2011. Vol.2, No.3, 266-268
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.23042
Wardrobe Malfunctions and the Measurement of Internet
Roland Pfister
Department of Psychology III, Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.
Received January 4th, 2011; revised February 24th, 2011; accepted April 10th, 2011.
The wardrobe malfunction—an unanticipated exposure of bodily parts in the public—has become a prevailing
issue in concerts, shows and other celebrity events that is reliably reported by the media. The internet as the
fastest source for celebrity gossip allows measuring the impact of such wardrobe malfunctions on the public in-
terest in a celebrity. This measurement in turn allows conclusions about intention, motivation, and internet be-
haviour of a wide variety of internet users. The present study exemplifies the use of an innovative non-reactive
measure of active interest—the Search Volume Index—to assess the impact of a variety of internet-related phe-
nomena, including wardrobe malfunctions. Results indicate that interest in a celebrity increases immediately af-
ter such an event and stays at a high level for about three weeks (the wardrobe plateau). This special form of ce-
lebrity gossip thus meets a constant interest of a substantial proportion of internet users.
Keywords: Internet Behaviour, Search Volume Index, Non-reactive Measurement, Wardrobe Malfunction
January 31, 2004, gave rise to an intense public discussion as
the right breast cup of Janet Jackson’s costume was torn off
during the Super Bowl live event that was broadcasted on
American and international television. The event was instantly
reported in numerous television shows, print media, and the
internet where discourse centered primarily on the intentional-
ity of the incident (Holland, 2009). This discourse eventually
led to the creation of a term that was nearly awarded word of
the year 2004: the wardrobe malfunction (American Dialect
Society, 2005).
A wardrobe malfunction was defined as an “unanticipated
exposure of bodily parts” by the American Dialect Society
(2005) or, in more detail, as “an accidental or supposedly acci-
dental failure of clothing to cover parts of the body intended to
be covered” (Peckham, 2005). Such wardrobe malfunctions
occurred frequently ever since the 2004 Super Bowl show and
were reliably reported in the media, especially the internet
which has become the most important portal for celebrity news
(Choi & Berger, 2010). Thus, wardrobe malfunctions seem to
be one of several ways to increase internet presence which in
turn helps to maintain celebrity status (Gamson, 2002; Kurz-
man et al., 2007).
This speculation, however, only holds true if such news are
of interest to a broader mass of people. Several recent studies
assessed the characteristics of people who are interested in
celebrity gossip, and, among others, correlations were found
with addiction (Sheridan, North, Matlby, & Gillett, 2007) and
sensation seeking (McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran, & Maltby,
2003). Further studies exploring motivations of internet users in
general discovered a profound contribution of social as well as
sexual motives, including recent internet-related pathologies
such as cyberstalking or addiction to cybersex (Young, Pistner,
O’Mara, & Buchanan, 1999).
In the light of the findings on individual motives of internet
users, celebrity misbehaviours such as wardrobe malfunctions
could indeed provide a powerful tool to boost a celebrities’ web
presence. This hypothesis was tested empirically by using the
novel, non-reactive measure of Search Volume Indices, roughly
corresponding to the global internet traffic being produced by
Google searches for a given term.
Seventeen wardrobe malfunctions from 2004 to 2009 were
identified and included in the analysis (see Appendix for a
complete list). This selection of cases concentrates on wardrobe
malfunctions that occurred during official events and were ob-
served by numerous people, such as TV shows, concerts, or
film festivals. However, this collection is necessarily subjective
as there are no comprehensive lists from serious sources avail-
able. The case of Janet Jackson described above was not used
for further data analysis to avoid an overestimation of a ward-
robe malfunction’s impact due to the archetypical nature of the
case and the extremely high media presence that followed it.
For a comparison to the data of the remaining cases, the impact
of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction on the chosen de-
pendent variable of Search Volume Indices is shown in Figure 1.
For each of the 17 cases identified, Search Volume Indices
(SVIs) were assessed via Google Trends (Google Inc., 2009).
The SVI quantifies the impact of a given keyword on global
internet traffic as measured by the number of Google searches
for that keyword. Thus, the SVI represents a non-reactive
measure of active interest in a given topic. SVI scores are pro-
vided for each week since January 2004 and they are scaled
relative to the mean traffic produced by the keyword in this first
*This publication was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)
and the University of Würzburg in the funding programme Open Access
Search Volume Index
Wee k I ndex ( 2004)
February 2004:J anet Jac ks on' s
wardrobe malfunction during live
performance at the Super Bowl
show on January 31.
Figure 1.
Search Volume Indices (SVI) as a non-reactive, relative measure of
internet traffic produced by Google searches for Janet Jackson in the
course of 2004. SVIs can be interpreted as a weeks traffic in relation
to the average traffic during January 2004. The first week of February
2004—following Jacksons wardrobe malfunction during the Super
Bowl show on January 31—thus yielded an increase of relative internet
traffic by a factor of about 370.
month (fixed scaling). Thus, a fictive SVI score for the term
“Psychology” of 1.5 in the last week of August 2004 indicates
that internet traffic produced by this term in this week is 1.5
times as much as during January 2004. Fixed SVIs were ex-
tracted for each of the four weeks prior to the event (being rela-
tively constant at SVI = 1), for the week of the event, and for
the following eight weeks.
