Ugh: "Homeless Chic" is in. And here's the worst part:
Fashion is often accused of being beyond parody because it does such a good job on its own. Lately, especially. It made waves when Erin Wasson declared that the vagrants in Venice Beach were her fashion inspirations ("The people with the best style, for me, are the people that are the poorest...I'm like, oh my god, you're pulling out like crazy looks. They pulled shit out of like garbage bags") - but it turns out she was prescient! Now, according to the Times, everyone from designer Keanan Duffty to the September W have come out in support of homeless style - never mind that they were probably inspired more by what was clean, warm, and available than the runway trends. And that's in the cases where the muses are not being "inspired" by chic mental illness and substance abuse! Unlike the Bush family, they've apparently never seen Zoolander.
The objections are almost too obvious to enumerate. As when Galliano unleashed his parade of bums in straitjackets, words like "out of touch" and "exploitative" spring to mind with the agility of a tipsy Roberto Cavalli. The solipsism of casting someone else's survival in one's own aggressively superficial terms, on the other hand, nearly defies language. Now, let it be said that while I'm perpetuating the lumping-together of Scott "Sartorialist" Schuman's controversial feature of a homeless man with these other incidents of pov-sploitation, in fact I do see a distinction. Schuman takes thousands of pictures a year, of people whose looks catch his eye, not all of whom are fashionistas but many of whom merely, be design or otherwise, bring something interesting to their outfits. To not have pictured the guy he did would, arguably, have been self-conscious and patronizing. Lots of different people can have style, and Schuman treated him as an individual. This is a crucial distinction.
What struck me most while reading the Times piece was how not merely how out of touch this all feels - but how out of touch it is! If this wave of homeless chic is a nod to the recession, well, what about the fact that homelessness, as we've been told, has a new face? Sure, many people "look" homeless as we understand it. But if anything, the recent financial turmoil has been characterized by the number of middle and working-class casualties, people who might not look "homeless enough" to qualify as a fashion inspiration, but who are also dealing with very real and growing problems of being without jobs and homes. In a sense, this full-scale embrace of the classic "beggar" aesthetic is practically nostalgic: a look back at a time when rich was rich and poor was poor and everyone dressed for his role. Now, the lines are blurred, and for the people actually living the life of these muses, life probably involves a lot of shades of gray - whether or not that's big for Fall.