Is designer fashion the uniform of gentrification?
Gentrification, from the French gritty meaning ‘of gentle birth’ and used in English to describe a person of high-class i.e. a gentleman, is the process in which houses are improved and renovated to fit middle-upper class standards. The result of this is that less-privileged people are priced out of areas by the wealthy who are willing to buy these houses at a higher price, eliminating the need for realtors to make property affordable. This article will discuss the role that high-end fashion plays in all this. Without suggesting that the ability to buy a designer coat is on the same level as a home, it is true that in higher-income urban areas you are likely to be judged for what you wear, even if only for a second. So, for all its esteem and privilege, is designer fashion directly linked to gentrification? Or is it simply the work of a few companies exploiting the fact that some people will pay so much for clothes?
The first point, considering the role that fashion plays in our day-to-day lives, would be in the school days. I remember being in school and, although my friends’ families were not well-off by any means, they each seemed to own a pair of Nike Airs or some expensive pairs of trainers and those who didn’t - myself included - were ridiculed for not having. Even at a young age, I found this remarkable that in a working-class area, the monetary value of one's shoes could be a source for discussion (then again, I suppose kids will find anything to make fun of).
In either case, the urban hip-hop style of trainers lends itself quite well to lower socio-economic groups - trainers, sweatpants, tee-shirts, hoodies, etc., you can see this in rich kids often dressing down like poor kids but with expensive branded clothes. The point is this - why, when their parents were in no better position than my own to flood me with expensive trainers that I’d outgrow in a few months anyway, did the parents of my friends feel the need to put themselves out like this? And it’s simple, fashion trends are set around being ‘cool’ or ‘in’ and no one wants to be uncool or out. I even remember at my leavers do (prom), a girl showing up with a Prada handbag - and she lived on the same council estate I did!
In adulthood, you find that the £60 that wasn’t spent on your Nike Airs is the tip of the iceberg. Fashion in itself is gentrified, just as poorer people are forced to rent rather than buy in gentrified areas - the same goes for fashion. You could even argue that as an industry they are happy to appropriate lower socioeconomic trends without being a victim to the perils of the lifestyle. For example, jeans - which originally were created to serve as a more durable alternative to working-class men - are now being torn and ripped at the knees as a fashion statement - something that used to be the result of tarnishes and being unable to afford replacements.
So, ironically, perhaps the answer to this is that high-end fashion is less the uniform of gentrification, as uniform feels too mandatory, but more the label of it.