The “Ghetto” Aesthetic Doesn’t Need to Go Away, It Just Needs to Include POC
The term “ghetto” was first used to describe certain neighborhoods.
The term slowly became associated with a culture, mannerisms, style, and a way of living. It is now used as a word to stereotype people of color, mainly blacks and Latinos.
With baby hairs, mink coats, and extremely long nails, the aesthetic of stereotypically black American culture has, in recent years, been at the forefront of contemporary fashion.
First popular back in the 1990s, the “ghetto fabulous” aesthetic is popular in the mainstream once again. Everything from gold teeth to airbrushed shirts has been seen on runways and considered to be high fashion. Marc Jacobs and Vetements are just some of the brands that have a love for black culture, but lack black representation on their boards. In other words, they might use black culture as inspiration and cast black models in their shows, but the people raking in the big bucks from their collections are usually not black.
Why is this problematic? Well for starters, women of color, especially black and Latina women, have been scrutinized for years because of our style but once it’s seen on a non person of color, it is considered high fashion and edgy. And taking it from the hood to the runway would be a great thing IF and only if people of color were represented and recognized for creating these trends.
Since the nineties when it first appeared, the ghetto fabulous aesthetic has left its mark on a range of productions such as music videos and fashion films. Now that the term ‘cultural appropriation’ is being used and can be recognized everywhere it is more noticeable when designers and celebrities use something specific to a certain culture but don’t recognize that.
Here are just a few examples of the ways the fashion industry uses what normally would be considered “ghetto” on a person of color, but considered high fashion when a designer does it.
Headlines like this make people of color cringe: “See the Alexander Wang T-Shirts You Can’t Buy Anywhere.” This is not a one of a kind design, because many people had personalized airbrushed shirts decades before it hit the runway.
Marc Jacobs sent models with pastel colored dreads down the runway and hardly had any black models in the show.
After he posted a picture from the show on his Instagram, several people called him out for appropriating black culture. It is his response that really struck a nerve with a number of people:
“…and all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race — I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow minded…Love is the answer. Appreciation of all inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it.”
Women of color who wear their hair in afros are often deemed as unprofessional and their hair is perceives as nappy. Backstage at the Ashish fall 2016 runway show, we see women with colorful afros strutting down the runway. Several of them are women of color, but if they were to wear pastel afros on a regular day, it would be considered ghetto.
People of color are not necessarily angry that our style is being used. It is known that we live in a multicultural society and the crossing of cultures is happening all around us and it is beautiful.
What is upsetting is that people of color who wear these styles everyday are STILL being called “ghetto” and “unprofessional” by the same people who praise these designers when they do appropriate culture. Hiring models of color is just putting a Band-Aid on a bigger problem and can be used as a tool to elevate their own aesthetics and financial gains.
People of color are also still underrepresented in the fashion industry in all aspects such as hair stylists, makeup artists and designers. It takes more than just a designer and a model to pull off a runway show or a campaign. If people of color who are masters of the were hired for photoshoots and styling, there wouldn’t be an issue. People of color should be profiting from their aesthetics that they developed. Instead, the individuals that do profit from these lines are often white people who just see black culture as inspiration.
Fashion has a huge influence on the world. While there are a handful of designers of color, that doesn’t represent the whole world. There are more people of color than their are non people of color in the world, but the media and fashion industry mainly use non people of color to represent their brands. If the industry represented all cultures and recognized what they bring to the table, instead of using them as props, then the world’s attitude might start to change a little more.