What does it mean that high fashion is (claiming to be) inspired by the homeless?  What is going on when models trying to appear homeless are paraded up and down catwalks and photographed?

We’ve seen it on America’s Next Top Model, we saw it in W, and now we see it at the Milan Fashion week with Vivienne Westwood’s collection.

Models were not only dressed to look homeless.  Their clothes were deliberately made to appear dusty and mismatched. Their messy hair and dirty faces were made up to look as if they were covered in frost.  Some seemed to have been dressed so as to appear crazy.

They walked, sometimes less than gracefully, a catwalk covered in cardboard boxes.  Sometimes they emerged from boxes and pushed shopping carts or carried sleeping bags or bedrolls.

Here’s what it looked like (comments below):

So what is going on here?  I’ll hazard a few thoughts, but I’d also like to hear what y’all think in the comments.

1.  Of course we have a trivialization of homelessness.  As Tom & Lorenzo note:

…in the candy-colored world of Vivienne Westwood, homeless people are all young with great bodies, high cheekbones and flawless skin, and they all have super-styled hair and brightly colored clothes.

So homelessness is transported, by this show, into something hip adopted by the beautiful people.  The painting of the men’s bodies and faces to look like they are covered in frost is a particularly insensitive move.  Some people actually are freezing to death, but at fashion week, it’s just a cool look.

Westwood’s press release about the collection stated that she:

…found inspiration in the roving vagrant whose daily get-up is a battle gear for the harsh weather conditions… Quilted bombers and snug hoodies also work well in keeping the vagrant warm.

Here the struggle involved with homelessness is reduced to having the right clothes.  With a “snug hoodie,” you can stay cozy.

2.  Threadbared notes that high fashion’s interest in homelessness is a way to soothe (liberal/class-induced) guilt.  Homeless chic shows that you see these people; you may even admire them. And, more, you’re able to see beyond their circumstances, filth, and frostbite to see beauty in them.  Mimi writes that homeless chic:

…just becomes the occasion… to praise your own aesthetic judgment (in this language, finding beauty in ugliness) and moral sensitivity (and in this, magnanimously granting to the indigent Other a sense of humanity through their aestheticization).

3.  Finally, dressing like a tramp is only fashionable when you have the choice to do otherwise.  That is, actual homeless people are not and never will be “fashionable” in this sense; they will always simply be homeless.  Threadbared, again, quoting Judith Williamson:

It is currently ‘in’ for the young and well-fed to go around in torn rags, but not for tramps to do so. In other words, the appropriation of other people’s dress is fashionable provided it is perfectly clear that you are, in fact, different from whoever would normally wear such clothes.

So, dressing up like a homeless person is one way to demonstrate your difference from, not your similarity to, actual homeless people.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...