Bad Fashion and the Importance of History

September 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

kent-state-shirt-625Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy, having a long history of doing stupid things the-young-hipster-shopping-mecca-urban-outfitters-offends-parents-yet-again-with-t-shirts-that-seemand offering up offensive products to tasteless and tactless hipsters.  A sample of the company’s idiocy sees anti-Semitic t-shirts and accessories, racist board games, and the like.  But this week, we got an offensive sweatshirt.  Urban Outfitters began selling a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt (at $120, a price only a clueless hipster would spend) that looked like it was spattered with blood, complete with what looked like bullet holes.  This, of course, recalled the 1970 Kent State shootings, when four students were killed and nineteen injured when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed protesters.  Almost immediately, the company was besieged with howls of protest, calling this move insensitive, at best (do a Twitter search for some more colourful responses).  It then responded with a typical corporate nothing-speak empty apology:

If you click on the link in that tweet, you can read the end of this empty apology, which talks about sun-faded vintage clothing and discolourisation and “how saddened” the company was by public perception.  Given the company’s history of provocation and offensive behaviour, I see nothing sincere here.

ikyo9YeJkiIQIt’s been a bad stretch for clothing makers, last month, Spanish clothing retail giant Zara tried selling a children’s pyjama that recalled the uniform Jewish prisoners were forced to wear in concentration and death camps during the Holocaust.  Faced with a similar storm of protest on Twitter and elsewhere, Zara withdrew the item and issued a similarly empty corporate apology. In its version of the gormless apology, Zara said this pyjama shirt was meant to recall the star sheriffs wore in the American West. Sure.  Right.

I won’t even get into the downright daftness of hipsters wearing aboriginal headdresses.  That’s an entire dissertation on stupidity, cultural appropriation, and a how-to guide on offensiveness. (There is, however, a Tumblr devoted to mocking hipsters in headdresses).
But all of this idiocy reinforces the importance of history and the impact a little bit of historical knowledge can have on the world.  Someone in my Facebook feed today suggested that fashion companies simply hire someone to be an historian-minded vettter, to ensure plain, outright stupidity like this doesn’t happen.  But the very fact that these two items of clothing actually got to market displays an epic failure of corporate oversight.  In order for something to get from design to retail to production means that both items went through many checks, were seen by many eyes.  And no one thought, “Hey, this is a bad idea.”  Or, no one cared.  Certainly, one can come to that conclusion vis-à-vis Urban Outfitters, given the serial nature of its offensiveness and lack of good corporate citizenship.

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