Does Fashion Appropriate the Working Class?
Over the last few years the fashion world has seen trends such as streetwear and work-wear clothes massively growing in popularity, with luxury brands such as Gucci and Prada jumping on the band-wagon and somewhat abandoning haute couture for monogram designer tracksuits, high-fashion work-wear, and ‘old’ sportswear companies trendy again. If this was an accessible change, which catered for everyone (particularly the original wearers of such clothing – workers and the working class), then fine. Prices of designer streetwear were never low, but as demand grows, the prices increase even more.
Trends in recent years have seen brands like Adidas, their tracksuits once branded as ‘chavvy’ and heavily mocked, collaborating with high fashion brands such as Gucci, and selling for upwards of £1500. Somewhat ironically, high-fashion streetwear shows that it isn’t about the clothing, but about who wears the clothes, and who makes it acceptable to buy them. By putting fashion models, influencers, and celebrities in clothes that are deemed ‘chavvy’ only when members of the working class wear them, the fashion world fully appropriates, and profits from a stereotype.
Type ‘chav outfit’ into Google: baggy clothes, tracksuits and puffer jackets will appear, and similarly, if you search for ‘streetwear outfit’, it is again tracksuits and puffer jackets. The only difference? One of them is far more expensive. To attach the word ‘chav’, a derogatory word historically aimed at the young working class, to clothes which are perceived ‘cool’ if they’re sold in Urban Outfitters or cost above £100 completely appropriates styles popularised by the working class whilst making them unaffordable. Last year, influencer Molly Mae posted a photo of herself wearing a £2500 North FaceXGucci puffer jacket and captioned it ‘chav-chic’, which sparked outrage as people called her out of touch and spoke about the origins of the word chav, and how it has been appropriated and glamorised due to fashion.
The rising trend of sportswear and baggy clothes was described as the “Nu-lad” trend, which included wearing brands such as Adidas, Puma, and Lonsdale, paired with more luxury streetwear brands such as Supreme, Stone Island, or Palace. These brands are significantly more costly than the previously ‘un-cool’ sportswear brands. They rejected being called hipster (although the streetwear style of baggy clothes and tracksuits has extremely strong ties with hip-hop culture) and were described as “young and real” – if ‘real’ was a once skinny-jean wearing middle class boy who laughed at people in tracksuits until Kanye West collaborated with Adidas and made it ‘cool’.
Whilst the fashion world has undoubtedly done smaller brands good, it has also made workwear brands less accessible for the people that they were originally made for. Carhartt for example, was created in 1889 and manufactured overalls for railroad workers – their motto being “Honest Value for an Honest Dollar”. The same overalls, on Carhartt’s workwear website, now cost upwards of £115, which for many tradespeople will not be an accessible price range, and arguably isn’t “Honest Value”.
Prada’s 2023 runway show at the Milan fashion week was filled with high fashion’s take on work wear, with understated, simple clothes and some which were reminiscent of nurse’s uniforms. In an unintentionally ironic interview Miuccia Prada, in an interview, said that “what I care about is modest jobs”, and her co-creative director, Raf Simons stated his wish to “give importance to real jobs”. The thought is certainly there. With many of Europe’s workers striking, it is important to thank workers or raise awareness for those jobs which society relies on most. However, I can’t help but feel that it is slightly performative. GQ said that the show “felt like home”, and it would, if the clothes were at all affordable. Many of the clothes on the runway were jackets, and the cheapest jacket I could find comes in at £1,450 and it’s nothing more than a shell rain jacket (another item which frequently comes up if you search ‘chav outfit’). Furthermore, modelling the clothes were some of the highest paid nepo-baby models in the world, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
If there’s models worth over fifty million wearing the work clothes, and if they start at £1000, does it really feel “like home”? Or does it instead feel like a glamorisation of working-class culture, and almost dismiss the history of degradation towards the people who would actually wear these clothes. Trends are of course natural, and that’s fine, but only when it isn’t celebrating one group of people for wearing something and belittling another when they do.
Words: Madeleine Rousell
Image credit: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3