Working class cultural appropriation is an increasingly topical and controversial issue that has been cast a lot of attention in recent times due to the huge influx of urban sportswear into the fashion industry – styles that were previously frowned upon for their social associations. Privately educated, future-etonian schoolboys dressing like weed dealers from a South London council estate feels somewhat uncomfortable – almost as though the middle classes are trying on working class fashion for fancy dress. Middle class millenials are in a mid-generation crisis – with bleak future job prospects and all too many of them ending up as the one thing middle-class people are never meant to be – broke. Capitalist society has its ways of dealing with situations like this: hate yourself? Just be someone else. Re-connect with reality, experience life on the edge, escape bureaucracy and the failures of neoliberalism – try being working class. To me, working class cultural appropriation is more than parentally-funded Nike Air Max 95s, Stone Island jackets and Adidas tracksuit bottoms tucked into socks – it bleeds into many other aspects of modern middle class life – warehouse cafés, music, language and gentrification are all intertwined with the refreshing excitement of working class life.
Visit popular bars and clubs in Brixton, Peckham or Shoreditch and you will most likely end up in a warehouse or reconverted multi-storey car park. Expect gritty, urban aesthetics - mismatched chairs, scuffed tables, strip lighting, dirty mirrors, graffitied walls and most importantly, metal bathroom stalls – nothing says ‘on the edge of life’ like metal bathroom stalls. The warehouse – once the centre of true, British industry, the workplace of proud labourers – has, too, seen the grimacing face of appropriation. The warehouse’s humble beginnings as the centre of a working community trod its own path – inhabited by squatters, appreciated by free party ravers through the 90s, transformed from a centre of work, to a centre of hedonism, and finally, had its identity destroyed by the cold, rotting disease of gentrification – its character muted by profit, civility, legality, health and safety regulations, craft beer and houmous. Eventually, the aestheticism of warehouses and ex-car parks will too tread their course and eventually reach peak level of gentrification – conversion to privately rented, luxury flats. For the time being though, middle class people will continue to commute to their favourite ex-warehouse/car park haunts like moths to a flame, craving the pre-packaged and perfectly safe experience of working class culture that they provide.
Image Credits: http://www.wildaboutmagazine.com/wearing-the-working-class/