There are many barometers for the health of a society, from economic prosperity to beliefs concerning social issues. One such barometer may be found in the fashion that is being promoted in that culture. The advocacy of modest clothing in good condition indicates a healthy society. Clothing that is deliberately ill-fitting, whether wasteful in material or skimpy in coverage, is a sign of degeneracy. A new clothing trend has developed in America that is symptomatic of the sort of cultural decay that foreshadows a revolution; that of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally.
There are many instances of this, but four examples will serve to illustrate the point. First, let us consider Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans. The product description calls them “Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” These pants, available for $425, have fake mud and wear marks added to them. (They must be machine washed cold, lest these dubious decorations break off and leave one with an improved pair of pants.)
Another offering, the Damiana Splatter Paint Stretch Woven Jogger Pants, are described as “Slouchy, tapered-fit joggers crafted from extremely durable, destroyed stretch cotton appear as though they stepped straight out of the art studio, creating a disheveled style masterpiece that’s both one-of-a-kind and unafraid to play dirty.“ For $300, you can avoid the excruciating work of wielding a paintbrush and wear pants with fake paint splatters on them in order to pose as an artist or painter.
Third, there are the Maison Margiela Future Destroyed High Top Sneakers available at Neiman Marcus. The non-destroyed version is available for $995, but for the low, low price of $1425, you can have a pair that looks like they went through a car crusher. Multiple gashes, a mostly missing tongue, and inner layers hanging out are marketed as “deconstruction” and “heavy distressing.” As of this writing, they are on sale for $997, so perhaps there is hope in the fact that too few people were willing to pay so much more for an inferior product.
Finally, the fashion of intentional damage is not reserved for men only. Golden Goose offers women a multitude of sneaker designs, and one of them is designed to look like it has been through hundreds of miles of use. Scuff marks abound and the leather is crackled to simulate wear, though it looks more like it is covered in two paints which are incompatible. The $425 price tag is comparable to other offerings which do not always look new, but are not designed to look worn out.
Why It Matters
Some people may wonder why this is important. Why focus on fashion when there are so many greater problems in the world? It is true that fashion is a non-issue in and of itself when compared with the primary problems facing humanity. However, the concern is not with fashion in and of itself, but with what fashion says about the people who create, market, sell, and wear it. Moreover, there are fashion trends which indicate cultural trends, which in turn can serve as an early warning signal that the present system of governance has its days numbered.
Worse, some libertarians and conservatives might wonder why such fashions should not be celebrated. Is this not an instance of the market meeting a demand and freeing people from menial tasks to engage in other, greater labors? This view is misguided because the issue is not primarily one of economics, but of cultural attitudes concerning economic matters. A healthy culture has a strong correlation with liberty. A healthy culture celebrates work; an unhealthy culture mocks it and tries to avoid it whenever possible. A healthy culture values authenticity and living life; an unhealthy culture seeks a hollow and vicarious existence. A healthy culture venerates the ideal; an unhealthy culture worships the idol. The market is fundamentally amoral; its participants meet consumer demand as best they can in order to make profits. If that demand is degenerate in nature, then the goods and services produced will be as well. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. It is also worth noting that freeing people from having to wear a clothing item repeatedly and perform various activities in it so as to produce wear and tear naturally does not provide the increased utility that comes from labor-saving machines. One must still wear clothes to comply with societal norms, whereas one need not keep using older methods of performing tasks.
Mocking The Masses
The four products discussed above are designed to create the illusion of work. The prices of hundreds of dollars per pair of pants or shoes puts them outside the budget of most people who make a living in a trade that involves getting mud or paint on themselves. The end result is a class of products made for wealthier people that let them impersonate the masses beneath them while remaining oblivious as to why those who really engage in such dirty jobs might be angered. If this were done affectionately, then it might not be so bad, as imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. However, the implications are more of mockery.
