Poverty chic: stigma or style?

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo “Migrant Mother,” Wikimedia Commons

I just listened to a humorous song called “Problems” by the Seattle-based trio, Uncle Bonsai. The title is short for “We’ve got problems in the first world too.”

What are these problems? Per the song, they include having too much mayonnaise on a sandwich, missing out on a buffet lunch, living with slow wifi, and sleeping on a pillow stuffed with duck down, not goose down.

It’s become a joke now that when someone shares a trivial concern, he or she will say, “That’s my first world problem.

I’m using this blog to offer up mine: I really dislike seeing people in shredded jeans.

My recent trip to Scandinavia confirms that Europeans are as in love with having their knees and thighs exposed as Americans. A friend who just vacationed in Hong Kong says this fashion statement also is the rage there.

So what’s my problem? I guess it’s my age. I associate holes in clothing with abject poverty.

I compare my life with the lives of my grandparents, dirt-poor farmers who lived through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II.

As a result of a life of shortages, my grandparents saved mounds of rubber bands and string long past the time these goods were scarce. During the Depression, my husband’s grandparents were migrant workers who moved from orchard to orchard in Eastern Washington to pick apples. But that generation would patch the tears in their clothes. They had too much pride to walk around in tatters like characters in a Dickensian workhouse.

The iconic photo above by Dorothea Lange of a woman and her children during the Great Depression symbolizes what shredded jeans mean to me and it’s hard to shed that association. It’s not only my issue. It belongs to others in my generation. “I was ashamed to have a hole in my jeans” said a friend, “because it meant we were poor.”

I realize that these days, no one associates shredded jeans with poverty, because they cost twice as much as jeans without holes.

Oh well. Holey jeans are not famine, a plague of locusts or war. And from an article I read recently, it seems I’ll soon get to re-direct my annoyance toward a new fashion trend: jeans with mud worked into the denim. After a few days kneeling in the garden pulling out weeds, perhaps I’ll qualify as a trendsetter.





About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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7 Responses to Poverty chic: stigma or style?

  1. Darlene says:

    Good one, Ann. But then I guess “we are of an age.”

  2. I think I saw the type of jean you described in your final paragraph—jeans with the mud worked into the fabric. Someone beat you to it, and now you probably won’t be able to make the millions your idea deserves!

  3. dkzody says:

    My husband’s yard work jeans are “vintage.” And they are shredded due to the vintage age. I tease him all the time about how valuable those jeans are. He does point out, though, that there are only a couple of shredded spots, not as many as one would need to be “en vogue.”

  4. Autumn Cote says:

    Would it be OK if I cross-posnted this article to WriterBeat.com? There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.


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