Ripped jeans and oversized bleach stained sweaters have become abundant and trendy in the world of high fashion. Such items of clothing can have price tags of up to thousands of dollars. Romanticizing the clothing of the poor works to mask and trivialize institutionalized classism and the hardships impoverished people endure. The ability to see poverty, a human being living without basic necessities, as inspirational and “stylish,” reflects a sizable disconnect between the poor and the people appropriating poor aesthetics. By capitalizing upon such aesthetics, wealthy individuals also inherently contribute to and reproduce the system that creates disparity, inequality, and poverty in the first place. Society criticizes and blames impoverished people, especially people of color, for their decaying clothing and living situations, while praising high-income whites for the “reinvention” of poor aesthetics. The key difference between the clothing of poor individuals and their appropriate versions is choice. When one person’s inevitability becomes another’s stylistic choice, that choice is the one that is society praises and glamorizes, not the marginalized individual who acted as a source of inspiration. Dressing like you are poor is only considered fashionable when you have the choice to do so. Poor people themselves are never considered fashionable, they are simply considered poor. Choosing to dress as if one is impoverished does not reveal similarities or solidarity with the poor, but rather acts as a method for differentiating oneself from poverty and its realities.
-- Madison Fink '19
This digital photograph depicts a model on the New York Fashion Week runway for the famous rapper Kanye West’s “Yeezy Season One” collection in collaboration with Adidas, released in 2015. The model wears sheer tights on her legs and the same sheer material to cover her hair. The only information we gain from her comes from her clothing, composed of an oversized, overly distressed sweater and a pair of white hightop boots.
The extreme decay of her sweater, if natural, would typically be expected on an individual who did not have the resources to obtain a functional, and intact one. However, here, West glamorizes such deteriorating aesthetics. The decay is not unavoidable, but desired. More so, such sweaters West designed are known to have sold for over $2000 dollars. The aesthetics of poverty become desirable and capitalized upon only when they are inaccessible.
A model poses on the runway in 2000 for John Galliano’s 7th, and controversial, Christian Dior couture collection, titled “homeless.” The designer reported that his designs took inspiration from the homeless people he saw on the street as he jogged on the banks of Seine in Paris. The model wears a tattered and distorted top hat, oversized, torn, and stained paints and a jacket, as well as a frayed piece of fishnet lace over her chest.
Her face is covered in white makeup with harsh blush and dark eyeliner, appearing as if she suffered a long night in the cold. However, the model herself still meets conventional beauty standards of whiteness and thinness, and is in fact inside and presumably warm. For his designs in the collection, Galliano used newspaper-printed silk and other luxury fabrics that were distressed so that they would appear old, dirty, and worn. Just as the models themselves were manipulated to appear as if they belong to a different socioeconomic class. Galliano treats the homeless as aesthetic objects, trivializing the realities of homeless life.
The Italian luxury footwear brand, Golden Goose, met controversy in 2016 when it released this Distressed Superstar Sneaker— sold at Barney’s for the price of $585. Golden Goose is known for its distressed shoes, the style is the brand’s specialty. However, this shoe took wear to a next level. The pink suede is scuffed, the laces are ripped and frayed, the sidewall masked in faux-dirt, and most noticeably a piece of duct tape covers the toe as a false reinforcement. The desire to buy such shoes as “pre-distressed,” reveals that wealthy, privileged customers are unwilling to undergo the labor involved in simply wearing shoes in order to naturally distress them. Instead, aesthetics of people who do not have the choice to wear the same pair of shoes everyday are appropriated, capitalized upon, and exploited. The price of the shoe reveals questions such as, when is distress desirable? And who dictates desirability?