There is no better place to observe fashion than from a bench in Washington Square Park. The simultaneous smells of cash and the collegiate need for individuality make the park an ideal canvas for the self expression fashion seeks to achieve. Today, the outfits visible from that park bench seems far more likely to include Supreme logos than Che Guevara T-shirts. Though modern conversations about fashion revolve around expressing identity regardless of circumstance, the recent trend of large and flashy logos makes it difficult not to wonder whether fashion and status are inextricable.
For centuries, fashion and beauty have been used as vehicles to communicate status. Wealthy ancient Egyptians adorned their bodies with gold while upper class ancient Romans wore expensive dyed fabrics. Even before companies like Supreme and Kith made their logos the center point of their brands, names like Gucci and Hermes held monopolies on portraying wealth and status. Perhaps the growth in popularity of logos is simply the latest manifestation of the age-old relationship between fashion and class.
What makes this moment in fashion culture unique is that the craftsmanship and beauty of a piece are now of equal or lesser value to its brand. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about Balenciaga sneakers titled, “Yes, These Sneakers Are Ugly. That’s The Point,” highlighting the new trend in high fashion of traditionally ugly sneakers. Similarly, brands like Gucci and Chanel have been releasing fanny packs — a formerly unsightly accessory. People don’t want these items for their aesthetic beauty; their value lies in the brand name they carry, that is, their ability to portray wealth.
Given the fashion industry’s new narrative of diversity and accessibility, the increased importance of logos and brand names is sheer hypocrisy. As a growing number of companies have made efforts to include models of varying size, color and age into their campaigns, they are trying to send a message: fashion is for everyone. But a Gucci fanny pack costs upwards of $1,000. Balenciaga’s ugly sneakers costs $850. Sure, fashion is for everyone — everyone who can afford it.
NYU students do not seem oblivious to the relationship between logos, fashion and status. CAS freshman Vanessa Makovic actually prefers clothing without logos or brand names, for fear of judgement.
“I prefer stuff that doesn’t have a well known logo … because then people can’t judge you as easily,” she said. “Even with this [Canada Goose] jacket I get so many comments on it.”
Youssef Abdelzaher, another CAS freshman, rejects the idea that brand names are an important part of fashion and instead believes they are an obvious attempt to show status.
“I think, speaking from the New York City public high school perspective … people might find [a Chanel fanny pack] a little tacky,” Abdelzaher said. “It’s trying too hard to show off.”
There’s nothing wrong with following trends and wearing brand names. However, it is hypocritical for an industry that is trying to embrace diversity to consistently promote products that are inaccessible to the majority of the public. Fashion and status may have a relationship, but personal identity is not synonymous with the ability to consume.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 29 print edition. Email Anina Hoffman at [email protected].