Fashion may change, but our prejudices don’t

The recent embracement of streetwear on the highstreet has not equated to an embracement of the culture it represents

Image: The Unknown Vlogs

Growing up, if I saw anyone wearing a hoodie, be they an  individual or part of a group, then my first thoughts would be those perpetuated by mainstream media at the time: these people were something to fear and to avoid.

Particularly throughout the early noughties, hoodies and tracksuits were presented as synonymous with anti-social behaviour and violence, with wider society labelling any individual in such clothing as a ‘chav’. The banning of hoodies from shopping centres such as Bluewater in 2005, and from a plethera of shops and schools across the country, made the politicisation of such garments and rejection indisputable.

However, the popular opinion about the hoodie has changed. Since 2016, the catwalk has embraced ‘sportswear’ and ‘streetwear’ in an unprecedented way. These trends are celebrated within virtually every edition of renowned fashion magazines, promising their readers that combining a tracksuit with a crisp white shirt, or a hoodie with a leather skirt will make them appear ‘edgy’, ‘cool’, and ‘modern’.

The profits and popular culture presence of brands such as Supreme and Palace has seen major growth. Despite the seemingly excessive prices of these brands (the typical price point for a Supreme hoodie being within the £148-200 range), they have managed to amass a cult-like following of teens and twenty-somethings desperately trying to keep up with, and afford, ‘Hypebeast’ culture.

So, has the popularisation of such streetwear meant that those once shamed for being ‘chavs’ are now considered on trend? The short answer is no, they are not. How an individual in a hoody or tracksuit is perceived by the rest of society is dependent upon the context in which that garment is worn. For example, a student in a Russell Group university can indulge in streetwear because society knows that they are highly educated, and evidently able to spend such money. This new-wave of streetwear consumers often meet the socio-economic requirements to avoid being accused of violence or aggression, unlike their style’s predecessors. Unsurprisingly, those who continue to wear these garments, as they have done for decades now, perhaps in more impoverished areas and without the high-fashion logo, are yet to enjoy the luxury of being deemed ‘fashionable’ and ‘edgy’.

This embracement of streetwear within popular culture and fashion has resulted in some going as far as to declare it an appropriation of the working class. The labelling of this movement as such has caused quite a controversy. Whilst it may bear a resemblance to instances of cultural appropriation, the nature of social class is of such complexity that it is difficult to determine whether it ought to be considered an independent culture. Nevertheless, this distinction, between how different people in the same clothing are regarded by others, acts as an unnerving reminder of the extent to which class-based judgements are entrenched into our society.

This is not to say that people embracing such trends should necessarily cease to do so. We ought to feel able to enjoy and experiment with clothes as fashion is ultimately a form of self-expression. But there needs to be more consciousness and awareness amongst consumers when such styles are declared fashionable and sweep every shop floor; we should recognise the way in which styles originate and the political weight that something as simple as the hoodie holds.

Such an awareness would remind even the most elite that their artistic inspiration has been drawn from trends first popularised by those shunned due to their socio-economic status.