Features

From Riches to Rags

What's behind the extraordinary trend to look dirt poor?

Throughout human history people have tried to elevate themselves, look sharper, raise their game and aim for a higher standard of living than the generation before them. Now, for the first time in human history many people are intentionally trending poor. Bare feet, no laces, un-brushed hair, deliberately torn, frayed and dirty clothes are everywhere.

In an Italian tailor shop in a UK town, the man standing before me hands in a pair of jeans that have collapsed into such a sad bundle of rags, he can hold them in his cupped hands. The tailor cocks an eye at him, then at me. “I think you need to take them to Lourdes. They need a priest not a tailor,” he says.

The trend may be baffling but there are serious implications. “We are finding it increasingly difficult to spot the signs of abuse or neglect,” says a primary school teacher from the North of England. “A generation ago it was obvious. If a child came to school continually with their hair uncombed or in dirty, scruffy clothes, it was a sign that a parent may be struggling to cope. Now, we don’t know if there is a problem at home or it is part of an intentional trend.” British ‘raggedy haired children’ can look alarmingly unkempt in a country like Spain with their well dressed, shiny haired counterparts. “My kids look really scruffy when we are in Spain. You really see how far things have slipped,” says José Luís Rodríguez, whose parents are Spanish but was raised in the UK.

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FilthyRich – The irony is it costs a pile of money to look this broke.

The irony is that it is the privilege of the rich to look this poor. In a country where poverty is evident and widespread such as in Brazil, very few people would want to be mistaken for a homeless person. In parts of rural Crete anyone ‘trending skint’ would raise deep suspicions that you were ‘up to no good’ as locals would simply not understand why anyone would deliberately choose to look poor. In the Far East and Caribbean many locals are now saying backpackers just look like ‘homeless people’.

The opposite of courage is not cowardice. The opposite is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.

Jim Hightower

Take this observation from an Antiguan resident, “A lot of backpackers come here wearing very scruffy clothes, they wear dreadlocks, and I have seen some barefoot on the streets of Antigua. Local children laugh at them and say they are crazy people. The backpackers may think they are showing “solidarity” with the locals but the locals think otherwise. They think these people are either horribly cheap or just dirty people and give them a wide berth.”

The power of trends is certainly extraordinary, both in how people follow them and in what they will pay to wear them.

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This is an excerpt from Issue 3 of Amanda Magazine. Read the full article by ordering your copy now.

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