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Look of the Week: Hailey Bieber's 'nepo baby' slogan tee
Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, 'Look of the Week' is a regular series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.
A punchy slogan t-shirt, papped at the right moment, can become an enduring image in our cultural history. In 2002, shortly after her public split with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears' stepped out wearing a baby blue tee with the all caps mandate "DUMP HIM," a look which quickly became enshrined in the internet's clapback hall of fame (Etsy is filled with thousands of copy-cat t-shirts over two decades later.) Paris Hilton, too, was long immortalized as a meme after wearing an apparently-inflammatory black and white vest with the slogan "Stop being poor!" in 2005 — in 2021 Hilton proved the image was doctored, however, with the actual text reading "Stop being desperate!" More recently, ahead of the release of her fifth studio album "Crash," musician Charli XCX pre-empted negative reviews by wearing a pastel pink crop top that said "They don't build statues of critics." Primarily a vehicle for sassy responses to low-brow drama, the slogan tee is a mouthpiece for the wearer — saying the quiet part out loud in a way that avoids direct responsibility.
On Friday January 6, Hailey Bieber became the latest celebrity to try and harness the power of the screen-printed word. While walking through a parking garage in Los Angeles, Bieber was photographed in a white crop top emblazoned with the words "Nepo Baby." Slang for "nepotism baby," meaning the child of famous or well connected parents, the phrase has been bubbling up across social media for the past year, used to highlight the myth of meritocracy and the unsurprising truth that wealth and family connections can bring about unfair advantages. Some A-listers, such as Lily Rose Depp, have been criticized for denying the edge nepotism can give an early-career actor or performer — as she did in an interview with Elle last year.
But the phrase boiled over after it became the subject of a December cover story from New York magazine. The article, with the snarky subhed "She Has Her Mother's Eyes. And Agent," included a series of illustrated family trees "outing" celebrities with famous parents and relatives. It sent social media users into a tailspin, some jumping to the defense of their favorite stars and others pointing out that nepotism is just one rung in a long ladder of individual privileges many people benefit from — from skin color to gender to class, to name just a few — and shouldn't be overemphasized. It also led to many woeful responses from celebrities. "I'm so sick of people blaming nepotism for why they aren't rich and famous or successful," tweeted Kate Moss' half sister, Lottie Moss. "Obviously it's not fair that people who come from famous families are getting a leg up because of that but guess what? Life isn't fair—if you put your mind to something you can accomplish."
Bieber, who is the daughter of Stephen Baldwin, niece to Alec Baldwin and wife of Justin Bieber, appeared in the New York piece briefly. Her choice to address the controversy sartorially was risky, as engineering any viral moment is when public opinion is so unpredictable. While some have commended Bieber for her sense of humor, many voices on social media have brandished her "untalented" and unqualified to fly the flag for nepo babies everywhere. But does the act stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the brasen, devil-may-care energy radiating from Spears and Hilton's sarcastic crop tops? Well, in just a few hours, more paparazzi shots revealed Bieber had changed her shirt.