Free «Heroin Chic and Contemporary Fashion» Essay

Heroin Chic and Contemporary Fashion

Fashion is an evolving industry that continues to transform itself from one form to the other one. Models popularize most of fashion styles and many seem to go away when the model leaves the stage. However, some fashion styles get to be fought by the society because of the perceived influence on the youth, in particular, and the society itself, in general. An example of the fashion style that received a wide condemnation from the fashion industry itself and the society is the Heroin Chic of the 1990s. This style, as deduced from its name, has depicted young emaciated girls with the pale skin and circles under their dark eyes and has arisen the feeling of a drug addict. The British photography and styling of the 1990s was highly influenced by Heroic Chic with Kate Moss, a model behind the style backing the major awards in photos and styles that she had appeared on. However, many fashion enthusiasts and prominent people, including the US president Bill Clinton, expressed their displeasure with Heroin Chic for its perceived negative impact on the behaviors of youth. They claimed that the style had tended to glamorize the use of drugs, especially heroin to which Moss had been associated with. Some even thought that Heroin Chic was anti fashion and depicted those who promoted the style as working against the supermodels of the time. This paper discusses a debate that surrounded Heroin Chic fashion and how the style influenced on the contemporary fashion.

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Heroin Chic and its Criticism

According to Rosser (2011),fashion and style are a way of representing the one’s self in the society. They depict the inner character that is expressed on the outward through the makeup and clothes that the person wears. As such, the fashion and style have come to be associated with a certain behavior that might be desirable or undesirable in the society. One such fashion was the unpopular Heroin Chic movement that swept the fashion industry in the 1990s. Heroin chic was the 1990s fashion movement that was led by a fragile model Kate Moss. A pale skin, dark circles under the eyes and extreme thinness, generally characterized as heroin chic. These characteristics being the foundation to which the fashion were associated with drug addiction. Additionally, a main promoter of fashion, Kate Moss, was found to be using drugs, thus, confirming the fears that the society had associated the fashion with. 

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Several fashion scholars have written much about how heroin chic negatively impacted on the behaviors of youth arguing that the fashion glamorized the use of drugs. Some even argued that heroin chic was the antithesis of fashion at that time and, thus, the fashionable ones received a great resistance both from the fashion industry itself and from antidrug organizations. The models were always in dissolution poses with blank stares that suggested that they were drug addicts. Because of their poses, it was easier for young people to think that using drugs was a cool thing. Indeed many young people started using drugs with the hope that they could become like the models in heroin chic Rosser (2011).

One of the problems that heroin chic as a fashion was to struggle with the obviously falsified media reporting and coverage where the photos of those practicing heroin chic as their fashion continuously and consistently were depicted in the mainstream media as drug addicts. It became common to use heroin chic as the main reference when it came to the imagery representation of devastating effects of drugs on the youth. Furthermore, Joergens (2006) has noted that different media, both in the UK and the US, started reporting on unsubstantiated reports that the number of youth using drugs and specifically heroin had increased for 30% even. However, such claims were not backed up with any scientific research. The media took upon themselves to portray that it was a common knowledge that with heroin chic as a fashionable style, the number of youth using the drug would definitely increase.

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The Monitoring the Future and National Survey on Drug Use and Health projects on the research about the use of heroin indicate that the number of users did not increase between the period 1988 and 2003 or in any one particular instance between those periods. Joanne and Ross (2010) argue that such findings do not seem to support the assertions that heroin chic had to battle with during the 1990s like, “Now, with number 5 wraps of heroin almost as common as cans of strong lager in areas...” The findings also do not support the claims implying that heroin chic encouraged a generation of youth to use heroin. Joanne and Ross (2010) further have observed that the claims that had been slapped against heroin chic through the media deserved to be reevaluated again given the fact that numerous researches continue to exonerate heroin chic as a cause of moral degeneration of youth perceived at that time.

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While addressing the relationship between heroin chic and a photographic representation of narcotics in the media, Hines and Bruce (2001) argued that heroin chic was a popular culture that was redressing itself through popular art and thus did not deserve to be demonized by the media as the cause of dwindling moral behavior and drug addiction among the youth. He observed that the beginning of the look of Heroin in the fashion through photography was both not a cause of the lapse in morals or of some desire liberation specific to the culture of the Anglo-American experienced in the mid-1990s. He notes that, “It was, and is, part of a much longer, relentless process of envisioning narcotic addiction that stretches back for at least 120 years”(Christine 1999).

Consequently, Edward and Nick (1997) argued that the continued misrepresentation of heroin chic as a fashion was exacerbated by the involvement of powerful organizations that supported media photographs depicting heroin chic as a panacea to drug addiction. Similarly, the involvement of notable figures in the society led by the US president Bill Clinton to portray the heroin chic as the cause for the loose morality served to promote the negative reception that it received from the public.

