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‘Must have fancy little knickers’ – Is this Marks and Spencer window display in Norwich sexist?

PUBLISHED: 13:03 21 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:44 21 November 2018

The window display at Marks and Spencer's Norwich store, showing the 'must have fancy little knickers' strapline. Picture: Archant.

The window display at Marks and Spencer's Norwich store, showing the 'must have fancy little knickers' strapline. Picture: Archant.

Archant

Marks & Spencer has been criticised for a “grotesque” and “vomit-inducing” Christmas window display advertising women’s “fancy little knickers” alongside men’s suits.

Shoppers have hit out at the retailer’s seasonal campaign, which features a range of Christmas ‘must-have’ moments.

The window in one of M&S’s stores in Nottingham – where the row erupted – shows the model David Gandy modelling suits with the tagline “must-have outfits to impress” adjacent to red and black lingerie behind the tagline “must-have fancy little knickers”.

On Wednesday morning the Norwich store featured the “fancy little knickers” display next to an “outfits to impress” window featuring a picture of the television presenter Holly Willoughby, who is fronting the chain’s Christmas campaign. The next window along featured a display with the photo of David Gandy.

The King’s Lynn shop also displayed the Christmas underwear display with the same tagline.

The 'must have fancy little knickers' window at the Norwich store is next to a display featuring Holly Willoughby with the line 'must have outfits to impress'. Picture: Archant.The 'must have fancy little knickers' window at the Norwich store is next to a display featuring Holly Willoughby with the line 'must have outfits to impress'. Picture: Archant.

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Claire Riseborough, a University of East Anglia student, and a co-founder and former member of the Child Eyes campaign to stop children from being exposed to inappropriate images, said the advert sent the wrong message.

“This type of advertising is especially damaging and sexist when this image is placed next to a man in a suit. It says something about roles: men are powerful, and women stand around in their underwear.

“If we are to achieve full equality for women, it’s important they are seen as equal to men in society, considering the gender pay gap and inadequate female representation at board level still exists, we need to do more to raise girls’ aspirations.”

The original Christmas underwear display in the window of Marks and Spencer in King's Lynn.  Picture: Chris BishopThe original Christmas underwear display in the window of Marks and Spencer in King's Lynn. Picture: Chris Bishop

The campaign first attracted negative attention when shopper Fran Bailey posted a photo in the Facebook group Feminist Friends Nottingham, with the comment: “Ok, M&S Nottingham, have we really not learned anything in the last 35 years? Or am I alone in finding this, their major window display, completely vomit inducing?”

While she believed in the rights of everyone to wear “whatever they want”, she said she objected to the window for both its “normalisation of damaging gender stereotypes through the juxtaposition of images of women apparently obsessed with ‘fancy little knickers’ with images of fully clothed men being ‘dressed to impress’ in suits”, and also the slogan “must-have” when “huge numbers of Britons are struggling with poverty”.

She said: “I think M&S using such a strapline is just really crass when so many are without the necessities of warmth, shelter and food.”

She added in relation to the juxtaposition of images: “The problem is that we’re so browbeaten by this sort of imagery that we don’t even recognise what it is anymore.

“It’s pandering to notions of gender that are so outdated that it’s unbelievable that it’s still being spouted out. I’m disgusted because I’d have thought that M&S was a grown-up store that knew better.

“I know M&S is not the worst offender by any means but this particular juxtaposition is just grotesque.”

An M&S spokesman said: “M&S sells more underwear, in more shapes, sizes and styles, than any other retailer, especially at Christmas.

“We’ve highlighted one combination in our windows, which are part of a wider campaign that features a large variety of must-have Christmas moments, from David Gandy washing up in an M&S suit through to families snuggling up in our matching PJs.”

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