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Poor People Drag

Spring 2017 New York Fashion Week concludes today and there has been quite a lot of stirring shows. As it happens every year, you’ve got good and you’ve got bad: it’s always a mixed bag.

The one trend that continues to lazily undercut fashion circles is the sloppy, low-meets-high athleisure trend. From gray sweat moments at Club Monaco to Pyer Moss’ athletic office style, the mark of movement clothing for non-movers remained. These moments of athleisure aren’t as grating as they have been but they suggest a strange luxury problem: the rich are co-opting style from the non-rich. Athleisure has evolved to branded style which is poor people drag.

It’s all based in branded culture. When a brand like Under Armour feels comfortable enough to attempt fashion because of athleisure, a switch occurs, where the lesser clothing, things you can get at Walmart™, become differentiated: there is the activewear for the lessers and the greaters, each with their own contexts and castes. One is for the kid walking home from sports practice after school, the other is for a guy at an art gallery. One is for an off-duty mom in her house clothes, the other is for a woman working for a fashion magazine. One is for disgusting gym activities, the other is for luxe leisure. It’s clothing designed for sloppy situations to be worn unsloppily.

Yet, it’s more than just “athletic leisure”: it’s branded culture, paydays for those already getting paydays. While you have Rihanna and Puma in one world and Kanye and Adidas in another, you also have an entire separate galaxy of disingenuousness where clothing, activities, and foods associated with lower class acts are co-opted by the upper class ironically. A small example is the stealing of “ghetto goth” from actually stylish kids to give to rich people. A bigger example? Adidas and Alexander Wang’s parade of poor drag. By feeding rich customers and friends with McDonald’s™ french fries and 7 Eleven™ Slurpees™, while cutely cheesing for Instagram, it’s a means to reward the insiders, who can partake in poor culture without the ramifications of poor life. It’s a showing that you, poor Instagram fan, can lust for the clothing and lifestyle but likely will not be able to because you didn’t go to boarding school. It’s daddy culture gone haywire, money eating itself, brands rewarding brands.

It’s not new though. Contemporary, sure, but not new. Vetements perfected couture branding by remixing corporate iconography and gaming the system for advancement. The move set a trend that is exploding all over the place, from fashion houses instead of celebrities adopting (poor) brands to make a statement. They all laugh at the less fortunate instead of with them. They don’t hold culture accountable: they take advantage, just like Wang taking a bite from a free fry that he could have easily afforded.

To this, there is always an example of where branded and sponsored culture excels: from those who actually see what is going on. Shayne Oliver’s Hood By Air has done that, a brand whose showing at fashion week inserted their point of view into the asshole of recent branded fashion culture. HBA made the rebrand, marking their clothing with their logo and moniker as a means to define themselves, a reaction based in invention and working class origins. To topple it all over this week, HBA fed the branded whores by literally calling them what they are: branded whores. Instead of tapping McDonalds™ or Juicy Couture™, they got their show sponsored by PornHub™ with nods to Hustler™. It’s a highbrow form of shade, a lubed hand slapping privilege in the face. It makes brands like Vetements and Alexander Wang look like assholes by checking their entitlement.

With that, there’s a reason why HBA doesn’t do athleisure: that is their origin, a beginning, a reminder of those who actually do wear athletic clothing or can only afford athletic clothing. Why would they riff on poor culture when that joke is only funny to people born into money? Branded fashion is poor drag, a reminder that these things that we need—clothing and food products that are common—can always be remade out of our reach, to remind us of our place.

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