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I happen to read a lot about 'wardrobe' malfunction and showing some fault in the dress they wear. Why is it called a 'wardrobe' malfunction, as though it happens only due to some messing up in the wardrobe? There must be a history behind this phrasing.

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closed as general reference by MετάEd, tchrist, choster, Mitch, Kris Jun 24 '13 at 10:35

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Terminology invented by Janet Jackson? – GEdgar Jun 22 '13 at 13:44
Well, thanks! A source does say it was coined due to "the fateful 2004 Super Bowl halftime mishap involving Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, a pierced nipple, and an absurdly large number of people watching live", but still can't understand how 'wardrobe' ties in here. – Host-website-on-iPage Jun 22 '13 at 13:49
"wardrobe" = "clothing" – GEdgar Jun 22 '13 at 13:56
Definition from ODO: the costume department or costumes of a theatre or film company: – Peter Shor Jun 22 '13 at 13:57
Thanks very much! – Host-website-on-iPage Jun 22 '13 at 14:01
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Senses of wardrobe include

• A cabinet in which clothes may be stored.
• The department (or people working in that department) that obtains and stores articles of clothing for use in theatrical or motion picture productions
• A collection of clothing

As used in the phrase wardrobe malfunction, wardrobe refers not to a cabinet, but instead to either the wardrobe department or to articles of clothing. It seems likely that Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson [see below] wanted an official-sounding phrase that depersonalizes the incident and (in part) shifts the blame from Timberlake and Jackson to the people who dressed Jackson, or to the dress itself.

The Wikipedia Wardrobe malfunction and Super Bowl halftime show controversy articles give a fairly detailed history of the term; in part they say

A wardrobe malfunction is accidental exposure of intimate parts. ... There has been a long history of such incidents, though the term itself was coined in the mid-2000s ... The American Dialect Society defines it as “an unanticipated exposure of bodily parts”. 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. ... The term is credited as having been coined by singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, on February 1, 2004, to explain the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy; the controversy is in reference to Jackson’s right breast having been bared. After the incident, the term “wardrobe malfunction” appeared in numerous stories in major US consumer and business publications, newspapers, and major TV and radio broadcasts. Journalist Eric Alterman described the incident as “the most famous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ since Lady Godiva”.

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The search for words that would emphasize the accidental nature of the revealed breast is surely tied into the humongous fines the broadcasters were facing for "indecency". A significant segment of the populace treated this incident something like Pussy Riot in the Russian cathedral, including the right-wing agenda of those calling for maximum punishment. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 22 '13 at 16:40
Three observations: 1.) the "wardrobe malfunction" effectively affixes blame on the clothing and not the actors. Second, "wardrobe malfunction" has a tinge of euphemism to it. Instead of saying bluntly, "she revealed her breast on live TV" they tone it down with the "wardrobe" locution. Third, the expression is a great example of "spin," which I define as putting the best possible face on something embarrassing, wrong, or at least suspect. Nixon loyalists, for example, might have said, "Nixon exercised poor judgment in the Watergate affair." Without spin, I say "Nixon was a crook!" – rhetorician Jun 22 '13 at 22:39
@rhetorician, your observations are pertinent and well-phrased. It remains true, however, that Nixon did exercise rather poor judgment in the Watergate affair, in both its inception and its dénouement. – jwpat7 Jun 22 '13 at 23:10
True enough. I still think he was a crook, though! (May he rest in peace.) – rhetorician Jun 22 '13 at 23:31

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