Today in fashion… buying the perception of of having done a hard day’s work

In about ’91, as an American Studies undergrad at the University of Michigan, I had the occasion to take a class at with professor Robert Berkhofer, the author of The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. While I don’t remember a great deal about what we covered in the class, as it was over a quarter of a century ago now, I have a very vivid memory of an offhand comment Berkhofer made one morning about the trajectory of American fashion. He predicted that, one day, as the division between classes in America grew, upscale shops would begin selling the tattered clothing worn by prisoners at Chinese and Russian forced labor camps.

Well, it looks like we’ve taken yet one more step in that direction.

Thank you, Nordstrom, for these “heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit (that) 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.” You’ve not only picked up Peter Buchanan-Smith’s gauntlet of ridiculousness, but you’ve run with it.

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23 Comments

  1. facebook stalker
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Mark Maynard on Facebook: “For what it’s worth, I know that Nordstrom likely just did this for publicity, the same way Urban Outfitters releases an offensive t-shirt design every year to get everyone up in arms, but still….”

  2. Stefanie Stauffer
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Does this mean I can sell my farm jeans for $$$?

  3. James Engman
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Where can I get gray sweatpants with cheetos stains? I want that stay-at-home Antifa look.

  4. Alex Andra
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Engineering all that fake mud is expensive.

  5. City Watch
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    What’s next? DNA stained pajama pants?

  6. Lynne
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I remember seeing a painting years ago of Marie Antoinette playing peasant in a beautiful garden. Rich people slumming is nothing new.

    (whoops, posted this in the wrong place before)

  7. site admin
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    See also:

    http://markmaynard.com/2014/05/art-food-sex-and-trauma-mark-maynard-shoots-the-shit-with-the-most-important-artists-of-our-day-episode-2-rebekah-modrak/

  8. Bee Roll
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    i’ve been pissed about this dynamic for years, as a poor person i’ve had to look “wealthy” to gain access to just about anything but rich people dress in faux rags for authenticity

  9. site admin
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I believe Lynne intended this comment to go in this thread:

    “Oh, and I remember seeing a painting years ago of Marie Antoinette playing peasant in a beautiful garden. Rich people slumming is nothing new.” -Lynne

  10. Demetrius
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    In a minor way, this reminds me of Marie Antoinette who, upon becoming bored with the luxury, power, and comfort that accompanied her role as the Queen of France, instructed the design and construction of a fake, miniature, rustic farm near the Palace of Versailles … wherein she and a few of her close friends would retreat to “play” at being simple milkmaids … “dressing in plain muslin dresses, milking the cows, tending the gardens, and playing with … the animals.”

    Perhaps eventually, if/when we modern-day peasants rise up to take down the current class of oligarchs, some of those who are able to pay Nordstrom $425 for a pair of jeans designed to simulate “hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty” may end up meeting a similar fate.

  11. Betsy
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Here’s something actually worth watching from Tucker Carlson and Fox… references the Nordstrom “dirty” jeans.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/25/mike-rowe-im-nervous-about-trumps-buy-american-hire-american-order.html

  12. Jcp2
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I think this is less a general reflection of wealthy behavior as it is more an indication of the conflict between the American discomfort of reconciling economic class with social class. Everybody wants to be rich but nobody wants to be stuck up. Not so much the case in other societies where class hierarchies are not only explicit, but accepted. It indicates that we are more socially malleable.

  13. Taco Farts
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    As a person who’s very susceptible to outrage in modern times, I want to give all here a gentle pat on the shoulder and assure you that this really isn’t a thing, and you are free to move on; enjoy the outdoors, see a movie, have a drink with a friend, etc.

  14. Reverend Andrew
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Commodify your dissent
    Actually the title of a Tom Frank book:

  15. Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, let me put the website for the Tom Frank book in the right place..

    Rev.

  16. Reverend Andrew
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    At least I’m getting in some math practice….

  17. Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    or turn off scriptblocker, sorry for the mess Mark

    Here’s the link to the Tom Frank book titled “Commodify Your Dissent”

  18. Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Feeling more than usually ancient….

    Here’s the link to the Tom Frank book titled “Commodify Your Dissent”

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    If you are on a budget, you can buy paint splattered jeans and t-shirts at J Crew for $150. This has been going on for decades. My mom’s big beef about the anti-war movement was that they dressed in rags. She marched in the civil rights movement and people dressed in their Sunday best. They knew that protesting the government was serious business. In contrast, the anti-war movement looked like entitled college kids with no real ambition beyond lifestyle. Mom opposed the war but wouldn’t march, dismissing it as a big party.

    I never really bought it until the ‘grunge’ movement was bought and sold to suburbia from fashion avenue– after years of me being teased in NY for wearing so much plaid. Of course the punk movement in London was commodified right from conception by Malcolm Mclaren. Ironic that punk has come to mean the opposite. “If I were a communist, a rich man would bail me.” — the Fall

  20. wobblie
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Jean Henry, The reason we wore “rags” during the anti-war movement is because we were poor students (mainly working class stiffs trying to stay out of the draft) and returning veterans who were going into the streets to stop the war. YOU don’t wear your sunday best when you know it is going to reek of tear gas by the end of the night.
    The liberal stereotypes the media pushes are so much BS. Look at how we dressed prior to the police attacks at Columbia and Chicago. When you fight a war (which we were doing) you dress for the fight.

  21. Jean Henry
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I was speaking of my 80 years old mother’s impression at the time. It’s not like Civil rights protestors weren’t attacked and beaten. The contrast is stark. I would be inclined to say the difference in comportment reflected the difference in intent: the aspiration to be included in the power structure v a self-distancing from it– a disenfranchisement. Entitled is a relative term. Like privilege.

  22. site admin
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Here’s the link Reverend Andrew was attempting to post.

    https://thebaffler.com/books/commodify-your-dissent-the-business-of-culture-in-the-new-gilded-age

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    At any rate, this issue of political movements becoming commodified seems to have begun with the anti-war movement. (Only more interesting since it was anti-establishment) Can anyone think of an earlier example of a political movement creating a fashion trend? Did Rosie the riveter start women wearing jeans?
    Maybe this always happens in social movements and so now it is capitalized on– rather than capitalism driving the trend. Quick, buy a che guevera T-shirt.

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