Aamina Farooqi
17 October 2022

Upon quickly searching “model off-duty look” on Pinterest, I am bombarded with image after image of the thin, pale, perfectly sculpted bodies of Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner. No matter how far I scroll, I cannot escape the models’ day looks, which seem to consist of little more than a simple pair of blue jeans and T-shirts. Though there is the occasional neon sweater vest or chunky loafer, I still cannot help but question the recent public obsession with what models wear on their days off.

The models, of course, are at no fault of their own. Within the current climate of extreme parasocial relationships, it is merely a symptom of our fixation with women’s bodies that these models have been granted the title of “style icons” without ever claiming to be them. The backlash over such praise given to these casual outfits has caused quite a stir within the online fashion community, with critics claiming that the public’s overwhelmingly positive response proves that plus-size bodies are excluded. This exclusion is not due to plus-sized models lacking style, but because they do not satiate the public’s appetite for unattainable beauty.

But what is so unattainable about blue jeans and T-shirts? Not much, though this is exactly what critics of the model off-duty look point to as evidence of the perceived double standard–that skinny models are labeled stylish in this basic pairing but everyday people aren’t.

Realizing that people are still idealizing bodies instead of focusing on clothing, it makes sense why my search only yielded models who fit into a sample size, despite larger bodies making their way onto the high fashion scene in recent years. Within the popularization of this simple, streamlined style, many online have posed a question that has become a commentary on this trend in and of itself: is it fashionable, or is she just skinny? While the “model off-duty” look has sparked an active conversation on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, intersections between class, race, and the fashion industry’s history of exclusion and elitism conveniently go unmentioned.

“It’s just her confidence.”

“It’s about wearing the right clothes for your body type.”

“It’s about tailoring!! You have to make sure your clothes fit right!”

Every comment receives anywhere from hundreds to thousands of likes, followed by hundreds of replies ranging from enthusiastic agreement to backhanded jabs and threats. Taking one look at these comment sections, it’s clear that the online fashion community hasn’t come to a consensus, either. What is agreed upon, however, is that the models’ outfits themselves are nothing interesting. In contrast to their runway looks, they don’t aim to push the boundaries of fashion, establish upcoming trends, or say much about the models themselves. These looks often feel repetitive, formulaic, or regurgitative of popular silhouettes. So what’s the appeal? Why do we love boring outfits on supermodel bodies?

In short, we love and obsess over what we can’t have–which, in this case, appears as a skinny, white, modelesque image of beauty. The model in her “natural” state is our muse.

With recent efforts to diversify the spectrum of runway models and combat such homogeneity, being cognizant of the sociohistorical implications of what is deemed beautiful demands acknowledgement of the roles that racism and classism have played in high fashion. Besides being skinny, models such as Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber who are hailed as “fashion queens” are also white, and wealthier than most can even begin to comprehend–factors that shouldn’t be written off as unimportant or irrelevant.

The mere choice of words we use to describe the model off-duty look, an objectively unimaginative, nostalgia-obsessed reboot of outfits more notably worn 30 years ago by Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, is a noticeable example of internalized classism meddling its way into modern rhetoric. These casual outfits aren’t “bland,” “uninteresting,” or “lackluster” but are instead “effortless,” “clean,” and “subtly classy.” With all of the oversized blazers, designer athleisure, and other tired Western silhouettes, the model off-duty look begins to look like no more than a performance of class.

Still, why is it that these outfits are praised on some bodies but not others? Who exactly are these neglected “others?” I would argue that they’re regular people: those who don't have massive amounts of wealth or fall very neatly into conventional standards of beauty, and therefore don’t have the luxury of achieving an “effortless” look. No matter how early we wake up before work or school to make our white button-ups as crisp as they can be or our hair as slicked back as our stubborn baby hairs will allow, the model off-duty look projects a Pinterest-perfect image of elite beauty that only those allowed behind the velvet rope can exude.

Even as the rich and famous continue to appear unattainable and reinforce the existing distance between us and them, we cannot help but ogle at their pictures and dream about their fantasy-like lifestyles. Knowing of this relentless cycle does not make the allure behind supermodel beauty any less severe or weaken the urge to continue our toxic habits. We will keep chasing, desperately trying to feel good about ourselves as we remain ready and alert for the next series of paparazzi photos to tell us what to wear. It may feel impossible, but we can resist this cycle by training the eye to recognize beauty where it may not have before. The mind will always wander, and the unfamiliar will always be fascinating just by being out of reach, but grounding our images of beauty in what is authentic, tangible, and unretouched will always stay “in” by the end of the trend cycle. While Pinterest images advertising the model off-duty look may indulge us in a world in which we operate through unrealistic bodies and lifestyles, our longing for beauty will only be fulfilled through a love and acceptance of our reality.