Does Wikipedia Have a Fashion Problem?

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Wikipedia-worthy. Photo: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

At the annual Wikimania conference last week, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales defended the site's entry on Kate Middleton's bridal gown for the second time. Initially created on the day of the royal wedding last year, the page was quickly flagged for deletion and ridiculed by readers as being too "fluffy" a subject for Wikipedia's consideration. Wales quickly defended the dress's importance by pointing out its obvious impact on the fashion industry at large. (We might add that Middleton's choice of designer and dress had a big effect on the world's opinion of her, and in turn, of the current British monarchy, but no matter.)

The entry in question remained, and last week Wales used the dress as an example of "popular" content that Wikipedia has been accused of lacking, particularly that which women might find more interesting than men. (There's a huge gender imbalance between male and female Wikipedia editors: According the site's 2011 Editor Survey, only 9 percent are women.) Slate reports that Wikipedia has since made efforts to narrow the gender gap through a variety of initiatives and . But back to Middleton's wedding dress: Wales said that they're working on entries about a number of other famous dresses as well, and that this is one kind of content he's planning to flesh out. 

Indeed, whether or not you are the kind of person who feels that a particular kind of lace or pair of jeans can be life-changing (hey, bravo for life's small pleasures?), there's no arguing against the fact that public figures' fashion choices matter. You can't name a single political figure, male or female, whose wardrobe hasn't been analyzed. Even religious figures are identified by what they wear. To classify Wikipedia entries about famous outfits as being more interesting to women — which Wales did not explicitly do, it must be noted — 

The entry in question remained, and last week Wales used the dress as an example of "popular" content that Wikipedia has been accused of lacking, specifically articles that skew towards women's interests. (There's a huge gender imbalance between male and female Wikipedia editors: According the site's 2011 Editor Survey, only 9 percent are women.) Slate reports that Wikipedia has since made efforts to narrow the gender gap through a variety of initiatives. But back to Middleton's wedding dress: Wales said that they're working on entries about a number of other famous dresses as well and that this is one kind of content he's planning to flesh out. 

Indeed, whether or not you are the kind of person who feels that a particular cut of lace or pair of jeans can be life-changing (in which case, how nice that you can appreciate life's small pleasures), there's no arguing against the fact that public figures' fashion choices matter. You can't name a single political figure, male or female, whose wardrobe hasn't been analyzed and/or criticized at length. Even religious figures are identified by what they wear. In These Days of constantly streaming news, one's public image isn't superficial, it's essential.

To classify Wikipedia entries about famous outfits as being more interesting to women — which Wales did not explicitly do at Wikimania, it must be noted — isn't even correct in some cases. (Just look at the recent outrage over Ralph Lauren's Olympics uniforms, which had nothing to do with gender, for example.) Hopefully Wales and Wikipedia will be able to incorporate prominent fashion moments into their content soon, not just because women will be interested, but because what people wear almost always plays a significant role in their agenda.