The Kardashians have influenced the way we all dress. You may look at that sentence, snort and think, ‘well, not me’. But the big-bottomed, corset-wearing, Latex-loving, make-up flogging sisters from LA have shaped the current aesthetic in more ways than one.
Yesterday Kim announced on Instagram that Keeping Up With The Kardashians would come to an end in early 2021. Given the enormous impact the family has had on fashion and culture, it’s odd to think that when they shimmied onto our television screens 13 years ago they were known only for Kim’s sex tape and Bruce Jenner’s athletic career. It was 2007 and skinny blondes were everywhere; Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Aniston were voted People’s most beautiful and Lindsay Lohan was Maxim’s Sexiest Woman Alive.
Then the Kardashians slowly began their world domination. When the show first aired, Kim was no style icon, appearing in a series of questionable thigh-high boots, furry shawls and glittery camouflage dresses that looked more like an early-years Christina Aguilera tribute act than anything resembling high fashion.
But as she got a stylist and learned which cuts suited her body and the camera, Kim began to represent a refreshingly new, wonderfully simple concept: a woman with hips and thighs – and most importantly a bottom! – that weren’t being dieted into submission or hidden under bulky clothes. Instead they were front and centre of her look, and making her a lot of money.
Kim’s ever-more hourglass silhouette was soon being poured into gowns by Tom Ford, Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Galliano. After she went public with her romance to Kanye West in 2012, he introduced her brands like Balmain and Mugler – having apparently told her she had “bad style” on one of their early dates. Clearly she didn’t mind too much, as in 2013 the couple appeared on the Met Gala red carpet, Kim’s baby bump resplendent in those much-maligned Givenchy florals.
The rise of the Kardashians went hand in hand with that of Instagram and along with her sisters, Kim’s every fashion move was documented, dissected and copied. They were a tsunami and their fashion choices flooded the industry, influencing major designer names like Riccardo Tisci as well as fast-fashion favourites such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing (Kourtney collaborated with the latter last year). In February 2019 Kim even sued Missguided for plagiarism and won nearly $3 million in damages.
As Kim became one of the most photographed women in the world, curve-enhancing, corseted dresses were suddenly everywhere, and Latex moved from sex parties into the mainstream. Many of the trends of the last decade – cycling shorts, perspex heels, underwear as outerwear and bodies – can be traced back to our Kim.
The Kardashians wouldn’t be the Kardashians if they weren’t making money from all this. Kim’s shapewear line, Skims, sold out within minutes of its launch, earning her an impressive $2million dollars from her first week alone. Khloé co-designed a body-positive denim brand called Good American which made her $1million on its first day, while Kanye’s brand Yeezy made nearly $1 billion in sales last year. With the release of her KKW Beauty and KKW Fragrance lines, Kim earned nearly $100m in 2019; and then there are the sponsored partnerships on Instagram, for which Kim reportedly makes up to $1m per post.
The appetite for her fashion choices is insatiable and yes, mere mortals probably shouldn’t emulate her most talked about outfits – remember the wet-look Theirry Mugler gown at the 2019 Met Gala? Or her near-naked vintage Mugler black dress? Or the velvet leggings, lace bra and suit jacket from a Manhattan night out? But if you've worn a dress over the last few years that is cut in all the right places, and leaves space for normal-sized hips and thighs, then there’s a good chance that you’ve got Kim to thank for it.
Although it’s not just fashion and beauty that has buckled under the weight of the Kardashian-effect. Bridget Jones – that other famous thirtysomething – once described padded knickers designed to make bottoms look bigger as a “glorious deception to be in need of”. Well, 20 years later many of us do need them, as the ideal female physique has changed. According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, four out of five doctors in the industry have seen “a wild increase in demand … for gluteal augmentation.” Otherwise known as bottom implants.
“One of the biggest trends worldwide last year was for big buttocks,” says Dr Renato Saltz, a leading plastic surgeon. “It’s a trend entirely started in Latin America and for a while it was contained there. But it’s fascinating to see how widely it has been exported to the rest of the world. The cultural divide between what women wanted in the West and in Latin countries used to be very strong, but thanks to celebrities like Kim Kardashian, we have seen a real globalisation of beauty, as people from around the world aspire to one look rather than many.”
Young women undergoing a painful and often dangerous surgery to emulate a shape that’s impossible to attain any other way is wrong on many levels. But the end of Keeping up with the Kardashians represents the end of a fashion era that brought a lot of good too. Yes, Kim’s fashion choices were ridiculous at times, but they almost single-handedly brought down the ultra-skinny, ultra-white look of the noughties, and finally made curves cool again. And for that she should be applauded.