Wardrobe Malfunction
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Wardrobe Malfunction

A wardrobe malfunction is a clothing failure that accidentally or intentionally exposes a person's intimate parts. It is different from deliberate incidents of indecent exposure or public flashing. Justin Timberlake first used the term when apologizing for the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime-show controversy during the 2004 Grammy Awards. The phrase "wardrobe malfunction" was in turn used by the media to refer to the incident and entered pop culture.[1] There was a long history of such incidents before the term was coined and it has since become common.[notes 1]


The American Dialect Society defines "wardrobe malfunction" as "an unanticipated exposure of bodily parts".[2] Global Language Monitor, which tracks usage of words on the internet and in newspapers worldwide, identified the term as the top Hollywood contribution to English (HollyWordie) in 2004, surpassing words like girlie men, Yo! and frass.[3][4] The term was also one of the new entrants into the Chambers Dictionary in 2008, along with words like electrosmog, carbon footprint, credit crunch and social networking.[5] The dictionary defines it as "the temporary failure of an item of clothing to do its job in covering a part of the body that it would be advisable to keep covered."[6]


The term was first used on February 1, 2004 by singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson in a statement attempting to explain the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy, during which Jackson's right breast was exposed. Timberlake apologized for the incident, stating he was "sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl..."[7] The term wardrobe malfunction appeared in numerous stories in major US consumer and business publications, newspapers, and major TV and radio broadcasts.[8] Journalist Eric Alterman described the incident as "the most famous 'wardrobe malfunction' since Lady Godiva."[9]

Related terms

The American Dialect Society had a number of related terms for word of the year nominations in 2004, including Janet moment ("unplanned bodily exposure at a public function"), boobgate ("scandal over Janet Jackson's exposed breast"), nipplegate (like boobgate, "but used earlier in squawk over Jackson's possible nipple ring"), and wardrobe malfunction ("overexposure in a mammary way").[10] The term has been translated into other languages to describe similar incidents, including garderobedefect (Dutch),[] incident de garde-robe (French), disfunzione del guardaroba or incidente del guardaroba (Italian)[], and mal funcionamiento de vestuario (Spanish).[]

Notable instances

  • In April 1957, Italian actress Sophia Loren was being welcomed to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures at a dinner party at Romanoff's restaurant in Beverly Hills. Large-bosomed American actress Jayne Mansfield arrived last and went directly to Loren's table. Mansfield had previously engineered several stunts exposing her breasts. On this evening, she was seated between Loren and her dinner companion Clifton Webb. Braless and wearing a deeply plunging neckline, Mansfield at one point stood and purposefully leaned over the table, further exposing her 40D breasts and her left nipple.[11][12] Photographer Delmar Watson captured Loren staring at Mansfield's breasts, and Joe Shere caught Loren looking side-eye at Mansfield's bust. Shere's picture received international attention, and was published world-wide.[13]
  • On February 1, 2004, the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII was broadcast live from Houston, Texas on the CBS television network in the United States. During the show, Justin Timberlake deliberately removed a portion of Janet Jackson's costume, exposing for about half a second her breast adorned with a nipple shield. This was the first recorded usage of the term "wardrobe malfunction".[14] The incident, sometimes referred to as Nipplegate,[15][16] was news world-wide. MTV's Chief Executive said that Jackson had planned the stunt and Timberlake was informed of it just moments before he took the stage.[17][18] The stunt was broadcast live to a total audience of 143.6 million viewers.[19]
  • On February 28, 2016, American football player Chris Jones ripped his compression shorts in the crotch during a sprint and his genitals were seen live on television.[20][21]

Social phenomenon

In the book DJing for Dummies, John Steventon describes a range of wardrobe malfunctions, from a revelation of buttock cleavage to visible panty lines.[22]

Bikinis also present celebrity wardrobe malfunction opportunities to the paparazzi in the form of wedgies or bikini-top malfunctions.[23] In Wedding Planning and Management: Consultancy for Diverse Clients, Maggie Daniels warns, "With so many people involved in the wedding party, a wardrobe malfunction is guaranteed to happen."[24] In Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, Kate Torgovnick warns of wardrobe malfunctions while cheerleading.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Elaine's inadvertently exposed nipple in her photo Christmas card forms a plotline in the Seinfeld episode "The Pick", 1992.


  1. ^ Puente, Maria (February 4, 2004). "Will 'Wardrobe Malfunction' Live On?". USA Today. Archived from the original on December 9, 2012. Retrieved 2016.
  2. ^ American Dialect Society (January 7, 2005). "Word of the Year" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on February 11, 2006. Retrieved 2016.
  3. ^ Top HollyWORDIEs of 2007, The Global Language Monitor
  4. ^ Toby Macdonald, "Parley Hollywood: Keira invents new languages," Sunday Mail
  5. ^ "Electrosmog enters the dictionary," BBC
  6. ^ "Dictionary suffers a wardrobe malfunction," The Mercury, 2008-08-15
  7. ^ "Apologetic Jackson says costume reveal went awry". CNN. February 2, 2004. Retrieved 2008.
  8. ^ Rich Eisen, Total Access, page 36, Macmillan, 2007, ISBN 0-312-36978-6
  9. ^ Eric Alterman, Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, page 186, Penguin USA, 2008, ISBN 0-670-01860-0
  10. ^ Glowka, Wayne; American Dialect Society. "2004 Words of the Year Nominations" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 19, 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  11. ^ "Jayne Mansfield". bodysize.org. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ "Jayne Mansfield 8x10.25 still '55 candid sitting in chair with her measurements on it, Illegal | #1863346453". Worthpoint. Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ "Sophia vs Jayne: The OTHER Photos Behind That Sideways Glare". Messy Nessy Chic. 1 April 2013. Retrieved 2019.
  14. ^ Nekesa Mumbi Moody (February 3, 2004). "Janet Jackson Apologizes for Bared Breast". Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 3, 2004. Also published by CNN.com as "Apologetic Jackson says 'costume reveal' went awry".
  15. ^ David Bauder (February 4, 2004). "Spike Lee says Janet Jackson's breast baring a 'new low' for entertainers". U-T San Diego. Associated Press. Archived from the original on April 11, 2004. CNN.com published this story in an earlier version as "Janet Jackson takes responsibility for breast-baring Archived 2007-12-31 at the Wayback Machine".
  16. ^ Julie Hilden (February 20, 2004). "Jackson 'Nipplegate' illustrates the danger of chilling free speech". CNN. Retrieved 2007.
  17. ^ "MTV points finger of blame at Jackson". Today. February 3, 2004. Retrieved 2017.
  18. ^ "Jackson's Super stunt was planned". Today. February 3, 2004. Retrieved 2017.
  19. ^ Joal Ryan (March 2, 2004). "Kids Watch Super Boob". E!. Retrieved 2014.
  20. ^ Bonner, Michael (28 February 2016). "Chris Jones runs into a wardrobe malfunction at combine". USA Today. Retrieved 2020.
  21. ^ "NFL hopeful's embarrassing wardrobe malfunction". Wide World of Sport. 28 February 2016. Retrieved 2020.
  22. ^ John Steventon, DJing for Dummies, page 352, For Dummies, 2007, ISBN 0-470-03275-8
  23. ^ Lorna Edwards, You've still got it, babe, The Age, June 3, 2006
  24. ^ Maggie Daniels, Margaret J. Daniels and Carrie Loveless, Wedding Planning and Management: Consultancy for Diverse Clients, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007, ISBN 0-7506-8233-7
  25. ^ Kate Torgovnick, Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, page 41, Simon & Schuster, 2008, ISBN 1-4165-3596-9

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