Voices: We need to talk about Taylor Swift’s dress sense

It’s hard to go a day without hearing the name Taylor Swift. Perhaps it’s because of her music, which has become the ubiquitous soundtrack to all of our lives. Or maybe it’s because of her love life, which has dominated the pop culture zeitgeist. It could also be her bevvy of famous friends, a girl gang so powerful they make headlines whenever they’re seen together. Increasingly, though, there’s another reason you might be hearing a lot about Swift – and that is her wardrobe.

For whatever reason, the internet seems fixated on the way Swift dresses. And let’s just say the commentary... well, it isn’t exactly complimentary.

“Taylor Swift is not a fashion innovator, but perhaps that’s the point?” reads one Vogue headline, from a viral article last summer that has since spawned hundreds of other articles poking holes in Swift’s sartorial identity. “Does Taylor Swift have so-so style or is it intentionally relatable?” asked one follow-up piece in Fashion. “Taylor Swift doesn’t have a style identity despite Vogue intervention – but it’s for an important reason to do with fans,” speculated The Sun.

That’s the thing. Not only does Swift dress terribly, apparently, but she dresses so terribly that it must be some sort of intentional manipulation in an effort to connect with her primarily female fanbase. In the Vogue article, the writer says that an off-duty Taylor Swift “could be mistaken for a regular person waiting in line at H&M”, adding that her wardrobe “resembles that of someone who might also be performing at a homegrown talent contest. Lots of meringue-skirt prom dresses, slogan T-shirts, and sequined bodysuits”.

Look, I’m not saying Swift’s wardrobe is about to make its way onto a catwalk anytime soon – and having recently been at London Fashion Week, I can say this with some confidence. It’s not that it’s dreadful. There’s just a lot of sequins, some unusual Grammys gown choices, and a bit too much of a teenage-girl-playing-dress-up vibe for it to be stylish in the conventional sense. But I’m not sure why that matters so much.

The main gripe among critics seems to be that, as one of the wealthiest women in the world – Bloomberg and Forbes estimate her net worth at $1.1bn – she can afford to dress much better. There are a lot of problems with this thesis. The first, and most obvious, being that you can’t buy style.

Sure, Swift could walk around head-to-toe in The Row, Gucci, and Saint Laurent. Hell, she could afford to walk around with a Hermès Birkin (averaging roughly between $25,000 and $35,000) in each hand. But that won’t necessarily make her a fashionable person. And why should she try to become a part of that world when, in actuality, it’s so far from her own?

Yes, there are plenty of musicians that flirt with the fashion world: Miley Cyrus has fronted Gucci campaigns. Dua Lipa has walked the runway for Versace (and designed a collection with them). Let’s not even get started with Rihanna (remember the 2018 Met Gala?). But why should Swift follow the same path as them, especially if she has no real interest in doing so?

I don’t exactly agree with those who argue that Swift dresses the way she does so as to appeal more to her fans. Frankly, I think that suggestion – which implies a degree of manipulation and calculation – is a little sexist. Would we make the same allegation about a male artist? I suspect not.

Nor do I suspect we’d over-analyse and obsess over the way any male artist dresses to the extent people do with Swift. Even if she did align herself with more traditionally fashionable aesthetics, following trends and working with design houses, I’m sure people would find a way to chastise her for that as well.

With someone as globally successful and omnipresent as Swift, there’s always going to be a vocal crowd of people who love to hate her, particularly if she doesn’t do what they expect of her – and clearly, that includes dressing a certain way. Oh, and because she happens to be audacious enough to be a woman. Maybe that’s her real crime.