Being a celebrity has its benefits—bulging bank accounts, private jets, assistants who cater to your every whim—but it also comes with some pretty key negatives, such as being under a constant microscope. It seems the more famous you get, the more everything you say, do, and even wear become topics of conversation—and in some cases, can cause a great deal of controversy.
This is especially evident in the wardrobe arena—lots of unthinking stars have made odd choices and worn ensembles that have been deemed culturally insensitive by everyone from civil rights organizations to bloggers.
Here we list some of the most controversial celebrity outfits.
Selena Gomez is the latest star to catch flack for a culturally-insensitive look. The singer performed at the MTV Movie Awards wearing a bindi, a traditional Hindu symbol, on her forehead, a gesture largely unappreciated by Hindu groups. “It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed,” Hindu statesman Rajan Zed told WENN.
Villa has made a name for herself by wearing outfits in support of the Trump administration to red carpet events. Aside from wearing a dress that said “Make America Great Again” to the Grammys, she also wore this one that said “Build the Wall” in 2019. If people thought she was joking or being sarcastic, you can see her pro-MAGA Instagram posts here.
For a surprise trip to Texas to visit facilities that housed migrant children, Melania wore this jacket that read, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” Despite all the speculations that unfolded after she wore this, Melania told ABC News that she wore the outerwear “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me, I am not hesitant to show them that I don’t care.”
Not surprisingly, Chris Brown raised eyebrows in 2012, when the already-controversial singer decided it would be a good idea to go out in a Taliban costume for Halloween, posting the above photograph to Instagram. His clique all wore similar looks, and the Internet went wild with comments about how disgraceful he is.
In November 2013, singer-songwriter Katy Perry performed her song “Unconditionally” at the American Music Awards steeped in Japanese, Geisha-themed attire and imagery. People quickly took to the internet to say the performance was an example of both cultural appropriation and stereotyping.
“Oh wow Katy Perry‘s backup dancers were literally wearing yellowface makeup,” said one Twitter user.
According to The Atlantic, writer Crystal Leww wrote that this type of performance “just reminds me that I am still not an American to a lot of people and that someone who looks like me still cannot be Katy Perry for the world.”
In July 2019, actor Chris Pratt was photographed wearing a T-shirt featuring an American flag superimposed with the Gadsden flag, including its slogan, “Don’t Tread On Me.”
Originally a symbol used by pre-Revolutionary War colonists seeking independence from the British, the Gadsden flag has over time become popular with libertarians and Tea Party members, according to reporting by The New Yorker’s Rob Walker.
The symbol is now “sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts,” said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Walker’s article.
Conservative outlets like Breitbart were quick to come to Pratt’s defense, while many Twitter users took to the platform proclaiming he was “the worst Chris” and “he’s really ruining my Parks & Rec reruns.”
Extreme controversy in the animal rights community by Gaga’s meat ensemble. “No matter how beautifully it is presented, flesh from a tortured animal is flesh from a tortured animal,” said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. “Meat represents suffering and violence, so if that’s the look they were going for, they achieved it.”
In September 2016, Kylie Jenner attended the spring 2017 Jonathan Simkhai Fashion Week show in New York wearing a jean jacket and a white durag.
According to Allure writer Alisha Acquaye, the durag is “a tribute to a black tradition.”
“Pictures of black people,” she wrote, “more particularly black men, wearing durags have been part of our cultural consciousness for some time.” The durag is historically entwined with black culture, and Jenner’s wearing of it did not go over well.
“Gimme 3 good reasons why you’re wearing a du rag @KylieJenner,” said one Twitter user. “Because blackness is a costume,” said another.
People have been using fashion to make statements since the beginning of time, and celebrities are no exception.
These stars have used their clothing choices to send out messages that have landed them in hot water.