Updated: Mar 13, 2021
Article by Varsha Anand
Instagram & Twitter: @varshaxanand
My childhood home often surprised guests. As you walked through the front door, you were greeted by deep yellow, forest green, and burnt orange walls. My room was lavender while my parents painted theirs flamingo pink. The walls were adorned with paintings by myself and my aunt, who is an artist by profession. There were plants by every window and souvenirs from our trips to India scattered about. We hoarded memories and displayed them to share with our friends. Our home was vibrant, to say the least. But I didn’t think it was particularly abnormal until a friend told me that my house was the only one they had been to where the walls were not some ambiguous neutral color. It became apparent that the uniqueness of my home was undesirable when we had to move out. The realtor told us that we had to paint the entire house a carefully selected “Agreeable Gray” in order for it to be marketable. Bright oranges and yellows were simply too gaudy and polarizing for the modern family. Living those last few weeks in a colorless house made it no longer home. It made it easier to come to terms with leaving behind my childhood.
After that point, between staying with my parents and staying on campus, I’ve lived in several different apartments, all of them having that same dreary grayness that was advertised as peak sophistication and luxury. Why is such plainness so desirable?
The same question can be asked in fashion. All top American celebrities are seen almost exclusively in simple flattering silhouettes with a basic color scheme. And why should they do any different? Celebrities don’t need to give us any more evidence of their taste or wealth, we already know. The same logic can be applied to the difference between old money and new money. Old money does not flaunt their wealth because they have no need to prove their worth.
You’ll often notice that people who go through hardship, particularly financial hardship, are slight hoarders. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes quantity is more important than quality. Would you rather spend $100 on a nice pair of jeans, or go to the thrift store where you can buy 10 used ones? Personally, I can’t imagine saying anything but the latter, but I know plenty of people who would always choose the former. It’s a matter of mindset. I’m still a college student depending on my parents for survival, so I’ll always choose the more affordable option regardless of how long it will last me. Someone with a more stable income can afford to consider investment.
That being said, I would like to point out that expensive does not equal value. Expensive has less to do with value and more to do with accessibility. Clean water exists in abundance in select areas. If you live in those areas, it is valuable and inexpensive. But if you don’t have access, it is equally valuable but significantly more expensive...
It comes down to long term mindsets. If you’re gonna invest $100 into a pair of jeans then it should match a lot of your clothes, right? So you should go with a basic pair. Spending $10 on thrifted neon yellow jeans seems fun, but investing in $100 for a nicer pair of neon yellow jeans feels irresponsible. From that perspective, the upper-middle-class is more likely to buy more expensive, but basic clothing. The super-elite will also tend to go for this type of clothing because they don’t need to prove their eliteness. People know they’re rich.
In particular, I think about the way Kendall Jenner is regarded as a street fashion icon for her cropped black tanks and blue jeans. There’s a case to be made that she is simply a pretty, skinny woman who looks good in anything, including the most basic clothing. It has little to do with her fashion sense and more to do with just being attractive. In contrast, Zendaya has a certain unique boldness to her style that goes beyond her natural beauty. Her fashion is no doubt expensive, but it is also unafraid to experiment at the risk of looking tacky and low-quality. Consider her Tommy Hilfiger collaboration. The 70s inspired print on a full satin suit was nothing short of a statement. You can list various factors on why Kendall Jenner and Zendaya have different styles. One may be that Jenner started from a family known for being rich and prestigious while most of Zendaya’s success comes from her own efforts. You could consider it an iteration of old money vs new money.
It all comes back to the expression of wealth. Large, pompous skirts started going out of style when hoop skirts were invented because that style suddenly became affordable for the non-elite. In an effort to differentiate from the poor, high fashion changed. It was around this time that Coco Chanel introduced menswear-inspired clothing for women. Suddenly simplicity was in style and a large skirt was tacky. You can argue that it is simply a new style emerging, but the facts remain that those new styles tend to be popularized by and for the rich.
So why should all this matter to you? I am by no means villainizing people who enjoy minimalist aesthetics. Your style is simply your style, there is no right or wrong to that. The issue comes in when we associate maximalism with poorness and, thanks to good old capitalism, associate poorness with being lesser than. Lower socioeconomic communities are not tacky because they might choose to buy the neon yellow pants. Their mindset is simply different. The use of the word tacky as a derogatory statement towards poor people who wish to experiment with fashion is unacceptable. So many trends have been inspired by poor communities: dirty tennis shoes, torn jeans, oversized clothing, etc. Style is not for any one group, but for anyone who wishes to express themselves in that manner. Unless we remove the elitism out of fashion, it’ll soon turn itself into a mush of agreeable gray.