Editorial: Fashion and status

by Casey Ludick

I grew up in a middle-class family in Cape Town, South Africa. I never really understood what it meant to be truly poor or to live in poverty. Because it did not come in the form of poverty I was used to seeing, my parents could afford a house and my sisters, and I never went a day without food.

I didn’t completely understand the concept of money and that it was not as black and white as the movies made it seem.

I didn’t understand the cost of clothing and accessories nor the cost of luxurious brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, but I knew we were not rich enough to own any of it.

As I got older, I watched other children get all the new clothes in envy. I was bullied for not having any of these new clothes and ended up repeating outfits every week on “Casual Friday”.

Whether it was those lovely R2000 suede boots when I was 17 or those R400 platform heels when I was ten, clothing and accessories I actually liked always seemed to be so far out of my financial reach.

But I also knew people who grew up in smaller houses, in worse neighborhoods and who rarely had any food to eat. They were always dressed to impress, every Friday.

They always had the latest gear; those new Air Force ones or that new Adidas bag. Those children were always treated better by other kids, and I never truly understood why that was. Most of those kids were horrible people but they dressed up nice. All because they had the money or acted as if they had the money to buy those things. Even when I wore my best outfit to school, my newest outfit, I never got that kind of respect. All because I didn’t dress according to what the trend was.

As a result, I never felt like I was good enough to know anything about fashion or to watch fashion shows, or to even enter any well-lit clothing store. Because I never had the money to buy any of the things I saw or would want. When my classmates spoke about fashion or trends, I stayed silent, because what did I know?

Fashion is one of the many status symbols that exist in our society. People often believe, myself included, that the more you earn, the better you dress and that means you are likely to be respected by those with whom you interact. Individuals of "higher cultural status" tend to keep up with fashion, and as it is forever-changing those who fail to keep up run the risk of being shunned.

We see this as true in most Hollywood movies about fashion or people in the fashion industry; like The Devil Wears Prada. Our girl Andrea starts dressing according to her boss’s sense of style in order to start earning more respect in her workplace. She dons the Jimmy Choo’s; she wears the Chanel boots and styles her hair in an entirely different way. All to earn Mrs. Priestley’s respect.

The more people feed into the myth that fashion implies status, the less we stop to care about the person underneath all of the brand names.

Influencers and models for these brands push the #trendsetter narrative into the faces of teenagers and young adults alike because they earn a paycheck for it. Which ends up reinforcing the nonsensical logic that the better you dress, the more respect you deserve.

Influencers know that they can make people romanticize an otherwise imperfect ideal by selling themselves as a part of their viewers lifestyle. By doing this, influencers can set a trend that even they know won’t do anything to help their viewers at all.

The problem with following a trend is that it forces the idea of uniformity, and that in order to be well liked we all need to be beautiful. Beautiful in the same way that another person is, and that we should not be satisfied with how we look if we don’t all dress in the same way. If we do not conform to societal beauty standards.

In that light, trends go against the point of fashion and style. The trend setter versus the follower mindset helps no one. Keeping up with current trends doesn’t make you stylish or any better than someone else. There is an international problem with the idea of individuality in fashion, there is a stigma around setting yourself apart or going against the grain with fashion.

The idea that if you aren’t going to or able to follow a trend, you are automatically lower in status. Our generation of people have worked hard to fix that problem, to break the mold. What people don’t often realize is that fashion may be a status symbol in everyday life, but it is also a form of expression.

We could learn so much about someone from how they have chosen to wear what they wore. So instead of looking at that one money flexing picture of an Instagram model, pay attention to the people around you. Pay attention to the personality in their outfit of the day as well as the brand. Acknowledge the fact that money is not the most important thing in the world, while making sure that you understand that having less money does not make someone worth less in the real world.

Most importantly instead of persecuting the person wearing that brand of clothing, that you think is problematic; attack the norms that that brand of clothing has created. Not everyone has the money to be #woke and on brand. The idea of fashion as a status symbol is such an old and overused myth, that we as the better generation of humanity should destroy.

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