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Erica Cheung Headshot

The Value of Style: A Different Look at NYFW and Street Style

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Right now, I'm sporting a Coach down jacket. It is wine-colored with a black fur collar and a beautiful, patterned lining. It costs close to $1,000 in a store.

What does my coat say about me?

  • That I can afford a1,000 coat at a young age, which means I'm wealthy and if I'm not personally wealthy then at least I know wealthy people
  • Because I am seemingly "wealthy" in some way, this means that I am privileged, snotty, upper class, educated and clean
  • That I enjoy brand names
  • I believe brand names equals good style
  • I have good style

These assumptions based purely on my use of the coat are not determined by the way the coat is made, assembled, where it comes from or who made it. Instead, it is based on the ways in which value is placed upon the object, my coat.

The truth is that my father works in the garment industry in Asia. He works for a company that works for labels like Coach, Burberry, Lacoste and others that manufacture the products that are then sold in stores and then used to connote wealth, style, opinions, etc.

ericacheung

A photograph of me from College Fashionista 2009


In reality, my father paid next to nothing for the coat, which he then brought to me on his latest visit to New York. In reality, I am a college-student who would never spend $1,000 on a coat (it's almost as expensive as my rent!) and whose father works in China to support my American lifestyle. In reality, Thai workers made my coat in a factory under the supervision of other men like my father who are part of the fashion industry chain of command that make the clothes that we then value for their name. These men and women make the clothes that we wear because of supply and demand. Because we want to look in-demand.

Thinking about these things makes me wonder about many things. Mainly, do people realize how and where their clothes are made? Do I make incorrect assumptions about the people I see sporting Madewell or Chanel on the street, or am I playing into the systems of wealth and appearance that I am trying to critique?!

Eventually this leads me to wonder about Fashion Week and the value of being caught on camera, heading to a show or a fashion shoot. What does NYFW represent and why do people (non-industry people, even) value it so much? Of course, a huge part of fashion week is the street style. It seems silly to value street style so much when it has come to mean so much more than looking cool on the street. "Normal" people (not super wealthy, "fashion" people) are not normally photographed on the street for their style, and if they are it's very rare. Instead, we now have street style icons that wear extremely expensive, designer labels that make them look eclectic, chic, expensive, valuable.

My father's job and the jobs of those that work under him make me re-evaluate the ways I think about fashion, my interest in street style and each particular object I wear. I used to think that I had street style (or that I wanted street style) and that I cared to be photographed. Now I'm beginning to think differently.