If you asked the average American to name unprotected or vulnerable groups, “fashion models” would be unlikely to leave anyone’s lips. After all, models are living a life of plane tickets and Prada . . . right?

Fashion is fueled by appearances, and this is not only true of each respective garment or collection, but also of the fashion world generally. One foundational facade is that everyone within the industry lives a life of carefree glamor. On social media, models pose with everything from borrowed bags to subsequently discarded burgers. In interviews, they deliver carefully scripted narratives. In reality, the industry has what attorneys in a recent (and rare) instance of model versus agency class action litigation called “a dark underbelly.”

Due to nearly unfettered control by their agencies and the pervasive knowledge that they are replaceable, fashion models inhabit a world rife with financial exploitation, sexual harassment, and severe eating disorders. While these dangers are multifaceted, they could all be mitigated through one change: recognizing models’ status as employees. Models are currently classified as independent contractors; however, when one examines the relevant factors, it becomes evident that they should be classified as employees. The most important factor in determining employee status is control, and though agencies exercise far greater control over models than the average employer does over employees, the parties ostensibly do not share an employer/employee relationship. Without employee status, models (many of whom are underage) remain without the essential protections afforded to other U.S. workers. In fact, more legal protections exist for the sale of actual clothing hangers than for the workplace health and safety of the individuals known as “human clothing hangers.”

This Article identifies the issues within the fashion industry and explores how correctly classifying models as employees would provide them with long-overdue protection. Utilizing arguments rooted in everything from torts to contracts, incorporating sources ranging from the Uniform Commercial Code to supermodel autobiographies, and vivifying the experience through anecdotes from fictional model Macey Buchanan, this Article explores how the all-too-common injustices within the fashion industry could be remedied through one simple change.

Models are clothed in different outfits daily, but dignity, safety, and simple legal rights remain excluded from the proverbial wardrobe. It is time our system updated its look.