So a “wardrobe malfunction” can basically mean someone’s fly being open or someone’s dress, skirt getting bunched up in a weird way in their underpants.

If I am dealing with friends, acquaintances, co-workers or someone I have some basic familiarity with, I can easily just come up to them and say, “Hey! I think you should check your this/that/other…”

But what about complete strangers regardless of gender, age orientation or ability? My general rule of thumb has been to approach a stranger based on severity and awareness… Will be honest, I borderline on gender-bias when this happens since I think a man with an open zipper is not as bad/embarrassing as a woman who inadvertently has their skirt or dress burned up in the back of their underpants.

I am located in a major city in the northeast part of the U.S. if to add context.

  • 1
    @Vylix I'd write almost exactly the same answer to this question as to the food-in-teeth question ( interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/5668/6468 ) except I'd swap out "underwear" for "spinach".
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 4:38
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    @HDE226868 this does kinda beg the question of how we identify dups around here. It's not an exact dup, but it is heavily covered ground.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 5:50
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    @apaul - You take the best answer(s) from the possible dup question and see if they would answer this question without modification. If the answer is "Yes", then it is a duplicate. If the answer would substantially different, then no, not a duplicate. In this case, I voted it as a dupe as I think the top answer would also apply here.
    – JohnP
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 18:23
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    @JohnP I don't think it's a duplicate: an unzipped zipper is a pretty particular issue which is not (usually) too revealing, as the top-voted answer to that question notes. Other wardrobe malfunctions which cause greater "exposure" may need a different approach.
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 20:55
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    Okay. I voted to leave it closed for now, as 'wardrobe malfunction' is too broad. We already have questions about how to handle zippers and I think there also was one about a see-through swimsuit somewhere... This is about complete strangers, the situation described is hypothetical and the extent/kind of wardrobe malfunction is unclear. If it were reopened, I would vtc as either unclear what you're asking or too broad. I agree that it may not be dupe, but I'm not a mod so I cant reopen and immediately close with the 'correct' reason.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


I think in a way no matter how you approach this there will no doubt be some awkwardness because as you said they are a complete stranger and they most likely will be embarrassed because of the wardrobe malfunction.

That being said I personally think these types of things are best handled in a straight forward manner. If you are too subtle about how you try to mention it to them, they may not understand what you are trying to imply and that may lead to even more awkwardness.

I think you should just approach them the same way you mentioned that you approach people you know, with a simple:

“I think you need to check your _____.”

As I said, no matter what it will be weird, but I think in the end the stranger will be more appreciative that someone, like yourself, was kind enough to let them know about it, rather than let them go on with their day further embarrassing themselves unknowingly.

For context I live near the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul in MN).


Assuming we are talking about strangers or someone who I've just met, I would want to take into consideration just what the wardrobe malfunction is, what the surrounding environment is like, and how likely it is that others will notice the problem.

  1. If it is possible to tell the person (in clear words, with no possibility of misunderstanding) about the malfunction without other people overhearing and without getting any closer to the person than normal conversational distance, then I would go ahead and give the warning, without worrying (much) about respective genders/acquaintanceship/power dynamics etc. The more matter-of-fact the warning, the better; focusing on the item of clothing that is malfunctioning, rather than anything that the clothing ought to be covering, is also a good idea.

  2. If you would need to invade the person's personal space in order to give a discreet warning, then I would evaluate based on how uncomfortable that invasion is likely to be and how bad it will be for the person not to be warned.

    a. If it's something not-too-embarrassing, like a slip is showing or a zipper is down (but nothing is poking out) then go ahead and lean in a bit to give the warning.

    b. If it's something that is extremely personal, like an actual private body part is showing, then I would be more sensitive to power and sex differentials, and weight them against the possible consequences of not telling the person.

This recommended "balancing act" is based on my own comfort levels. As a small woman, I'd be uncomfortable if a strange man sidled up to me to whisper in my ear that my skirt was tucked into my underwear or that my breast was hanging out (I've nursed four babies, so that's happened to me in public). I'd much prefer if he found a nearby female to give me the same message, even though that means that two people would notice the malfunction. If I'd be likely to notice or fix the problem on my own without anyone else seeing (say, everyone else was leaving at the end of a party I was hosting), it would be fine to pretend not to notice at all. However, if we were in a room full of only men (other than me) and the warning prevented me from flashing the rest of the room, that momentary discomfort would be an acceptable trade-off for avoiding much greater embarrassment.

Similarly, I'd be very reluctant to get within touching distance of a strange man to let him know that his penis was hanging out, and would only do so as a last resort (i.e. if there was no other man nearby who could do it) to prevent him from exposing himself further. (Of course, if I suspected it was intentional my approach would be very different.)

Again, if it is necessary to give a warning in a particularly sensitive situation, being very formal and clothing-focused is better: "You probably want to adjust your blouse" is much less cringe-inducing than "I can see your tit." It's also a good idea to keep body language as stand-offish as possible, within the confines of getting close enough to be heard by the other person but not the whole room: don't touch the other person if you can possibly help it, keep your eyes focused above the other person's neck, step back as soon as you're sure the message was understood, look away if possible while adjustments are made, etc.

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