“Let me show you ‘Derelicte.’ It is a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique,” coos Mugatu’s voice, drawing the fallen-from-grace male model down the runway with his signature Blue Steel pout. Strutting in a tailored garbage bag comes Ben Stiller’s Zoolander — a pawn in Will Ferrell’s evil fashion guru Mugatu’s plot to maximize profits for the industry.
“Zoolander,” the vastly underrated film that satirizes an actual 2000 fashion campaign by John Galliano brings to light just how whipped we are by the fashion world. Galliano’s “hobo couture” collection is uncannily reminiscent of a trend I see everyday not on Telegraph Avenue, but rather on its perpendicular, at the unassuming corner of Bancroft and Bowditch Street.
I’m descending from I-House, eyes guarded by my reflective sunglasses. The sidewalk down the south side of Bancroft Way transforms into a narrow human tunnel at the top of the hour, shuttling students directly from their beds to lecture hall desks. I look to my right and see the Nike-clad athlete walking to his or her token vespa, opting out of the crowded sidewalk. In my peripheral, I see the girl who has fallen victim to the backpack that sneakily pulls up inches of her skirt’s hem with each step.
But then, I look straight ahead beyond the shoulder in front of me. Ratty old boots trudge toward me, meeting a pair of torn, bleached jeans paired with a dirty plaid shirt hanging at the hips. As my eyes eventually scan up to the head on top of this outfit, I realize it is not that of one of Berkeley’s wayward wanderers, but instead belongs to a young, fresh-faced girl emerging from Urban Outfitters.
If I had an orange mocha frappuccino for every time I mistake Urban’s expensive clothes for genuinely shabby ones, I would put Starbucks out of business altogether. But I’m still sucked in, finding myself browsing through all the stuff I won’t buy. I will not buy the innumerable shirts that don “Brooklyn” across the chest — evidently, the design team forgot about the four other boroughs that compose New York City. I will not buy the flimsy cardigan my mom would surely dismiss with a “toilet paper is thicker than this” — she has trained me well. I will also not buy the shirt that, after snaking over my head and down to my chest, reveals its true nature as a bra.
I conclude my tirade with the confession that, yes, I have purchased the occasional pair of socks at Urban Outfitters before. But I find myself increasingly befuddled when I am met with bizarre items like velvet crop-top turtleneck button-downs that threaten the budgets of the college crowd. The same goes for the vintage $120 sweatshirts that resemble potential hand-me-downs I narrowly avoided in my childhood.
The creative class of each generation rebrands the old to appeal to the young, making the 20-somethings throw money down to snatch up distressed clothing, doing whatever it takes to look derelict. In an ubercompetitive and crowded world, postadolescents must strive desperately to stand out. When uniqueness is branded and priced, we stray from the individuality we seek.
The iPhone 6 sticking out of that young girl’s tattered pocket epitomizes a paradox of sorts — a return to the old as we chase the new. Because the same products dominate all of our lives, we are in a continuous search for difference in another realm. In this case, we search through our clothing for distinction but come up remarkably short.
Urban Outfitters smells out our generational vulnerability and caters to the weakness that is the quest to be individual. The hipster movement they promote that sweeps fresh-faced UC Berkeley students off their feet is one I still don’t get. Sometimes, this makes me feel alone in a crowd, which presents me an opportunity to be different free of charge.
“Derelicte” has trickled down from haute couture fashion to stores in any mall across the world, and as a result, Urban Outfitters is “so hot right now.” If we’re not careful, Urban Outfitters will soon be selling us identical tailored trash bags with red drawstrings around the waist — waste? In our search to distinguish ourselves, we will all look exactly the same. Hopefully, they come in different colors.