Clothing is something we all have to think about everyday. Whether it be a quick what should I wear today or hours spent browsing online clothing stores, we all think about and make decisions about our clothes in our day to day lives. In the past, the clothing people wore correlated to someone’s labor or social class. However, since then, the Fashion industry has evolved into a huge, fast paced industry that is constantly truing to turn out new content. In this whirlwind of new content, the fashion industry has also been re-marketing out-of-style clothing as something new. Specifically I am talking about how they are re-marketing old clothing that was meant for the working and lowered class “trendy”. Why would the fashion industry want to take what was once denoted for blue color workers and the lower class and re-branded it into a trend, such as the “farmer look”,“mountain man look” or ”rustic look”. The fast fashion industry has taken social classes, regions, and fields of work, and changed them into “looks”, what does this say about how the fashion industry stereotypes and feeds off of the lower class, and what does this say about society that we want to dress in this “working class” aesthetic?
In relation to Appalachia, the fast fashion industry has taken images of Appalachia and re-branded them for profit. Some stereotypical things people think of when they think of Appalachia are miners, Hillbillies, hunting and rednecks and clothing wise they think of camo, overalls, dirtied jeans, and worn-out shoes. These are all things the fast fashion industry has taken advantage of. They have taken the look of coal miners clad in news boys caps, vests, overalls, and button-downs. The look of the cast of “Moonshiners” who often wears overalls with no shirts. And the cast of “Mountain Monsters” who can be seen dressing in dirtied blue jeans, camo, plaid button downs, button down collard shits and more overalls. How have they re-branded these looks? Well, Urban Outfitters, a trendy Overpriced Millennial clothing store, sells the brand Dickies — which started 1922 and produced millions of uniforms for the second World War and is Today, they’re the largest work wear company in the world. Urban Outfitters sells Dickies, not as work wear, which is meant to be, but as niche fashion. One item in particular they sell are Dickie’s Enhanced Visibility Denim Overall, which is the uniform of many modern miners. Also Nostrum, a High end Department Store, sells jeans described as “Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana work wear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty” for 425$. By taking these commonly worn pieces from the lower class people in regions such as Appalachia, the fast fashion industry has created a kind of “working class aesthetic”
This leads to the question of, why do people want to dress up in this sort of “working class” aesthetic? In the 1967 book The Fashion System(Barthes, Roland), Roland proposed that what we wear reflects our identity less than it reflects how we want people to perceive our identity. However, in modern time, this hypothesis is questionable now due to the rise of “flexing” and the idea of adhering to only a certain aesthetics. Back on the idea of “working class ” aesthetic, typically the people who are taking advantage of this working class aesthetic are those who are well off and not part of the working or lower class. So why would someone well off want to dress down in this “working class aesthetic” to resemble a class they are not apart of(and possibly look down upon)? Wouldn’t you expect these people to care that dressing down will cause people to look at them in possibly a less than way? Well this is where things get interesting. The people who dress in this style, as mentioned, are not the working class or the lower class. So, basically what these people are doing is playing dress up and using the idea of the working class as their costume. They are free to dress like the working class without having to actually experience what the lives of these people are like and are free from the consequences of being treated as the lowers class. The fashion industry is putting down those they took inspiration from by using the working class style to create expensive clothes and fast fashion that the working class cannot even afford. They are basically saying, thanks for letting us copy your style, but sorry you cant wear this because you don’t fit our customer image and it would cheapen our brand if people like you wear our clothes. This is hypocritical because the clothing is basically the same, but has been re-branded by the fashion industry. So essentially what is happening is that, the working class and their clothes are not of value until the fashion industry takes it from them and says it is(Diss, Sam). By creating this division, it allows the upper and middle class to enjoy playing dress up without the risk of actually being associated with the lower and working class. This is why when brands that were originally for the working class/lower class become popular, you see a skyrocket in prices. For this brand to continue rising in popularity with the middle and upper classes, it has to stop being worn by the actual lower class and become more exclusive to the upper class. This works well for the brand because the history of the brand gives it the “working class” aesthetic people are after, yet it still caters to the middle and upper class by creating exclusivity with their pricing.
Overall, the idea of “working class” aesthetic was born to out of the rise of the fashion industry, both the high end and fast fashion parts. It is unfortunate that this large industry has stooped down to copying, stereotyping and dismissing in order to sell a look and feed the consumers something new and fresh. Down below I have included a link to my Tumbler page i have created to look at images and articles that exemplify what I was conveying in this article.
Monda, Bri Di. “What It Means to Choose to Dress Working Class.” Adolescent RSS, Adolescent, 1 July 2017, www.adolescent.net/a/what-it-means-to-choose-to-dress-working-class.
Diss, Sam. “The Working Class Is Not A Fashion Subculture.” Complex, Complex, 21 Jan. 2016, www.complex.com/style/nu-lad-working-class-fashion-trend-the-guardian.
Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Vintage Books, 2010.
Hale, Andrew Douglas. “The Effects of Race, Gender, and Clothing Style on Stereotype Activation.” The Effects of Race, Gender, and Clothing Style on Stereotype Activation, May 2009. College of William and Mary W&M ScholarWorks, scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1308&context=honorstheses.