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According to Denise (1997), the models that promoted Heroin Chic were beautiful but one could not help to notice the fleeting nature that they had exhibited in advertisements. The controversy that followed the advertisements for heroin chic forced the fashion industry to give them up after the’90s with the introduction of more healthier-looking models. However, Christine (1999) argued that heroin chic could have been more than the fashion at the time because of the overwhelming resistance that it received from the media and the public. He implied that heroin chic was an attempt by the youth to address the cultural gap that existed and continues to exist where a certain section of society take it upon themselves to interpret the constructs of the society. For example, the photographic images of youth who had embraced heroin chic as the style were definitely doctored by the media to appear so much like those of people abusing drugs. A continual depiction of heroin chic as skinny and fragile implanted this picture in the mind of public being increasingly started shunning the style. The fashion industry itself picked up the bay and started displaying different body structures in the attempt to change the public perception of industry. Nevertheless, the impact of heroin chic on the British fashion industry, particularly in photography and styling, was notable as the fashion designers like Calvin Klein started sampling what had constituted a fashionable body structure.

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Types of Bodies Represented in the Contemporary Fashion

According to Craik (2009), the contemporary fashion is influenced by many factors especially insofar as globalization is concerned. The world has become a small village; and a fashion designer who manages to break the ceiling and come up with an outstanding design can easily catch the attention of the whole world. This also means that it is now difficult to come up with the fashion that will definitely attract the attention of the world as numerous styles are competing for the attention of everyone. From politics to sports, the contemporary fashion has just become an amalgamation of several designers coming up with unique styles both in clothing and physique to either influence on their fans or express their personality in the world.

Several issues are critical when it comes to the contemporary fashion. It is no longer an issue of the body type only. As noted by Callan (2008), fashion industry regulators are looking at issues of the number of hours that contemporary models are putting in their work to realize a certain body shape. The issues of dieting and eating habits are also important when it comes to the contemporary fashion. However, even though the media has not taken it upon themselves to sensitize the society on the use of drugs and alcohol for fashion models, a revelation of such cases continues to elicit a widespread public debate. It is also important to understand why the fashion industry has again returned to where it had been with heroin chic with its perceived preference of slim and skinny bodies. This might try to explain the reason the society was fed with the misconstrued information about heroin style, that after all skinny bodies are more fashionable than the healthy looking bodies.

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Commercialization of the fashion industry also has continued to influence on the kind of contemporary fashion that is coming out of the industry. For instance, if the certain fashion, for example the hairstyle like the Mohawk, is found to possess a kind of the commercial value, the fashion industry is more likely to nurture that particular fashion for the purposes of commercial benefits. Nevertheless, the level of influence of the particular style whether to the youth or the society, in general, has drastically gone down as people get to know the implications of the particular fashion.

As argued by Brian (2008), fashion industry is an evolving field especially with the increasing knowledge and information that people are accessing everywhere. Feigning anorexia in order to become a fashion model is no longer acceptable even to the consumers of fashion. Not long ago, people who wanted to model as fashion stars have undergone a rigorous program of food abstinence to the extent of becoming dangerously underweight. In the modern day fashion, all types of bodies can be dressed to reveal the particular kind of fashion. It is no longer a matter of certain normal routine actions in order to achieve the certain kind of fashion. As noted by Bhardwaj and Fairhurst (2010), the contemporary fashion is a matter of confidence that the person is willing to invest in it in order to make it. Even though the certain contemporary styles and fashions are associated with particular behaviors and norms that might be disgusting to the general society, the media does not take up seriously to challenge a particular fashion as it did with heroin chic.

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The contemporary fashion attracts bodies that express hips or curves. However, Entwistle (2000) notes that it characterizes the body of a human being into four categories of circle, which exhibits thickness around a middle and triangular body which is pyramidal in shape, hourglass that exhibits evenly proportioned, and finally rectangular from the top to the bottom. Nevertheless, the contemporary fashion seems to be ambivalent about the type of body that one has, as it is now common to see both emaciated and overweight looking people modeling for the fashion industry. A recent addition is the androgyny body type that has become popular among many fashion designers

An important aspect in the contemporary fashion is the concentration on accessories than the flesh part of body. The body makeup has taken a center stage as the driving force behind the contemporary fashion as opposed to heroin chic whose concentration was on the physique of person embracing the fashion. The proliferation of body makeup in the fashion industry implies that the society is more receptive to artificial fashions than the natural fashioning of body associated with lots of stigma like the ones that heroin chic had elicited.












In conclusion, it is evident that chic of heroin, as a fashion, was the culmination of the realization by the youth to come up with the fashion that uniquely identified them from the older generation in the society. However, a concerted crusade from the society that seeks to maintain the status quo in terms of cultural practices is sufficient to kill a well-conceived idea in the fashion industry as it happened with heroin chic. This is because the subsequent researches on the effects of heroin chic as the fashion on the morality of the youth in terms of drug addiction have indicated that heroin chic did not have the influence on the overall behaviors of the youth at the time. Nevertheless, the modern fashion has transformed itself into a multifaceted industry that draws its inspiration from different things including sports, culture and politics. As such, there is a persistent re-introduction of heroin chic; although under different names as skinny-bodied people continue to increasingly be viewed as more suited for fashion designers than their healthy looking counterparts are. 

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