High fashion has a long history of gathering inspiration from the mundane and turning it into something extraordinary, but when personalised workwear is turned into a luxury that’s worth double or triple the price, we must wonder: Is it going too far?
During their spring/summer 16 show, Vetements sent down the runway a model wearing a yellow DHL T-shirt under a black button-up shirt. Except for a price tag of £185 (you can get the original one for £4.99), the garment looks almost identical to the one DHL employees wear and it still became the must-have item of the season. Samples flew off the shelves for them to appear on Instagram accounts of fashionistas and bloggers everywhere.
Demna Gvasalia, the creative director behind the Parisian brand, basically said in an interview with The Telegraph that the courier company was part of his everyday life, therefore, it should be part of the collection, as well.
The package didn’t arrive, we have to stop working with DHL, we will be bankrupt by DHL.” DHL seemed to be more a part of my life than anything else so I thought, why isn’t it in the show?
Every day someone was saying, ‘“The package didn’t arrive, we have to stop working with DHL, we will be bankrupt by DHL.” DHL seemed to be more a part of my life than anything else so I thought, why isn’t it in the show?’
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Jeremy Scott, the current creative director of Moschino, is another designer who’s known for ruffling some feathers. One of his most famous collections was autumn/winter 2014 where models walked down the runway in outfits inspired by both Coco Chanel and Ronald McDonald. One of the most obvious ensembles includes a button-up dress and a hat that is almost indistinguishable from those that are part of the fast food restaurant’s uniform.
These are just two examples of the many cases where high fashion designers are inspired by common workwear. Are they geniuses, uninspired or simply trolls?
How Workwear Inspires High Fashion
While a McDonald’s dress that costs an entire month worth of salary might raise a few eyebrows, it is anything but novel. Artists, designers and (God, forbid me) the ‘elite’ have been glorifying the ‘simpler’ life for centuries.
Back in the 18th century, Marie Antoinette was famous for having her very own little farm in the gardens of Versailles. The building included animals, a mill wheel and a barn. All specially designed to make the queen feel like she was in the countryside instead of the palace’s premises. She would even wear outfits inspired by the theme which included muslin chemises with sashes and straw hats. As you can imagine, much like the stiletto-wearing McDonald’s employee, these delicate dresses were anything but what country people actually wore at the time.
The last queen of France might have been fashion forward, but we would still have to wait a couple of centuries until workwear truly permeated mainstream fashion.
It was during the 20th century, to be exact. We first saw T-shirts make the move from the US Army to the silver screen where heart-throbs Marlon Brando and James Dean popularised the item. If you want to find out more about the history of the T-shirt, check out our infographic.
In a similar fashion, denim has got its roots in manual labour. The first pair of jean trousers were born in mid 19th century when American tailor Jacob W. Davis was asked to create a pair that would sustain harsh conditions. He made the garment from the sturdiest cotton he had available at the time and put copper rivets on the seams that often tear apart on the garment. Seeing a business opportunity, he contacted his cotton supplier Levi Strauss & Co. for a partnership and together started a company that would eventually become Levi’s.
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Not unlike how Marie Antoinette dreamed of a more modest life surrounded by nature, nowadays fashion-conscious folk are heavily influenced by a Nordic-worker type of look that’s more reminiscent of a cabin-by-the-lake fantasy than the working-on-the-laptop reality. Let’s take a look at this workwear trend:
Just last year The Guardian wrote an entire article on how “Fisherman” was the new ‘It’ thing in menswear. Cable knit jumpers, beanies and wader trousers are all part of the trend. If you need a visual reference, go look for stills of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Topman has a selection of fisherman jumpers, while ASOS features an entire section of fisherman beanies.
Among their predictions for 2017, streetwear blog Highsnobiety listed workwear (dubbed as nu-workwear) as one of the biggest trends of the year. Think of overalls, bright colours and combat boots.
Designer Heron Preston is the most obvious example as he designs streetwear that makes very obvious hints at blue-collar apparel.
During my 1st year at PARSONS, I decided to use a “Typewriter” font for a project I had to do. My teacher immediately noticed and told me “You should have used a real typewriter if you wanted typewriter style letters.” Then she failed me. I’ll never forget that lesson and that’s how “UNIFORM”, Heron Preston for DSNY happened. I grew super bored of the fashion industry’s vacant messaging. Everything felt so generic & cheesy to me. I wanted to do something real. With real people. #workwear #dsny #0x30 #uniform #tbt
While many bloggers like to claim the ‘death’ of the hipster and the lumbersexual (I can’t believe I just typed in that word) a stroll down Shoreditch or Peckham may prove otherwise. I really don’t need to explain what a hipster is, now do I? Just know that the plaid shirt, the beard and the skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
There are several ‘hipster brands’ out there, but Band of Outsiders is often referred to as the quintessential one. I mean, is there anything more hipster than corduroy shorts and a banana pipe? …Wes Anderson wearing corduroy shorts while smoking a banana pipe?
Some may argue that office attire isn’t technically workwear, but any clothes you have to wear for at least twenty hours a week falls into the category in my book.
Recent collections from brands Gosha Rubchinskiy and Prada showcased outfits inspired by business casual. The first draws inspiration from a young post-Soviet Union workforce while the second has got a dash of 70’s flare.
This workwear trend is ironic, to say the least. I’ve never worked on a construction site or on a fishing boat, but I’m pretty certain that the last thing those people are thinking is if their beanie matches their shirt. Our media and hip neighbourhoods have been populated by brawny, bearded men who have probably never been to a forest, much less picked up an axe, but still enjoy a cappuccino in a rustic environment.
But is it okay? Design is not right or wrong. Design is there to satisfy a need and as long there are people who want to wear/buy it, then it’s doing its work.
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