Cringe Culture and the Case of Fashion Elitism | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 28, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:42 AM, January 28, 2021


Cringe Culture and the Case of Fashion Elitism

If you've been a person on the internet in the last couple of years, chances are you have come across the word "cringe". Cringe: the monosyllabic word that determines what's socially acceptable and what's not; it acts as the metaphorical bouncer ready to chuck you out of the cool kids' club if you don't meet the requirements. So, how does this relate to fashion?

Cringing at others' fashion choices has been a thing for as long as we can remember. From internationally televised shows and YouTube commentary to your Instagram explore page and even that one auntie gasping at your ripped jeans – people have a lot of opinions and they do not hold back. At first glance, this does not seem like much of an issue, because so much of this has been normalised to the extent of us not realising how it is a major hindrance to a person exploring their own style.

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By continuing to participate and even being complicit in cringe culture, we are unknowingly doing more harm than good. Shame is a powerful tool that keeps everyone in check. The notion of standing out and it potentially backfiring is a nightmare to most – but should it really be like this? It is a natural human response to want to fit in with the community, but personal fashion choices is an aspect that should be free of such negativity.

This also brings us to the peculiar notion of "trends". And more importantly, who creates them and consequently, benefits from them. More often than not, trends are set by people who are in a position of both power and privilege – able-bodied, slim, white, famous, and wealthy. The most mainstream example of this is the popularisation of "streetwear", baggy clothes, sneakers, and flashy accessories, all of which had previously been frowned upon because this style was mainly the look in low-income communities in America. However, now it is a multi-billion-dollar industry with huge brands like Supreme and Nike that capitalise on these looks by creating the illusion of exclusivity.

A more local example of this is the classic looks of gram-bangla (gamchha prints, simple cotton saree) which would undoubtedly be considered couture if it were made by a fashion designer, gone through fancy marketing, and carried a hefty price tag, rather than it just being made by the local craftspeople in a rural area.

We cannot deny that wealth and privilege gives people the power to gatekeep fashion. Sometimes, the difference between "cringeworthy" and "cool" can be a thin line we call "privilege". And it's so important to remember that because it helps put things in perspective -- we cannot let elitism and cringe culture dictate how we choose something as personal as fashion.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it especially applies in this case. Granted, trends are helpful and even beautiful sometimes, but our lives are far too rich, too complex, and too shortto be abiding by these superficial rubrics. Personal fashion can be such a beautiful, fun, and empowering thing. It is the way you decide to pick out the most vibrant yellow jacket, or that hot pink shirt that you know is obnoxiously loud – and yet you love it. It is liberating to let yourself choose these seemingly simple things, and that is a luxury we all deserve.

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