Online fashion brands use 'racier' images than High Street stores, research finds

New research by the BBC has found online shopping is 'racier' than High Street stores [Photo: Getty]

Online fashion brands are twice as likely to use “racy” images to promote their products as high street stores, new research has suggested.

According to analysis conducted by the BBC, on a typical UK high street retailer’s website, 8% of the women’s modelling images are “racy” compared to 16% on the sites of labels only found online.

“Raciness” was classified by the BBC using an AI Google tool that rates images from one to give in terms of how likely they are to be described as “racy.”

According to the software, images which show models wearing sheer or revealing clothing, such as swimwear, or are photographed in provocative poses are more likely to be classed as “racy”.

Overall the BBC analysed 18,000 images with female models across 10 fashion sites in June and July.

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Out of the online-only brands included, Pretty Little Thing scored the highest in terms of “raciness”, with 22% of its images classified as such.

Coming in just below in the raciness stakes was I Saw it First with 21% of it’s images considered racy.

Boohoo and Missguided were both found to have 16% of their images classified as racy and they were followed by Nasty Gal (11%) and Asos (7%).

The research also revealed that more traditional retailers such as Topshop and River Island generally scored much lower in the raciness stakes, with 9% and 7% of all images considered racy.

The sites were chosen because they are popular with women aged 18-24, according to internet research company SimilarWeb. Six were online-only and four were High Street stores.

Two other High Street brands, H&M and Zara, were left out of the analysis because the BBC was unable to gather images from their websites in a comparable way.

Experts had differing explanations for the reasoning behind online-only stores generally being considered more racy.

Lexie Carbone, who works for Later - a US company which advises businesses on how best to use Instagram, believes online-only sites may have racier content because they use social influencers to promote their clothes.

“For the audience to be able to look at that influencer and imagine themselves in that outfit and kind of aspire to be living that life, it's really captured in a different way than maybe a still traditional model pose,” she told BBC.

On the other hand Martha Poole, managing director of the Manchester-based modelling agency Industry, thinks the main reason for the difference is the design of the clothes.

"In a dress that's slashed from the neck to the navel, you don't really have to stand provocatively, the dress itself is provocative," she said.

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Yahoo UK has contacted the online-only brands mentioned for comment, but Missguided responded to the BBC’s research to explain that the content on its website is reflective of its audience.

“Our website reflects what appeals to the young women who love to buy from us – sassy, empowered, unafraid of what others think," a brand spokesperson told BBC.

“We run our website for them, not an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

The research comes as two adverts for both Missguided and Boohoo were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA found that Boohoo’s advert was “socially irresponsible” while it said the Missguided advert featured “highly sexualised” images and “objectified women”.