In the early 2000s, Vicky Pollard’s clothing was a source of comedy. Fast forward a decade and, with her pink Kappa tracksuit, messy high bun and sovereign jewellery, she’d be an Instagram fashion icon. Over the past few years, I’ve watched through my fingers as the clothes working-class people have been derided and mocked for wearing have been adopted as the uniform of the thoroughly middle class. And then, off the back of it, witnessed an increase in the crucial conversation surrounding the fetishisation of poverty.
Now, a pair of dilapidated trainers, intentionally designed to appear as though they are being held together by a single, filthy bit of tape, have brought the discussion to the fore once more. Italian high-fashion trainer brand Golden Goose is selling its “Superstar Tape Sneaker” on American retail chain Nordstrom's website for $530 (£400.90). The website itself describes the shoes as "Crumply, hold-it-all-together tape details a distressed leather sneaker in a retro low profile with a signature sidewall star and a grungy rubber cupsole”. Unsurprisingly, the idea of people spending a great deal of money to look as though they essentially have none doesn't sit well with many.
“There are people in the world wearing plastic bags as shoes because they can’t afford any but these HIDEOUS things are selling for $500. The fashion industry is truly so fucking stupid,” said one angry Twitter user, echoing the thoughts of many. Worse still, it appears that the brand has dedicated an entire shoe line to the embodiment of “poverty chic”.
Unsurprisingly, the idea of people spending a great deal of money to look as though they essentially have none doesn't sit well with many
It isn’t the first time fashion has distastefully sought “inspiration” from those in dire straits. Puma came under fire this year, after hosting a party with a drug-dealing theme. People invited to the sportswear brand’s “House of Hustle” event were sent Puma shoe boxes that included fake £50 notes and so-called “burner” phones – cheap disposable handsets often used for drug deals. The event was held in an abandoned four-storey Soho townhouse and featured a mock crack house, complete with a business card telling them to switch on the phone and “turn on the trapline”. Once the phone was switched on, invitees received a message saying, “Yo G what u sayin today? Pass tru the House of Hustle.”
The fashion industry is notoriously exclusionary and one of the most classist spaces going, which makes the notion of rich people profiting from “looking poor” all the more stomach-turning. It’s by no means something that only takes place in fashion, however. Hetty Douglas, a middle-class Peckham-based (of course) artist, last year shared a photo of four men in construction gear with the caption: “These guys look like they got 1 GCSE.” Horrible condescension in any case, but all the more offensive due to her making her name as an artist with work emblazoned with slang-laden captions such as “you’re peng but your English is shit”. Before long, images from her Instagram of her posing with her Jobcentre work plan were in circulation.
Privileged people have a habit of playing dress-up as those they despise – whether it be minorities, poor people or poor minorities. If they were as fond of the people as they were of the clothes, then the world would be a very different place indeed.