Wuss poppin’: The appropriation of casual streetwear is a serious flex

An image of a person from the waist down wearing orange baggy pants and gray sneakers.
Graphic by Natalie Bauer

A few years ago, a popular meme called “Steal Her Look” spread across social media. Based on innocent posts that recommended affordable clothing items to replicate iconic celebrity fashion, “Steal Her Look” did the same thing, except steeped in typical memetic irony — it provided exorbitantly priced suggestions to look like celebrities, characters and other popular figures.

A typical example is a post aimed to steal the look of Dora the Explorer with items priced to a total of $2,825. The average person probably wouldn’t be able to afford that, much less to look like Dora. 

But the humor behind that price touches on another kind of irony notorious in fashion today. Recently, trends in couture have pointed toward minimalism, which should be accessible. 

Many people can put on a plain tee, tuck it in high waisted jeans and sport some sneakers. All of these items are available at H&M or Forever 21 (may God rest her soul). But how many people can afford to grab that same outfit from Balenciaga, Rag & Bone or Givenchy?

More importantly, why would they? Sure, the material might be more comfortable, and it’ll probably last longer. But that doesn’t justify the prices. 

To unpack the paradoxical alignment of accessibility and luxury in expensive casualwear, let’s first look at what’s most obvious: the brand. 

The logic of couture lies in the name of the house which produces the item, which is why most people, even those with enough money, wouldn’t buy a Balenciaga shirt without the name on its breast. Sure, it’s just a plain tee, but it’s BALENCIAGA, bro. What a flex. 

This minimalism, paradoxically, also amplifies the flex. When we think of branded items, we think of sleek, futuristic designs or classic bags and shoes with a signature material or look. They’re flashy and attention-grabbing. 

But the minimalism in expensive casualwear begs the opposite reaction. It lets the wearer disguise their wealth, even though their economic status is clear after taking a closer look. They masquerade as everyone else, but they’re really not. 

It’s also ironic that those who stand by expensive casualwear strive to achieve a minimal, unluxurious look. Instead of buying largely marked-up replicas of basic tees, they could just buy the actual casual clothing, with little to no stress on their bank accounts!

Meanwhile, most people only have a few really expensive pieces in their closet because luxury items can be hard to attain or inappropriate to wear on an everyday basis. The contrast between having limited luxury-looking items as a result of economic barriers versus because of preference in aesthetic is an important distinction to make.

Minimalism isn’t the only example in which socioeconomic lines are blurred in fashion. Trendy streetwear echoes similar marketing strategies.

Streetwear is a pretty broad term, but some well-known names can come to mind, like Supreme, Adidas and Nike. It’s often offered under the Lifestyle category (cause style is life, maybe?). Like casual high fashion, these brands stray away from flashy designs, preferring more lowkey solids, patterns and graphics. 

But in comparison, streetwear is more comfortably appropriate to be worn on a daily basis. The prices are nowhere near those of haute couture, but enough to signify that the consumer’s got some money.

Streetwear can serve as a more convenient way to wear the confidence of casual high fashion, with more millennial-relevant names and affordable prices. However, expensive streetwear heavily draws from the styles and cultures of low-income communities, making versions that are inaccessible to them despite their heavy influence. 

This issue of gentrification isn’t new to fashion. What’s new is its infusion with minimalism, simultaneously concealing and baring one’s status with surface-level plainness.

As much of a scam expensive casual fashion is, it still makes for a bigger flex than its formal, more antiquated counterparts. While social media and society continue to prop up these trends, luxury or hype brands will be sure to capitalize on them — because some form of appropriation seems to always be in style.

Nadya Siringo Ringo SC ’21 is a dual cognitive science and media studies major from Jakarta, Indonesia. She’s very passionate about pop music, video games and the Enneagram.

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