Fashion Imitates Reality: Your Not-So-Standard Occupy Wall Street Post

10/25/2011 10:50 am ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011

A shaved head; combat boots; a button-down flannel layered on a sweater, layered on a thin and holey cotton T-shirt; shredded jeans; some eclectic accessory; capped with a cigarette and a fierce pose -- the news coverage of the Occupy Wall Street uniform sounds eerily similar to the description of a fashionista featured on a street style blog such as The Sartorialist.

Street style in it's most real element, the uniform of a social movement, has always been important; after all, what would have the American counterculture movement been without flower power and a hippie uniform in the '60s and '70s? But in this day and age, where self-expression is our main source of entertainment fueled by images spreading virally to the masses with a simple mobile upload, the Occupy Wall Street uniform has come to mean so much more.

Perception of the Movement's uniform is no longer strictly limited to the now of our political context. The people of Occupy Wall Street are having their it-girl/boy moment and the fashion industry is listening, watching and responding.

The '90s has been deemed the new vintage, despite the fact that the '90s only ended 11 years ago. I do not believe that this is just a coincidence. Rodarte spent the past winter referencing the great depression's dust bowl, nostalgic for a time period that was 80 years ago. Marc Jacobs and a slew of others reinterpreted the '60s and had the 'who's who' of fashion running around in platforms and bell-bottoms last spring. Now, Alexander Wang is paving the path to towards a grunge revival era, snubbing nostalgia as a source of inspiration and instead looking towards our economic climate for a muse.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote on "vintage clothing from fashion's least appreciated decade" finally having its moment. With wet slicked back hair, a surprising use of velour, an inappropriate amount of denim and mesh, crop tops, and raccoon eyes, there is no mistaking this tacky grunge rocker look for any other decade.

The juxtaposition of '90s vintage clothing, contemporary-wear referencing the '90s, and a '90s grunge revival present in street style is a confusing and interesting evolutionary moment for the fashion industry. With an enormous inequality gap and unemployment rates staggeringly high, the phenomenon of those at the very bottom dressing the same as those at the top, and those at the top conscientiously dressing the same as those at the bottom is irony in its finest form.

Walking through Zuccotti Park, it is difficult to distinguish the authentic homeless people from the protestors. It is as equally as difficult to differentiate the "real protestors" from the trendy protestors, and it is even more difficult to tell the difference between the people just mentioned and the couture-dressed employees at a store such as Opening Ceremony. Despite a bit of a push to bring back the 'frivolousness' that the industry generally enjoyed in the past, grunge is too of the moment to be overturned.

Designer Joseph Altuzurra, whose past two collections were full of combat boots, leather, and oversized olive-colored bomber jackets, points to the '90s and the recession as an influence: "Because of the recession, people want things that function practically, like a parka or a bomber."

In what is essentially a war of culture, "young versus old, left versus right, communal food tables versus "Don't Tread on Me" flags," utilitarian ideas and design reflected in a fashion collection elevates the fashion industry to a level that many fail to appreciate. The industry is progressive and receptive, and clothing is an effective vehicle of political/cultural/self-expression. It recognizes movements and the changing of social winds at a grassroots level.

Occupy Wall Street is one of many examples, along with the passage of same-sex marriage that has American designers scrambling to reinvent their wedding collection to accommodate lesbian and gay couples (J. Crew is potentially offering a white wedding pantsuit).

Yes, all of these strategic changes profit the industry; after all, Kanye West's plaid Givenchy shirt that he wore to the Occupy Wall Street protest came at the cost of $800. Nevertheless, the level of sensitivity and willingness to represent those on the street is a cue that others may perhaps benefit from.