New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Although fashion design protection now exists in many countries, debate continues over whether or not such protection is really needed. Usually, the dispute is framed as a conflict between the original designer and the “pirates” who seek where they have sewn , but certainly not created. The voice that is virtually never heard in the debate is that of the consumer of these knock-offs (as distinguished from forgeries, another topic altogether). Why is the market for these copies so robust? While some may posit that purchasers who could buy the originals are simply choosing to save money, this article suggests a much more complex social story. An examination of the vast nonlegal literature on fashion and its consumers shows that people are judged and measured by others to a significant degree by what they wear, and that access to clothing that blurs lines of wealth and social class may well turn out to have significant democratizing effects in a society. This element has been overlooked in the legal debates, the article posits, in part because apparent interest in clothes is largely viewed through a significantly gender-biased lens that leads the topic to be treated (incorrectly) as something too trivial to be deserving of the notice of legislators and legal scholars.

Date of Authorship for this Version