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Lifestyles

Why we should stop using 'homeless chic' to describe torn and tattered clothes

Posted September 11

In 2001's "Zoolander," a satirical look at modeling and high fashion, viewers were introduced to a clothing line called "Derelicte," which featured really, really ridiculously good looking models wearing trash bags and duct tape.

The line's designer, Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) convinces Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) that becoming the face of the Derelicte line will skyrocket his career, emphasizing that the line is "a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants."

The absurdity of Zoolander isn't so far off from modern fashion design. Many have argued — and continue to say — that the ongoing trend of clothing designers marketing extravagantly priced distressed clothing as "homeless chic" is offensive and representative of a less-than-empathetic consumer base.

Last year, style writer Leeann Duggan compared the trend to cultural appropriation in an article for Refinery 29.

"I think part of it is the football-field sized disconnect it takes to see a human who's living without basic necessities through the lens of 'stylishness' or 'inspiration,'" she wrote. "It makes me think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Homeless people, totally without a safety net, are living at the very bottom of that pyramid. People who live at the very top, in the heady realm of 'self-actualization,' can only see the homeless through their own extremely privileged lens."

And journalist Sarah Smarsh recently called out Barneys New York on Twitter for carrying a $585 pair of faded sneakers with duct-taped soles designed by an Italian design duo called Golden Goose.

She wrote in her tweet, "Hi @BarneysNY. On behalf of poor Americans: You and your $585 "distressed" shoes w/ duct tape can (expletive) right off."

It's received more 2,000 retweets in the few days since she posted the message. The major department store has since removed the page from its website, but you can see other similar styles on Barneys' website.

It's not the first high-fashion entity to glorify tattered and worn garments — and it certainly won't be the last. Celebrities have been dressing in a style described as "homeless chic" for years now.

Most agree that it begain with John Galliano's line for Christian Dior in 2000. Then there was Mary-Kate Olsen, followed by Vivienne Westwood's fall 2010 runway show in which models wore makeup to look frostbitten and carried plastic bags on the runway. Today, there's Public School's Fall 2016 line, which features tattered, oversized hoodies and ripped pants.

And then there's Kanye West.

His Yeezy lines feature many different styles of clothing, but his sweaters have been particularly noted for their frayed, baggy and costly nature. Though you'd have a hard time finding an authentic Yeezy sweater now — they tend to sell out quickly — they ran for about $3,000 when they first came out.

He's been quick to defend his clothing, saying "that's what people wear" in Los Angeles.

But Jenna Sauers argued in her 2010 article examining the trend that it's more of a cruel "lack of perspective" than a fashion statement.

"Is it considered 'edgy'?" she writes. "Has fashion lost touch with the reality of poverty as a social issue, and is it this lack of perspective that allows poverty to be reborn as just another 'reference'?"

Or, she goes on, is it "that appropriating poor people's 'style' of dress is another way to highlight their social status as something lesser? Is this just for lulz?"

Email: sweber@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @sarapweber

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