Ever since Miley Cyrus twerked her bum on Robin Thicke’s crotch at the MTV awards, cultural appropriation has been a hot topic. But, society has been capitalizing off of minority cultures long before Miley was even conceived. High-end designers are now adopting hip-hop and urban styles to create a new IT look that has been around since the 80s.
The slang word “ratchet” is popping up on tees and jewelry. It typically means to act in a dysfunctional or unruly manner. It also describes a person who possesses little to no class privilege. Most just use the word as a substitute for “ghetto.” Retail giant, Forever 21, has a new street-chic “Ratchet” necklace. The same company recently went under fire for its “City of Compton” tee. Compton is a predominantly black and Latino city known for its young working-class society, gang violence, high rates of crime and famous hip hop artists. The shirt has since been pulled from Forever 21 store shelves. Urban Outfitters has a purple tank top emblazoned with the city’s name too.
Forever 21 also has a “Thug 4 Life” tee featuring Snoop Dog and the late Tupac Shakur. The model sporting the shirt is also Caucasian and has no physical characteristics that might link her to engaging in a thug lifestyle. Pacsun is selling a Young & Reckless cropped shirt with the words “Thug Wife” in a lighthearted font. It can be said that these tees are harmless, funny and just a joke. Those who reside in Compton or in low-income cities with real life thugs and crime probably don’t think their life is funny. What is so cool about branding fashion with classist-related themes and phrases? Check out ASOS’s geriatric chic “Ghetto Granny” sweatshirt. It has an old white wrinkly woman sporting a bandana, fitted cap, sunglasses and a neck tattoo.
Concept designer Peggy Noland created a series of dresses with Oprah Winfrey’s head on a nude skinny, average and obese black woman’s body. She refers to her style as “white trash meets high class.” She is inspired by eccentric rich French women, R. Kelly and small-town meth addicts. Noland grew up in Independence, MI, a town plagued with a meth problem. She incorporates her self-proclaimed white trash attitudes into her fashion concepts. Does that give her a free pass?
It doesn’t even end there. UK retailer, Veuxdoo.com, has a tie-dye tee saying “Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”
Todays’ fashion boasts absurd new styles and questionable trends that are fostering classism. It’s unfortunate that Miley Cyrus is currently in the lead for “Most Likely to Appropriate Black Culture and Use Black Women As Music Video Accessories.” Others performers including Rita Ora, Iggy Azalea, Lil Debbie and Jessie J are doing the same exact thing by exploiting the less unfortunate and branding them as ‘low-class’. This classist fashion trend is widening the gap that separates the have from the have-nots. Social classes and stereotypes should not be mocked on the front of a $17 T-shirt. It’s just tasteless. There is just something very backwards about high-end designers and filthy rich retail giants appropriating off of working and poor-class cultures to create mass goods to market off to middle class consumers.
Nelson Myhand says
Great piece Miki! I appreciate the orientation to what is happening in the fashion world that reinforces racism and classism together. So outrageous!