Opinion | The return to ’90s fashion includes hypocrisy

By Maii Rashed, Columnist

Looking back on times of great influence by popular culture, certain decades often come to mind. For the most part, every decade had its own signature look, aesthetic and style that would be distinguishable from other eras. But inevitably, each era borrows from others.

We’re seeing this trend now. While we find ourselves on the brink of a new decade, the aesthetics of the 1990s are making a comeback. As the plaid-skirt-dressed, choker-wearing, baggy-layered fashion appeal springs into the forefront of what many would deem stylish, more troublesome remnants of that era have also returned. Specifically, the concerning female trope of ‘heroin chic’ and its damaging allure has reappeared at the forefront of this industry-wide return. 

This well-worn trope was exhibited by models and actresses, such as Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, over 25 years ago. With their hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes, bone-thin bodies and greasy hair, their cigarette-smoking magazine covers often hinted at an anorexic diet and an underlying drug addiction that most of the general public understood was an unspoken reality for most of these stars. 

However, as the magazine covers portrayed the withering away of so many stars, it begs the question: If drug addiction is so taboo, how were prominent fashion brands like Calvin Klein able to extort this aesthetic and make a profit from it? The answer lies in the physicality and features of the women who portrayed this trope. As long as you were white and skinny, you could make it fashionable. 

The hypocrisy in the appeal, however, lies in the inherent racism present in the typecasting that portrayed these specific women as desirable. As black people were being condemned to unfairly long prison sentences on first-time drug charges, the appeal of a white woman looking underfed, high-strung and on some type of drug was at an all-time high. 

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    Degrading terms, such as ‘ghetto,’ were, and still are, placed on women of color, specifically black women, whether or not they actually have a drug addiction. But as the stereotyping of black women soared, the demand for white women resembling addicts was plastered onto every aspect of popular culture. Not only was the hypocrisy present, the looting of African American culture continues and is paraded by white women in the fashion industry. 

    Looking like a drug addict, however, is not part of any culture. Perhaps the social structures present in our society would like to hint a certain stereotype and class of people have a higher rate of drug addiction and go on to scrutinize that idea. However, they take this very same ‘heroin chic’ ideology and praise over-paid models for glamorizing the very thing they criminalize. 

    As this heroin chic trope continues to resurface on social media platforms, such as Instagram, with ‘vintage’ accounts reminiscing about Kate Moss’s cocaine addiction, black people continue to fall under the scrutinizing gaze of the class system. This is the very system that provides little to no relief for lower-class families and demonizes them for partaking in government programs while they simply try to better their lives. 

    These cliche aesthetics do nothing but show the true face of a hypocritical popular culture. It is a culture that praises white women for the same afflictions they criticize black women for. These gaudy portrayal of addiction the fashion industry craves from some is the very thing they vehemently deny from others. They scream their opposition to the revelation of truth within their culture of self-destruction yet cannot even admit to themselves that they are the problem. 

    Maii is a freshman in LAS.

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