? They hire employees based on their “hotness,” and their advertisements are frequently banned because they are overtly sexual. It all started in 2000 when they released an ad with a woman in her underwear. At the time, it was a risky move that started the slippery slope of controversial American Apparel ads. Over the years, some of have been worse than others, and some have sparked questions in the advertising industry.

For example, one of their ads featured a woman named with the line "Made in Bangladesh" on her chest. They weren't referring to her clothing, but rather the model herself. American Apparel was attempting to show their fair labor practices, but it crossed the line in more ways than one. Somehow, the more they get in trouble, the more they embrace that rebellious image.  American Apparel makes it work for them and their sales have to be good to continue this type of advertising.

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UNIF is a clothing brand that's frequently in hot water because of their clothing designs. They don’t shy away from any types of edgy designs, and some of their most controversial clothes have featured satanic references and other religious symbols.

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Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters loves to push the envelope. Their clothing designs are constantly in the news due to suggestive messages, such as “Eat Less” on a T-shirt. A lot of their other merchandise contains sexual innuendos and drug references, which is what has arguably made them so popular with their teenage demographic.

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Abercrombie & Fitch

Oh, Abercrombie & Fitch. This company actually loves being controversial. Their CEO has literally said that he doesn’t want ugly people wearing his clothes and admitted that they are exclusionary. Some of AF's other transgressions include advertising that promotes unrealistic body standards and oversexualized advertisements.

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Dolce & Gabbana

The controversy first started when Dolce & Gabbana revealed a pair of earrings that resembled African American slave women. Then the (openly gay) Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana told the world that they do not support gay parents adopting children and that they think LGBTQ families are superficial.

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Adidas took one of their shoe designs too far a few years ago. They added orange “shackles” to a pair of poorly designed sneakers, and the whole shoe ended up being critiqued as a racist image of slavery. At least they canceled the production of the shoes after some public outcry.

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Marc Jacobs

A Marc Jacobs “Lola” perfume ad was banned in the UK because the ad featured a risque-looking, 17-year-old Dakota Fanning. She was wearing a short dress, and the perfume was placed on her lap very suggestively, prompting the UK government to decide it was inappropriate for the public eye.

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Forever 21

Forever 21 hasn’t really had any scandals involving objectified models or offensive clothing, but they have been sued by designers more times than we can count. Many designers claim that Forever 21 copied their designs and sold them at extremely cheap prices, and if you’ve ever been inside a XXI, you know this is the cold, hard truth.

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United Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton has made a point of producing advertisements that are very offensive to certain groups of people. Some of their advertisements include outrageous stereotypes about multiracial children and even photographs of human hearts on their billboards, but the company claims that they only want to start a conversation, not spark controversy.

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Saint Laurent

After the founder of Yves Saint Laurent passed away, the company decided to remove the “Yves” from its name, making it just “Saint Laurent.” This was highly frowned upon in the fashion world because many people viewed it as disrespectful to the brand's founder.

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Zara is almost universally beloved by style influencers and celebrities for their affordable, fashion-forward styles, but they recently came under fire for featuring an ad with two very thin models that said, “Love Your Curves.” How hard is it to find models with curves for this type of ad? 

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Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret has always been the place for pretty blondes (and the occasional variation of that) to gain fame, but they are now facing criticism for not being more inclusive. Their annual runway show and their advertisements still only feature stick-thin women and no one else. 

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Sisley Fashion

This French clothing brand had to pull one of their advertisements because they had what looked like two models “snorting” a white dress, with the tagline “fashion junkie.” Customers did not appreciate the glamorization of drug use, and the ad was pulled. 

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Calvin Klein

Celebrities loved posting undie pics with the caption #InMyCalvins, but the brand recently faced some controversy for a Justin Bieber ad. The ad was very heavily photoshopped, as are most of their ads, and customers voiced that they are no longer into the airbrushed look.

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For years, there were rumors that Nike was using sweatshops that employed unfair labor practices, and a couple years ago, Nike admitted that they hadn’t been as watchful as they should have been. At least now they are working to right this wrong! 

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Topshop has been laughed at for their jeans with the clear plastic knees, but no one was laughing when they used a photo of an extremely thin girl in their advertisements. Because of the criticism, they eventually replaced the photo. 

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H&M released a green jumpsuit a couple years ago, not realizing that it was incredibly similar to the uniform of the female Kurdish soldiers who were fighting ISIS. However, they did immediately release a statement saying they did not intend to offend.

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In 2011, Skechers collaborated on an advertisement with Kim Kardashian to promote the ‘health benefits’ of wearing their shoes. Soon, the Federal Trade Commission found that Skechers completely fabricated those benefits and actually sued the brand. 

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The Kylie Shop

Kylie Jenner’s clothing line, The Kylie Shop, has been the subject of recent controversy. She has been accused of copyright infringement, and more recently, she and Kendall faced a lot of backlash for putting their faces on t-shirts with the names of legendary rock bands above them.

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This company claims that their name is short for “French Connection UK,” but when they release t-shirts with slogans like “FCUK Me” and “Hot as FCUK,” we beg to differ. Parents did not want their children exposed to these clothing items, so they complained in full force, but the brand lives on!

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Target is usually known for being pretty socially conscious, but they did make a blunder when they released a line of bridal themed, graphic tops with phrases like, “Mrs.”, “Bride”, and “Trophy” on them. Customers were not too happy about the last one because they did not want to be referred to as an object.

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PacSun attempted to create a patriotic t-shirt around Memorial Day a couple years ago, but it went disastrously wrong. They featured a shirt with an upside down American flag, which, as the symbol of extreme distress, did not sit well with shoppers. 

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Sears still exists? Yes, sort of. A couple years ago, they started selling a swastika ring on their website, and because they had so much inventory, did not even notice it for a couple months until the complaints starting filing in.

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Yandy is known for selling lingerie and sexy costumes, but some people think they take it too far when they turn beloved children’s characters into sexy Halloween costumes. Customers began complaining after they realized a sexy “Olaf,” who is the snowman from Frozen.

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Alexander Yang

Wang released an extremely provocative denim ad in 2014 that sparked all kinds of controversy. This ad featured a mostly nude woman with her hands barely covering up her nether regions, and customers did not approve. 

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