The idea of the wealthy imitating the poor for fun is nothing new. A famous example is the Petit Hameau, a mock farm area built in the gardens of the Petit Trianon in 1783 for Marie Antoinette. While visiting this area, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would wear dresses of simple gauze tied with satin ribbons and pretend to care for farm animals. The farmhouse interior, of course, was fully equipped with the luxuries expected by royalty of the time. The Petit Hameau was a reflection of France’s culture and moral values, but its artificial nature and lack of necessity made it a mockery of the daily grind of many French people. The exorbitant cost of her amusements did not help her case with critics of the ancien regime, and the public sentiment stemming from her lavish expenditures contributed to her execution by guillotine in 1793.
Though we are probably far from the masses shedding the blood of their economic betters and using their obliviousness and mockery as a pretext, there is no a priori reason why circumstances in America cannot eventually deteriorate to that point. After all, Marie Antoinette likely had no conception of her eventual fate back in 1783. Even if those who wear the items discussed above never meet a nasty demise at the hands of an angry proletariat, the sort of mockery once conducted by Marie Antoinette and now conducted by certain fashion designers and their customers indicates the sort of cultural illness that prefigures a mass uprising.
That there is a demand for clothes that come purposefully damaged and covered in fake signs of use says that people have not only lost the sense of dignity that comes from a hard day’s work, but have lost respect for that sense of dignity as well. Instead, a significant number of people prefer the illusion of effort, believe that physical labor is beneath them, and see nothing wrong with taking credit for another’s work. The illusion of effort is troublesome because it can lead people to prefer laziness over diligence. Should this sentiment become widespread, important work will go undone and the infrastructure necessary for civilization will decay.
This leads into the second problem, the sense that physical labor is somehow undignified. For the wealthy, physical labors can be hired out to others. For the intelligent, there is more money to be made in fields which are only accessible to them. But for many people, physical labor is their method for doing honest work for honest wages so that they do not have to live parasitically at another’s expense. It is no shame to work in a blue-collar profession; some people just have more lucrative options. The proper response from elites, then, is not to sneer at blue-collar workers but to be thankful for and respectful of them. The alternative response leads to a widening cultural gap and greater alienation between rich and poor, which cannot continue forever.
This, in turn, leads to the third concern, that of taking credit for another person’s work. By wearing clothes which show the signs of work that one has not only not done, but has paid someone else to create the illusion of having done, this is the effective signal that one is sending. The state is partly to blame for this, as its intellectual monopoly laws have come to serve as the basis for enforcing norms of giving credit where it is due. But such laws attempt to apply the norms of property ownership to that which is not scarce, is not rivalrous, and has no particular form in physical reality. As people realize the nonsensical nature of patents and copyrights, they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and come to reject all notions of giving credit where it is due. This undermines the respect between persons that is necessary for a stable social order.
Inverted Class Incentives
In a healthy society, those who are on the lower rungs of the economic latter seek to imitate the appearance and emulate the virtues of those near the top, so as to engage in the behaviors that allowed those who are near the top to climb up there. Conversely, the clothing items discussed above serve as evidence that the opposite is occurring. Those near the top have been made to feel guilty about their station in life by social justice warriors who condemn them as being ‘privileged’ and tell them to check themselves. While these fashions are primarily, in the words of Mike Rowe, “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic rather than iconic,” the shaming of wealth has led many affluent people to signal lower economic status in order to avoid harassment by the moral busybodies of the progressive left. Wearing such clothes is one means of doing this. Thus, we have high imitating low, and if this goes on with sufficient magnitude for enough time, it will lead the rich to poverty while leaving the poor without a good example to follow.
Fashion may seem an innocent playground for leftist elites and detached from the harsh realities of life in middle America, but it can serve as a warning signal that something is deeply wrong with the culture that produces it. The four clothing items discussed above indicate many problems which, if left untreated, will lead to a revolution. These problems have been present for decades, and may persist for a decade or two longer before they provoke an uprising, but that which cannot continue will eventually stop.