Tag Archives: fashion

Ghetto Chic: To Wear or Not to Wear?

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

Lily Allen rocks it (kinda), Will Smith used to, and about 8 out of 10 hipster 20-somethings I see every single time I walk into an “up and coming” neighborhood in NYC seems to have filled their closets with it. Door-knocker earrings, yellow gold chains, hoodies with loud neon prints, and even grills are popping up everywhere. The 80s are back with a vengeance in NYC, but tinted more the color of Salt N Peppa than The Bangles. It’s no surprise that some of the more decadent style choices of the black and Latino working class from 20 years ago are reflected in H&Ms worldwide or seeping their way into the minds of the fashion conscious. After all, the history of fashion has shown us that cross-cultural appropriation (race, class, and nationality-based) is a common catalyst for the next big trends. Yet no matter how cute so-called “ghetto chic” may be, I just can’t bring myself to wear it.

Maybe it’s because I’ve reached that certain period in my life at which the combining of “work” clothes and “play” clothes has become a necessity to keep down costs and save closet space, but I feel that there is something deeper inside that prevents me from embracing my inner old school rap star. For one, it’s a matter of nomenclature. The term “ghetto” is evocative of “negative” images (poverty, housing projects, crime, drug use, lack of education), and remains racialized by the media. Ghettoes and poverty are typically associated with blacks and Latinos, even though as a result of the racial demographics of the United States, there are technically more poor whites. According to a U.S. Census Bureau Press Release from 2003, though “non-Hispanic whites had a lower poverty rate than other racial groups, [they] accounted for 44 percent of the people in poverty,” which makes me wonder why whites are virtually ignored in discussions of class and blacks and Latinos are always assumed to make up the majority of the poor population in this country. . . but that’s another article.

Over time, the term “ghetto” has been used in a way that separates it from its history, a dark one of ethnic exclusion (i.e. forced isolation of Jewish communities) and government-sanctioned segregation (i.e. communities of color in the United States). Little thought is given to the true meaning of the word and how people ended up in ghettoes to begin with when it’s used. Along the same lines of a proposition made by Robert B. Moore in his essay “Racist Stereotyping in the English Language,” I’d like to make a little proposal of my own. Moore challenges typical methods of teaching and discussing the history of the United States by making his readers take a closer look at those who were oppressed in order to create it. He suggests that the “next time [we] write about slavery or read about it, try transposing all “slaves” into ‘African people held in captivity,’ ‘Black people forced to work for no pay,’ or ‘African people stolen from their families and societies.’” Imagine if we replaced “ghetto” with something like “the only place African-American men (who had fought for their country’s freedom from totalitarianism) and their families were allowed to live due to redlining, racist real estate monopolies, and restrictive covenants” when used as a noun. Or what about “a type of behavior I associate with the poor even though I don’t know anyone who lives in the projects or has had to struggle to make ends meet”/ “a style of dress that I associate with poor blacks and Latinos becauseI am racist and classist deep down inside, but cover it up by using this word instead of saying what I really mean because it’s more socially acceptable” when used as an adjective. So that’s a little harsh, but it would put a whole new spin on saying something or someone was “ghetto,” now wouldn’t it? It might make people think twice before applying it to any and everything that they deem as sub-par.

Another reason I would feel a tad bit uncomfortable clothing myself in “ghetto chic” is the manner in which the style itself is carried out. There is a hint of irony in middle to upper-middle class young people co-opting a style of dress that by name alone is associated with those who find themselves limited by their economically precarious existence. Clothing that is now used to evoke “ghetto fabulous-ness” is based on a style that has its own history. It was a style of adornment that came about as a result of the poverty itself. Considering that the poor found it challenging to invest in forms of real wealth, liquid commodities like clothing became currency, a sign that even though some may be on the bottom when compared to the rest of society, they could take styles (like jewelry and “preppy” fashion) from those who had solid wealth and make it their own. So I would feel strange wearing a style that originated as a way to prove oneself as worthy and equal in the face of adversity when I don’t face challenges in the same way as a result of my economic privilege. Continue reading

NYT: All fashionable Asians in the Lower East Side are non-American

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Racialicious reader Katie points us to this little gem in The New York Times that totally promotes the Asians as perpetual foreigners stereotype. Here’s what Katie says:

There’s this little piece on the fashion of Asians – apparently NOT Asian-Americans – hanging out on the Lower East Side. The verbiage is… problematic. The piece is titled “The Lower (Far) East Side,” but unless they asked for the citizenship of everyone who they photographed or interviewed for the piece, it looks like they’re lumping us all into exotic-Asian-from-a-faraway-place-with-
strange-fashion-taking-over-US.

Making the fashion industry think beyond a size 6

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This is an interesting campaign started by two plus-size models. They are calling for the fashion industry to take concrete steps to rethink dress sizes. (Thanks to Kimberly for the tip!) From the Walk the Catwalk web site:

Diane Pellini and Liis Windischmann have a combined 20 years experience modeling in the plus-size fashion world…Immense change cannot happen overnight and Diane and Liis know this. “Walk the Catwalk” is a simple solution to start reducing the gap between the “straight” size fashion world and the “curvy” fashion world, to start counting all sizes in. They believe that implementing rules and regulations is not the solution to this problem. Solutions are currently being offered to change fashion at the end of its process – this pair aims to prove that change needs to come from fashion’s foundation by changing the very philosophies that have helped create it.

Here’s the video they’ve made in support of the campaign:

 

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Whiteness in a bottle: Alabaster perfume from Banana Republic

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

There are certain fashion brands that I associate with whiteness. Some, like Abercrombie & Fitch, have aggressively aligned themselves with whiteness. (Their catalogs are basically white supremacist porn.) Others not so much, but because preppy=white in most people’s minds, the association is there. I’m talking about brands like L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and J. Crew.

After seeing the ad below, I think I’m gonna have to add Banana Republic to that list. Alabaster is just one of three new fragrances they’re offering this season, but is it a coincidence that it’s the only one that gets the full-page treatment? Hmmm…

I looked up “alabaster” on dictionary.com and here are the definitions:

1. a finely granular variety of gypsum, often white and translucent, used for ornamental objects or work, such as lamp bases, figurines, etc.
2. Also called Oriental alabaster. a variety of calcite, often banded, used or sold as alabaster.
3. made of alabaster: an alabaster column.
4. resembling alabaster; smooth and white: her alabaster throat.

I think the message is clear: This fragrance would be HUGE in Asia. ;)

alabaster fragrance banana republic perfume