I was grocery shopping the other day in Brooklyn with my boyfriend when I pointed out a girl dressed in Carhartt jeans, work boots, and a Dickies scrub shirt. I mentioned that I liked her outfit, and my boyfriend, more skeptical, brought up that it was 1) sub-par and 2) appropriating the working class. Whether she thrifted those jeans at a Goodwill or bought the shirt at an online e-retailer for ~300 times what it’s worth, it’s clear the look was intentional. Style is unique, curated, and should be reflective of the wearer’s preferences. But, at what point do high fashion and social awareness collide— and at what point do they interfere?
Fashion has a way of turning what would conventionally be considered ‘fringe’ or ‘low’ culture into must-have goods—monopolizing the looks and, in some ways, berating the origins from which they come. This past spring, stylist Melody Trend wore a shirt that read “Ghetto Until Proven Fashionable” as a statement against the industry’s repeated borrowing from inner city looks. Calvin Klein introduced a collection based almost entirely around construction-wear garments (the ones with reflective silver strips) for its Fall 2018 ready to wear runway show. Balenciaga recreated the famous blue IKEA bag in early 2017 and up-sold it for about 2,145% of its original price (99¢). Vetements attempted to sell a work-shirt for $1,085.
But this isn’t a new concept. In 2014, Moschino showed a collection devoted to and inspired by McDonalds and, outside of the outcry from obesity campaigners who obviously saw this collection as an unhealthy endorsement for fast food, discourse was also shared regarding the overall morality of the pieces. I’ve seen a man in head-to-toe McDonald’s Moschino, order at a McDonalds on Canal Street in front of workers who, perhaps, would not be able to afford Moschino’s version of the McDonalds uniforms. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch this interaction, and makes us consider the sibling of cultural appropriation: class appropriation.
The difference between cultural and class appropriation lies in the attention they’re paid. The former rests on the people of a culture feeling uncredited for a specific trend. The latter is more fluid: It’s less common for a working class to be revolted by the items forecasted and set by the fashion world. The only voices crying for justice for the victims of class appropriation are, generally, of a different class. So, why does it matter? Perhaps it’s because of the progressive sense of responsibility the younger generation feels for one another. Today’s youth is more socially aware and sensitive than ever before. So is it fair that brands are profiting off of this lifestyle aesthetic—one being marketed to a demographic that is different from the lifestyle being sold. It’s a touchy subject, and one which I feel I have little say over. But it’s something to consider.
With the current climate of political correctness policing the politics of culture, perhaps we shouldn’t give class appropriation a pass. Because regardless of where you fall on the social ladder, $2,000 for an IKEA look-a-like bag is, well, just plain silly.