A Brief History of Celebrities Using Fashion to Game the Gossip Industry

A Brief History of Celebrities Using Fashion to Game the Gossip Industry
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Photo: Getty Images

When Calvin Harris hit the gym last weekend in the midst of a maelstrom of gossip over his breakup with Taylor Swift, Twitter went wild. Over his Yeezys, that is. I mean, he had to know what he was doing, right? After all, Swift is embroiled in a very public feud with Kanye West, designer of the aforementioned sneakers (Tay probably burned her pair the second the “Famous” video dropped).

Shade was thrown; shots were fired—and Harris didn’t even have to make out with a movie star on a beach.

When celebrities know they’re going to be photographed (which, rest assured, they almost always do, however “candid” those paparazzi photos may look), one of the easiest ways for them to spread a message without saying a word is through what they wear.

In the mid-2000s, the medium of choice was the graphic T-shirt—splashed with a smug kiss-off and ideally purchased from Kitson, the paparazzi-magnet Robertson Boulevard boutique frequented by stars like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears. Take, for instance, Kristin Cavallari’s “You Can Have Him” message to Nicole Richie, who at the time was rumored to be fooling around with Cavallari’s ex Brody Jenner, worn oh-so-casually out and about in Los Angeles.

Whole brands were built on the backs of these tees: Chip & Pepper; Sex Brand (designed by George Clooney’s ex, Krista Allen); White Trash Charms, whose “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie” slogan shirts accumulated monthslong waitlists and reams of celebrity fans in 2005.

MORE: 30 Unbearably Weird Photos of Celebrities and Their Wax Figures

In the age of social media, stars can be a little more subtle, Instagramming a selfie in a borrowed T-shirt or Snapchatting a glimpse of an initial necklace matching the one their new, famous boyfriend has been spotted wearing. Internet sleuths will catch on, rest assured. Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik have proven themselves masters of the form, leveraging their followings to hint at a relationship by sharing glasses and “accidentally” flashing a cutesy phone screensaver, and keep breakup rumors at bay with an artfully deployed “Z” necklace.

Using clothing rather than words to fuel gossip has clear advantages for a celebrity: It keeps people talking, for one (Lord, how many feverish headlines have Zigi alone generated in the past eight months?), and in Harris’s case, it’s less aggressive than trashing an ex in the press or on social media.

Fashion can also be a means of breaking the fourth wall, giving stars a chance to acknowledge and respond to the rumor mill without the earnestness of a magazine interview. Think of Winona Ryder appearing on the cover of W in 2002 wearing a “Free Winona” T-shirt fresh off her shoplifting conviction, Lohan browsing the racks at Kitson in a “Skinny Bitch” shirt while headlines accused her of anorexia, or Naomi Campbell thumbing her nose at critics in a “Naomi Hit Me … and I Loved It” tee amid allegations that she head-butted a former assistant.

Of course, the line between irreverent and idiotic is thin, and Chris Brown—surprise, surprise—fell squarely on the latter side of it in 2009 wearing a $300,000 blinged-out chain with the word “Oops” to P. Diddy’s White Party after-party a month after pleading guilty to assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna.

Ahead, take a trip down memory lane with a look back at how celebrities from Lohan the Kim Kardashian have used their wardrobe to play the gossip industry like fiddles over the years.

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2002

Winona Ryder fights the tabloids on their own turf—the newsstand—with a thoroughly ballsy W cover published a few months after her shoplifting arrest.

Photo: Michael Thompson/W Magazine

2002

While dating a still-married Danny Moder, Julia Roberts sends tongues wagging in a T-shirt emblazoned with a play on the word Vera, his then-wife's name.

Photo: instagram

2004

Following Lindsay Lohan's very public breakup with Wilmer Valderrama, she wears a T-shirt from Kitson with the words "You Were Never My Boyfriend" on the front to "TRL". Let the 2004-ness of that sentence sink in for a minute.

Photo: Getty Images

2005

Naomi Campbell wears a shirt by It-label Chip & Pepper that pokes fun at her habit of getting, ummm, a little too physical with her staff.

Photo: instagram / @thearnold

2012

A month or so before Kim Kardashian and Kanye West confirm their relationship—but well after the tabloids started buzzing about it—Kardashian is photographed in a pair of "KW" initial earrings, her hair up in a ponytail for maximum exposure.

Photo: WENN

2015

Zayn tweets a photo of himself wearing glasses that look suspiciously like the ones Gigi is photographed in that very same week. Translation: they're def dating.

Photo: Twitter/@zaynmalik

2016

Hailey Baldwin 'Grams a photo in Justin Bieber's Playboy bunny-printed sweatpants, incurs hundreds of angry comments from spurned Jelena fans.

Photo: instagram / @haileybieber

2016

A month after Baldwin wears Jennifer Fisher's "H" necklace on the red carpet, Drake leaves Mr. Nice Guy (the Hollywood hot spot du jour) with the 19-year-old wearing the very same pendant on his chain. People's assessment? They must be "practically engaged."

Photo: Getty Images

2016

Calvin Harris, jilted lover and expert shade-thrower, wears Yeezys in his first public appearance since Hiddleswift's debut.

Photo: WENN

2016

Miley Cyrus baits the tabloids—who have yet to nab a photo of her with alleged on-again fiancé Liam Hemsworth—with a mirror selfie wearing a shirt with his name on it. Subtle really, by her standards.

Photo: instagram

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