Is dressing like you’re homeless a fashion crime?

A writer at Vice.com has taken issue with Urban Outfitters for describing its customers as “upscale homeless.” Like the rings of Saturn, in her essay, the writer expands her animus from Urban Outfitters’ branding strategy, to Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s Punk Gala for the Costume Institute at the Met, to a Kate Spade polka-dot covered iPhone case, to a Phillip Treacy-designed mohawk-style headdress. And that’s just the start.

Clearly, this woman is angry and her rage bounces around like a bag of Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn. Yet, when you wade through her envy and hurt, the general drift seems to be something along the lines of, if you’re not actually poor, don’t dress like the underclass.

Jeans used to be just for cowboys. The denim was stiff as a plank and they were worn everyday and never, ever washed. When it rained and they got soaked, the pants moulded even better to the body. Now, jeans come pre-soaked, pre-washed, pre-shredded, and pre-faded. They’re ubiquitous casual wear, and a ranch is not required, not even a donkey.

According to her argument, if you’re not a cowgirl, you’ve got no business wearing jeans because it would be a mockery of the hardworking women and men who raise cattle, rope steer and chew and spit tabacca.

Extrapolating from this, forget about ordering grits and black-eyed peas unless you can claim some distant cousin from the American South. Ditto tofu, unless you can prove an Asian connection. Might as well toss out the nautical-inspired navy-and-white-striped sweater you planned to wear this summer unless your CV includes a stint as a longshoreman.

Enough with the earnestness.

Fashion, like other decorative arts, has always sampled from a myriad of sources and then reflected it back to us in the spirit of the time. In 2000, British fashion designer John Galliano created the Hobo collection for Christian Dior. Inspired by the homeless people he saw along the Seine during his morning jog in Paris, Galliano was fiercely criticized for showing models wearing ragged silk dresses with torn linings and tin cups attached to their derrières and accessorized with J&B whiskey bottles. His defence was, why the fuss over the homeless collection when there was only praise for his India-inspired designs (millions are starving there, you know), and his Masai-inspired collection (the tribe is becoming extinct)?

American retail behemoth, Urban Outfitters, that also owns Anthropologie and Free People, has made a pretty penny ($2.8 billion last year) by catering to the 18-26-year old customer. According to retail speak, she is ‘homeless,’ meaning that, she’s a renter, not a home-owner. She doesn’t live on the street and she’s not mocking the poor by wearing the retailer’s cute t-shirts and gelato-hued cigarette jeans. Dude, it’s only fashion.

As for Galliano, the Hobo collection was a case of pathetic fallacy. In 2011, after making anti-Semitic remarks in a chic restaurant, Galliano was fired from his post at Dior and is now ‘homeless,’ as no reputable label will touch him. So his career flounders in that Eurotrash netherworld of high fashion/low cash. Now, where’s the pity for the fallen fashion star?

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