All scores were baseline-corrected by subtracting the mean
SVI of the four weeks prior to the wardrobe malfunction. SVIs
were averaged across all 17 cases and 99% confidence intervals
were computed for each week (see Figure 2). SVIs instantly
increased in the week of the event and stayed at a constant level
for the next week, too. In week three after the event, SVIs were
markedly decreased but still significantly above baseline,
marking the end of the wardrobe plateau. Finally, and being at a
relatively low level already, SVIs started to decrease asymp-
totically in the following weeks (see Figure 2; details of the
effects for each case of wardrobe malfunction are included in
the Appendix).
For further statistical analysis, individual profiles were ag-
gregated to four time markers: the time prior to the wardrobe
malfunction (baseline), the week of the wardrobe malfunction,
the week after the wardrobe malfunction, and the following 7
weeks. These four data points were analyzed by within-subjects
ANOVA with the single factor of time. The factor’s significant
influence, F(3, 48) = 3.73, p = .035, ηp2 = .19 (Greenhouse-
Geisser adjusted to account for non-sphericity), was mainly
based on a quadratic trend with timescale-corrected contrast
vector, F(1, 16) = 7.16, p = .016, ηp2 = .31, without linear or
cubic components (both F’s < 1).
The impact of wardrobe malfunctions on a celebrity’s inter-
net presence was assessed by means of the internet traffic that
was produced by Google searches for the name of the celebrity
in question. Examining 17 cases of wardrobe malfunction, a
statistically reliable increase of searches was found as long as
the third week after the incident with a plateau activity during
Search V ol ume Index
Wee k Index
Figure 2.
Baseline-corrected mean SVI scores of 17 cases of wardrobe malfunc-
tion in relation to the onset of the event in week 0. Error bars represent
99% confidence intervals.
the first two to three weeks. This plateau activity amounted to a
baseline-corrected SVI of about 3, indicating a substantially
increased internet presence during that time. Given the
fast-paced nature of the internet community, the reported im-
pact duration of about 3 weeks is even more remarkable and
indicates a profound interest in this type of news among a high
proportion of internet users. Even though no conclusions are
possible about the interrelations with other factors, the motive
of using the internet as a source for celebrity gossip in combi-
nation with soft pornographic material fits with other results on
internet-related motives such as social and affective motives or
interest in pornography (Young et al., 1999).
Considering the nature of SVIs as dependent variable, sev-
eral alternative explanations might also account for the in-
creased interest in a celebrity after a wardrobe malfunction. For
instance, the present experiment only analyzed events that were
broadcasted to numerous people. Thus, the increased interest
might indicate solely an interest in the event as such. This al-
ternative explanation was tested by further analyses that used a
similar situation but without wardrobe malfunction and applied
the same test as before (data not shown here). In these analyses,
no comparable increase could be detected for any event. The
increased internet presence of a celebrity after a wardrobe mal-
function is thus indeed specific to the event studied.
Taken together, the present study demonstrated the use of
Search Volume Indices as a non-reactive measure of internet
behaviour. The measure provides an attractive opportunity for
internet research as the data is readily available and provides a
unique opportunity for studying internet behaviour on a broader
scale. The method can easily be applied to a wide variety of
research questions and might provide a valuable tool for media
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Individual case statistics for all cases included in the present
analysis. Numbers in the three effect columns represent SVI scores for the week of the event (Week 0) and the following
two weeks (Week 1 and We e k 2).
Event Effect
Case Name
Month Year Week 0 Week 1 Week 2
1 Pamela Anderson March 2009 0.10 0.02 0.00
2 Toni Braxton June 2006 1.09 0.01 –0.34
3 Naomi Campbell January 2005 5.85 1.05 0.14
4 Katrina Campins March 2005 0.96 0.54 0.15
5 Mariah Carrey July 2005 2.72 0.4 –0.16
6 Julie Ferrier February 2009 1.47 3.09 –0.10
7 Jennifer Hawkins August 2004 4.65 3.57 0.20
8 Beyoncé Knowles August 2007 0.37 0.02 –0.10
9 Lindsay Lohan February 2006 2.45 0.95 0.36
10 Sophie Marceau May 2005 22.95 8.75 0.26
11 Kate Moss March 2009 0.36 0.09 0.15
12 Eva Padberg May 2009 0.2 0.25 0.05
13 Gwyneth Paltrow September 2009 –0.01 –0.14 –0.23
14 Natalie Portman June 2009 –0.12 –0.15 –0.09
15 Tara Reid October 2004 3.85 23.65 4.14
16 Britney Spears September 2007 2.05 0.41 0.21
17 Emma Watson July 2009 7.3 8.70 2.04