What are the Fashion Police?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The term "fashion police" is used to refer to people who comment on what they perceive to be the fashion errors of others. It also might be used to refer to a fictional and ill-defined roving force that should be called to dissuade people from making bad fashion choices. There are many accounts of when and how the term "fashion police" was coined, but many people attribute it to the mid-1980s, and specifically to a “Crimes of Fashion” charity event in Ohio.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Cutting Edge or Criminally Unfashionable?

Fashion is wearable art, but it’s also dictated in highly commercial ways by the trends of the time. Anything that greatly differs from current trends might either forge the way to new styles or be considered a reason to call the fashion police. Although the term is used lightly in most circumstances, albeit sometimes snarkily and negatively, it also has a limiting aspect on any member of society who believes that going with the fashion flow is important. Offending the fashion police can have consequences for people whose self-esteem or reputation is tied to how they appear to others.

Celebrities Under Surveillance

Although there really are no licensed fashion cops, there are many television shows that lend themselves or their hosts to this definition. Post-award shows are often of this nature. Fashion experts and other commentators often review the clothing choices of the glitterati. It’s clear from disagreement on these shows that there are few underlying rules governing taste or even consensus on what is current and trendy in fashion, because many disagreements often arise the self-appointed members of the fashion police, even those who are contributing on the same television show.

Watching fashion isn’t limited to award show evenings, however, and most public figures of a certain stature are regularly judged on what they wear. Magazines and television shows that are devoted to disclosing the lives of stars frequently feature what they consider to be crimes of fashion. Various websites also have blossomed as places where people can dish on the worst-looking outfits they’ve seen. Some websites even feature photos of everyday people whose choices of clothing to wear in public have been deemed unwise.

Avoiding Fashion Crimes

For someone who relies greatly on image, constant criticism from the fashion police might take a toll. Most celebrities and public figures would rather avoid this, so they might employ stylists or designers to help them improve public image through fashion. Sometimes, however, associating with a new designer or stylist might draw the attention of the fashion police instead of deterring criticism.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I have mixed feelings about those shows on cable where the people target someone who is badly dressed and offer to make them over. They're self-appointed fashion police and have a TV show as a result. Seems like anyone could do it, if they had enough money to buy designer clothes to wear and could hire a camera crew.

I don't think it's great advertising for the people's talents if they're dressed as badly as their victims -- they just spent more money to be dressed that way. Cash is no substitute for good taste.


Any group of women (usually) can turn into a fashion police department in a heartbeat. Get two friends watching people at the mall, have a woman walk by who is not attractively dressed, and you have instant fashion police.

It's usually really pronounced at some kind of awards show party, like an Oscar-watching party. The comments can get nasty in a hurry, but since it's civilians going after the stars in the privacy of their living rooms, it's not too detrimental to anyone's career. I think my taste in fashion is at least as good as some of those so-called "stylists."

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