Poor costuming

Illustration by Camille Bolos | The Signal

Cultural appropriation is, at this point, a commonly understood practice in which members of a dominant culture adopt the images, motifs, and styles of another culture, typically with no, or very little acknowledgment of the community from which it came. 

The different cultures in a country as diverse as the United States have always served as inspiration for fashion designers.

Over the past few years, the pieces and clothing styles from working-class subcultures have been appropriated and celebrated by runway designers and other fashion elites. 

While fashion draws inspiration from various sources worldwide, there are a few eyebrow-raising aspects to this type of appropriation. 

The practice of very wealthy individuals dressing down is nothing new, and very simple, plain clothing styles have more or less constantly been a part of the “old money” idea. 

A glance at any Kennedy family photo will feature nothing but plain-looking Brooks Brothers shirts and sweaters adorned with the family crest. 

Much of this has to do with the culture surrounding the multi-generationally wealthy, as ideas of status and heritage are of great importance in their social spaces. 

Outside of these prestige groups, other very wealthy individuals have opted for simple clothing styles, especially American billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. They committed themselves to the same ensemble for every Keynote. 

What separates recent trends from these performances of wealth is a clear and intentional inspiration from and co-opting of working-class emblems, such as workwear, pre-distressed clothing and oversized fits. 

The problem with this lies in the fact that while poverty is not necessarily a culture, those who live in poverty often have limited choices in what they can wear. 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that high fashion brands consider the looks being served by the economically disenfranchised are very exciting. 

I live in a city with an endemic number of homeless people, and I must admit that I have been jealous of the outfits I have seen them wear. 

The treatment of these conditions that real people must face daily as what is effectively a costume does a lot more to trivialize the experience of poverty than to celebrate it. 

The ever-growing class divide throughout most liberal democracies fans the flames on both this trend and the backlash supporting it. 

The practice gets even more problematic when considering that wealth and race are inextricably linked in America, and because of this, cultures end up being appropriate. 

This is seen in the recent trend of Chicano makeup and styles on Tik Tok. This fact becomes even more alarming when we consider that the Chicano movement, in general, has its roots in Mexican-American anti-assimilation. 

Social media posts by famous and wealthy celebrities have turned many people off to celebrity culture as the dire conditions of the pandemic exposed the truly out-of-touch nature that many of the world’s elites hold towards those who make less money than them. 

It can be effortless for them to see someone who looks “cool” or “edgy” not considering that maybe those without homes don’t prefer to have deconstructed shoes.

It almost seems pointless for the rich to be indulging in such styles. Perhaps it’s a bit of a tease to say, “I can afford to dress how I want, but I’ll take what you have.” 

While the complaints may not seem that deep, the trend does show a clear fetishism for the working class that many wealthy  people have. 

While a distressed pair of Golden Goose sneakers may be exciting for someone with an unlimited disposable income, the mindset behind these trends largely ignores the desperate circumstances from which the pieces that inspire homeless-chic arise out of.