Victoria’s Secret’s Racist Underwear ‘Spits on American Indian Culture’

Does the company’s apology make up for its offense—or does its history of stereotypes make its sincerity questionable?

Victoria's Secret Offends Customers With Native American-Styled LingerieVictoria’s Secret is known for being racy, provocative, sometimes a tad absurd—and, yes, racist. The lingerie company, owned by The Limited and led by CEO Linda Heasley (pictured far left), made a multicultural misstep last week when model Karlie Kloss walked the runway of its annual made-for-TV fashion show wearing a leopard-print bikini, large turquoise jewelry and a full, feathered American Indian headdress.

The outfit—or, arguably, the lack thereof—was meant as a way to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, but it turned out to be a slap in the American Indian demographic’s face.

“We have gone through the atrocities to survive and ensure our way of life continues,” says Erny Zah, spokesperson for the Navajo Nation. “Any mockery, whether it’s Halloween, Victoria’s Secret—they are spitting on us. They are spitting on our culture, and it’s upsetting.”


Similarly, Gwen Stefani angered fans last month when she wore a Native American headdress in rock band No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” music video, which No Doubt immediately pulled.

Racy & Racist: ‘Blowing Kisses to Angry Emails’ the New Sexy?

Victoria’s Secret publicly apologized in the days following the fashion show: “We are sorry that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset individuals. We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone,” read a statement on Victoria’s Secret’s Facebook page.

The company added that it will exclude the outfit from the show’s scheduled broadcast on Dec. 4 on CBS and from all marketing materials. Similar language appeared on the company’s Twitter feed, @VictoriasSecret.

But will once-loyal Victoria’s Secret customers accept the company’s apology? At least Kloss’ tweeted apology, which went out to her 118,000 followers, had a name attached to it.

Is Victoria’s Secret Racist?

The company may have passed off its gaffe as unintentional, but Victoria’s Secret’s apology failed to address its history of controversial and race-themed fashion.

The Victoria’s Secret “Go East” line caused an uproar in September by sexing up traditional Japanese garb in its Sexy Little Geisha teddy with “Eastern-inspired” flower prints and removable obi belt. The website claimed it was “your ticket to an exotic adventure.” The outfit was worn by a white model. Sites like Racilicious condemned the brand for showcasing Asian women as submissive and übersexualized.

Zah says that the company is not racist. “There’s mostly two ways of looking at this particular type of subject: One is to be offended, and the other is to take the higher road [and say] these people don’t understand who we are, and that’s fine,” says Zah. “Some people just don’t know.”

Native Americans aren’t a mascot,” Andie Flores, a 22-year-old Arizona State University design-studies major from Scottsdale, emailed Flores is not American Indian but found the lingerie offensive all the same. “[It’s not] a costume. No minority group or oppressed people is or should be. We have to keep each other in check. We have to engage in these discussions and help each other reach transformative conclusions. We have to educate our thinking.”

Read more articles on American Indians, racism and stereotypes:

Things NEVER to Say to American Indian Coworkers

American Indian Heritage Month Facts & Figures

3 Ways to Avoid Racist Ads Like Ashton Kutcher’s for Popchips

Jeremy Lin & Racism: 3 Ways to Stop Dangerous Stereotypes


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  • Cherie Stovall

    If the fashion theme were religious attire with a sexual twist, I wonder if Victoria’s Secret would expect the church to take the high road they described. Perspective is everything.

    • Luke Visconti

      “The high road” is most often recommended by scoundrels. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Lack of cultural perspective and ignorance of history are the culprits here. If VS had conducted a little research, they would have avoided this fiasco. For most Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a day of mourning, but some celebrate it “unconventionally.” They honor ancestors who survived and died as a result of the massacres and raids, involuntary relocations, and desecration of sacred burial grounds. It is also a day of healing and remembrance to give graciously and unconditionally to strangers in need. I hope this article truly inspires all companies and individuals to rethink diversity awareness.

  • Phil Kupferman

    I wondered about the Jimmy Fallon Capital One commercial as well since it shows many stereotypes.

  • I would like to add some background information. My great-grandmother’s father belonged to the Choctaw tribe, which referred to themselves as Native American, not American Indian. She shared information and customs passed on to her by her father and grandfather. I am many generations removed; however, the article saddened me to see how insensitive some people can be.

    Thanksgiving for me means being gratefulness everyday for my blessings and helping the less fortunate because it is the right thing to do. Moreover, you could be entertaining “angels” unaware.

    It is vital that we come together as a country and put the past atrocities behind us and move forward as a people. We are not a melting pot, we are a mosaic lending our talents and perspectives to enrich each other.

  • Thanksgiving for me means being grateful “everyday” for my blessings and helping the less fortunate because it is the right thing to do.

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