In the 1960s, the new era of liberation brought with it changes in the way people expressed their sexuality through the way they dressed.
Although most of the population remained conservative in the way they dressed, there was a growing acceptance of revealing new fashion, such as the mini skirt. Beachwear such as the bikini started to become more revealing, with string sides becoming popular in the 1970s and 80s, and variations becoming more revealing through the 1990s and 2000s.
The popularity of figure hugging denim jeans has been a mainstay of fashion through to the present day, with low-hipster jeans revealing more of women’s torsos, and male jeans becoming more accentuated in the crotch area.
Women’s fashion in particular has produced styles that attempt to be more revealing, more provocative, and accentuate aspects of feminine sexuality.
In 1994, actress Elizabeth Hurley attracted media attention when she wore a revealing black dress by Versace, held together at the sides with giant safety pins. Many other celebrities have attempted to outdo each other by wearing revealing fashions at awards ceremonies, copies of which have made their way into the high street fashion stores. Short skirts, high heels, low fronts, low backs, and push-up bras all designed to be provocative.
Children’s fashion has also been criticised on occasions for sexualising children. Fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch were criticised in 2002 for producing children’s clothing which was criticised as sexually provocative. They produced a range of thongs for young girls with graphics featuring the words ‘eye candy’ and ‘wink wink’. They can under further criticism when they produced a padded bikini top for girls age 7. Another fashion retailer, American Apparel, ended up in court in Canada for an advertisement featuring a young model in a short pleated skirt. In the UK, the British Advertising Standards Authority banned and American Apparel advertisement, stating that is resembled child pornography.
Parents have been criticised for allowing their children to take part in competitions such as ‘little miss’ pageants, where very young girls are made-up and dressed to look older than they are. Many experts have expressed concerns that as well as presenting an inappropriate image of young girls, it can also psychologically damage the girls.
In 2010, controversy surrounded a performance by 7 year old girls at the national World of Dance competition in the United States. The performance was to the song by Beyoncé called ‘Single Ladies’, during which the girls, who were dressed in revealing costumes, gyrated on stage. Their performance was later called “wildly inappropriate” and “sexually provocative” by Dr Phil McGraw.
According to Tracy Dennis, associate professor of psychology at Hunter College in the USA, it is much more common for children to be sexualised today than in previous generations.
Female music artists often use provocative fashion and stage costumes to depict their image. Two of the most notable singers in recent times who have attracted media attention through their use of revealing or outright sexual, costumes are Madonna and Lady GaGa – who often depict domination, and BDSM themes through their on-stage fashion.