Unpaid Spokesmodels: How Celebs Are Making Brands Money for Free

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Kate Middleton (with Prince William) in her blue Issa London dress. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s no secret that celebrities can help get a business off the ground just by being photographed wearing its clothes or accessories. It’s the sole reason that so many companies send them free stuff. And sometimes, the impact happens fast.

Take Kate Middleton: You would be hard-pressed to read a post about the duchess’s wardrobe without a mention of her clothing selling out or no longer being available. It happens so often that the occurrence now has its own name: “The Kate Middleton Effect.” Whether she’s wearing a Whistles dress or her favorite L.K. Bennett wedges — or even a long-sleeved wedding gown — Kate’s clothes never stay on the shelves for long. For example, the blue Issa London dress she wore for her 2010 engagement photos makes news practically every time it comes back in stock. In 2012, her contributions to the fashion industry were estimated to be worth around £1 billion (about $1.5 billion).

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Beyoncé in Topshop shorts. (Photo: Beyonce.com)

The duchess’ selling power seems to transcend generations as well. Her young children, George and Charlotte, have been putting items on waitlists since they were born. George was able to sell out two separate baby blankets in his first days of life alone, while the company that made Charlotte’s debut shawl, G H Hurt & Son Ltd, said it saw a “dramatic increase in demand for this product from around the world” overnight.

On the other side of the pond, first lady Michelle Obama — who has her own eponymous “effect” — has been credited with single-handedly bringing back cardigans, as well as boosting sales of full-skirted dresses and flat shoes.

Unsurprisingly, a study conducted in 2014 of 1,000 women ages 18 to 34 found that 48 percent said their style was most heavily influenced by celebrities. But it’s not just stylish royals and elected officials whom they were following.

The most recent frenzy comes courtesy of former tennis player Maria Sharapova, who sported a $22.90 Zara tee reading “Back in 5 Minutes” at a promotional event. Interpreting the graphic as a memo to her supporters (she’s been banned from playing following a failed doping test at the Australian Open in January), fans began snapping up the tee and posing with it on Instagram, alongside the hashtag #IStandWithMaria.

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Maria Sharapova and fans wearing the same Zara tee. (Photo: @teamsharapova/Instagram)

As a former employee of Topshop, I’ve witnessed these so-called effects firsthand. Long before Ivy Park existed, Beyoncé would come to our store to snap up some affordable loot — and you’d better believe that the day after she had worn the apparel in a paparazzi shot, hordes of girls would come in asking for the specific items. One piece that especially comes to mind was those American-flag-printed denim shorts, which were originally sold in late spring 2011. They were on the racks for weeks before Bey dubbed them cool, and after she had worn them, they were gone. (You’d better believe that I owned a pair, too.) Immediately after that, other stores started selling knockoffs.

Of course, the Beyoncé Effect goes beyond retail. After she mentioned Red Lobster in her single “Formation” in February, sales at the seafood chain reportedly jumped 33 percent.

It’s impossible to say who or what will have the next “effect” on women. But with the Internet’s ability to make practically everything accessible to anyone, the trend is likely to only grow in intensity. Fads will come and go, but this we know for certain: Celebs will keep getting free s*** (or in Topshop’s case, they’ll use their “celeb discount”), and fans will keep spending their paychecks in order to emulate them. Life is just unfair like that.

In the words of Tupac (or technically, Bruce Hornsby) … that’s just the way it is. Now, what happened to those American-flag shorts of mine?

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