“Playing class dress up is so irritating because it doesn’t erode discrimination and snobbery based on class..." Dawn Foster.
It is no revelation that the demographic of Bristol Uni students is pretty shocking, with 40% being privately educated, despite those who attend private school making up just over 5% of the students that study A levels nationwide. With this imbalanced representation of society comes several problems, and fashion is one of them.
The simple issue of what we wear is particularly ripe within the confines of the University of Bristol: the appropriation of British working class culture through clothing. Now it’s trendy to appear ‘poorly’- dressed. Over worn, oversized, the scruffier and the less effort, the better. Almost every teenager is guilty of slipping on their brand new Converse and wearing them out solely to dirty them up. Why are we insecure about being able to afford new clothes? Brands and styles associated with the working class population are worn, usually without knowing where they came from. This is particularly true of the North, with Dr Martens, The North Face, Carhartt and buzzcuts having all become incredibly popular again over the past decade. Nearly every male member of Badock Halls now owns a North Face puffer jacket, with cargo pants and blue overalls arriving on the hipster scene – very ironically originally produced literally for blue-collar workers.
Dr Martens were originally designed for factory workers and postmen, however it was during the 60’s that they suddenly became popular with ska-loving skinheads who proudly championed British working-class style. This was triggered in 1967 when the boot became synonymous with punk rock after Pete Townsend, the lead guitarist for The Who, wore a pair during a performance. In the decades to follow, the popularity of DMs grew and grew, eventually becoming associated with festival culture.
Nowadays many of the people that wear these brands are those who would only set foot on a council estate to get some authentic shots on their vintage polaroid camera they got for Christmas, despite actively choosing to dress as if they grew up on one. The issue is when people are dressing day to day in styles that have clear working class origins, whilst also contributing to building class stereotypes, mocking the working class by holding events such as “CHAV” themed parties (as the Leeds hockey team did recently.) As said by the journalist, Dawn Foster, “Playing class dress up is so irritating because it doesn’t erode discrimination and snobbery based on class. Common People by Pulp was a criticism, not an instruction manual.”
But then again, maybe the working class should be proud of new trends inspired by British class culture? It is a common occurrence for trends that begin in high fashion to be adapted and moulded into street style, whilst it is rarer for this to occur the other way round, and why shouldn’t it? The fact that the pride in their subculture has made their style so popular is an achievement. Christopher Bailey's recent collections at Burberry have been a celebration of Britishness and class, whilst the brand's collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskiy saw a fascination with working class culture (read more here.) When trackie bottoms were tucked into socks for Rubchinskiy’s AW15 collection, the ‘lager louts’ of our society should have been smug as hell and raised a Newcastle Brown in celebration.
As a middle-class citizen who owns three pairs of DM's and a Head puffer jacket, it would be hypocritical of me to scorn anyone who buys these brands or rocks a working class inspired style. Instead, let us be more aware of our style choices and exactly who and where inspires them. Your brand new ASOS boilersuit will never be the same as someone else’s hand-me-down from their gramps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t respectfully enjoy it.
Cover image: Gosha Rubchinskiy x Burberry SS18