The Classism of Fashion

Classism is rampant. It pops up in schools, in pop cultures, and even in career fields. One place that it has been prevalent for a long time is the fashion industry, though many people don’t associate one with the other. The thing about classism and fashion is that it’s easy to miss — one shirt here, one brand there — but it is absolutely affecting those who buy clothes. I’m not talking about people who go shopping every weekend; in fact, in most cases, I’m just talking about people who go out to buy new clothes when needed, not when wanted. Fashion and classism are best pals, and it’s time to stand up and split them up. In the field of style, classism takes the form in “rich versus poor,” and that distinction both drives fashion forward and causes a large divide.

One of the most obvious examples of fashion classism is regular versus thrift stores. When someone tells you that they got their shirt at a thrift store, what’s your first thought? Is it that they’re trying to find reasonably priced clothing? Or is it that they must be too poor to buy from regular stores? Most likely the latter. The distinction that we place between thrift stores and regular stores makes us assume that thrift stores are for those are poor. Is this a bad thing? Yes. Is it something that’s been programmed into us by the fashion industry that relies on the money of the rich? Also, yes. You see, fashion has always propelled itself by insisting that fashionistas buy this seasons clothes at full price all the time. They suggest that in order to be a fashionista and follow this buying pattern, you must have a lot of money. This is why we look down on thrift store shoppers. While they’re out there getting deals on last seasons trends, we’re assuming they’re living in poverty. The good thing is that, in recent years, thrift shopping has been gaining more popularity, making it more common and making it more acceptable in the fashion industry. People can be thrift shop chic now! The problem that’s still lingering is that their style is classified as second hand style, rather than just style. Where people buy clothes really shouldn’t matter, yet, classism is rampant enough that it does.

If you’re looking or a specific example, one of your favorite rappers is contributing to the overwhelming classism. In 2014, Kanye West released a plain white t-shirt for $120 in a collaboration with fashion brand A.P.C. What was special about this shirt? Was it hand woven? Did it have diamonds sewn in? Did West himself sign it? Unfortunately, it was none of the above. The plain shirt was just that: plain. This shirt was exactly like a white tee you could get at the thrift store for less than $5. But — ah, ah, ah — the thrift store makes you poor and out of style. Except, it doesn’t. Kanye’s release of a $120 white shirt is just the glaringly obvious example of classism that the world needed to see. When it dropped, the shirt was everywhere. At first, all the fashion sites were urging people to buy it, insisting that it was the epitome of fashion. But then it became slowly apparent that some people couldn’t buy it; in fact, that was the beauty of the whole situation. If you reach for the cheaper option — even if it looks the same — you’re out of style, behind on times, and seen as unable to afford fashion luxury. Whether or not Kanye put out the shirt to make a point doesn’t matter, because it illustrates the point all too well. Classism is so obviously present in fashion that it hurts.

It’s not hard to understand how to stop classism: simply stop judging others because of their social class or wealth. However, in fashion, it’s an overwhelming concept that needs to be tackled head on. It’s important to stop assuming those who buy second hand or from chain stores are less than those who buy from boutiques or designer labels. Stop feeding money to companies that benefit from the perpetuation of classism, like the company Kanye collaborated with. Classism in fashion is a beast that has to be taken down little by little, and the dismantling starts with you making smart decisions about how you dress and what you wear.