Fashion’s working class appropriation
Britain has always been class conscious; along with sex, money is perhaps the most taboo subject there is.
The rich have always felt a vague guilt about the fact that they are rich, and the poor have always felt a vague guilt about the fact that they are poor; these feelings are intensified in student culture, where it becomes a near obsession.
Traditionally, fashion was an aspirational medium; clothing was constructed to display luxury and wealth.
It was dictated by and created for the rich.
As of late, however, there has been a shift in the pendulum and a change in the interests of mainstream fashion.
Fashion has begun to take inspiration from something other than affluence, and edge is prized over elegance, something achieved only by fashions tapping into the aesthetics of the working-class.
Current trends such as the 90s revival, sportswear as everyday wear, Hypebeasts and the trainer renaissance are undeniably influenced by the working-class; whether fashion and its followers want to admit it or not.
It was Roland Barthes who said that clothing was a language: a mirage for symbols created by the wearer to communicate their sense of self.
What we wear says less about who we are, and more about who we want people to think we are.
Fashion grants us the platform to shift between identities; clothing therefore allows us to shift between classes, or at least appear to.
This paradoxical conversion in dress sees the middle-class taking the other-wise mocked norms of the working- class aesthetic to mask their true class identity; it is through our fashion choices then, that our guilt surrounding our social-class is most evidenced.
This practice is an exhibition of classism, class-privilege and class appropriation.
The appropriation of working-class culture within the fashion world is evident from the top; a flick through any fashion magazine or a glance at any catwalk, and you can see emblems of the working-class.
Brands such as Givenchy, Balenciaga and Vetements have all indulged themselves with the stolen aesthetic of the working class: hoodies, jeans tucked into trousers, sportswear and general gaudiness.
Palace are making shell suits, once the definition of poor and uncultured taste, and selling them in Dover Street Market; Gosha Rubchinksky is walking models down Paris Fashion Week with jeans tucked into white socks, a classic hallmark of ‘chav’ dress.
For the first time, perhaps ever, fashion picks inspiration directly from the streets as opposed to more abstract ideals; it can be seen as grassroots authenticism, but I would argue there is something more sinister at play with much deeper cultural connotations.
High fashion’s obsession with streetwear and the stylings of the working-class have subsequently trickled down into the wardrobes of the mainstream.
If we see fashion and style as ‘dressing up’, then the appropriation of working class dress habits represents a sardonic play acting; those who never had to live through social hardships get to dress like they did and feel cooler for it.
The middle-class are granted this privilege because they are told that everything is theirs; they are allowed to enter any space they want, adopt any speech pattern they want, dress anyway they want without facing any penalty.
This is because they are told everything is theirs.
It’s easy to see this as harmless, but the adopting of working-class signifiers, the very signifiers working-class people are told to drop, is a gross exhibition of class privilege.
Playing class dress is only irritating; it doesn’t erode discrimination and snobbery, nor does it prove how grounded and open-minded you are. If you went to private school and are funded by your parents, own it and be honest about your privilege.