Chavvy Chic

Essay
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7 January 2014 By Phoebe Fuller

Chavvy Chic


For years, the British population has been crossing the road to avoid that ominous gang of hooded youths, buying into the media fuelled fear surrounding that figure that will supposedly terrorise and assault us – the Chav.

Yet, it is this feared subculture that paved the way for the evolution of British fashion and brought to prominence the social acceptance of ‘lazy day fashion’.

There is much dispute over exactly when the word ‘Chav’ hit the streets of Britain, though it was in the early 21st century that the word became widely published and understood, first appearing in mainstream dictionaries in 2005. The British press are heralded as being the purveyors of the word, educating the British public on how to spot a ‘Chav’ and informing us why they’re to be avoided. Chavs have been on the receiving end of ridicule and prejudice ever since.

Just like the Punk subculture of the '70s and the Goth subculture of the '80s, the Chav subculture is mostly associated with the British working-class youth and supposedly appeals to uneducated ‘yobs’. Typical ‘Chav’ clothing included scruffy tracksuit bottoms, trainers, hoodies and a knock-off Burberry cap. The beige Burberry plaid became synonymous with the underprivileged youth of Britain and a symbol of all things unfashionable.

Chavvy Chic

What of these trademark Chav garments nowadays; do the British public avoid casual sportswear at all costs for fear of being wrongly judged as a hooligan? On the contrary. Casual clothes have taken the British high street by storm. Nearly every shop now stocks leggings, trainers, sports style jackets and an abundance of brightly coloured jogging bottoms for everyday wear. I for one rarely leave the house in anything but leggings, nor do I have an issue stepping out in a pair of grey jogging bottoms teamed with a pair of beaten up Nike trainers - and I’m certainly not ‘Council Housed and Violent’. What’s more, these garments have become some of the most sought after pieces by fashionistas nationwide: enter the Sports Luxe trend.

Sporty jogging bottoms have been given a makeover and trainers have gained some heel – Sports Luxe is one of those effortless looking trends that actually takes quite some practice to perfect. The likes of River Island, New Look and ASOS stock trouser alternatives in the form of pretty coloured, lighter, more tailored jogging bottoms – giving the sporty look a new feminine edge. You can even find your favourite pair of trainers with the addition of a 6 inch heel if you really want to kick the trend up a gear, pun entirely intended.

Chavvy Chic

Meanwhile, at the other end of the fashion spectrum, Burberry is back. Not that it ever went away, but it’s back to being recognised for what it truly is – a high-end, luxury British fashion label. Key 'Chavs and Burberry' into a Google search and you’re hit with a plethora of articles about the redefinition of Burberry, having ‘shaken off it’s Chav image’ which, according to various online sources, was started when British Soap actress Daniella Westbrook stepped into the public eye with herself and young baby shrouded in the Burberry trademark.

The Chavs adoption of (albeit fake) Burberry during the early noughties hit the brand hard and it appeared that the upper crust of society, those who would typically be more able to afford buying Burberry, avoided it like the plague. So the established British brand had no choice but to cease plastering their trademark pattern on every garment, leading to a reported 27% surge in revenue towards the end of 2010 – now Burberry once again fills the pages of Vogue and has successfully restored its up-standing reputation as a brand of true British luxury.

Chavvy Chic

Chav culture is not the first street trend to influence fashion so strongly. Most old school British-born trends have quickly become ‘the norm’ for 21st Century disciples of fashion - take Punk, for example. Some '70s devotees have felt their nose put out of joint recently by the surge of Punk inspired garments appearing in mainstream high-street stores such as Primark, whose window displays are currently sporting red and black plaid, chunky metal chains and clumpy black boots.

As the daughter of a woman who was a die-hard Punk in the ‘70s, I find it a huge shame that these once alternative and daring fashions are now, well, not so. It’s only when you pay a visit to independent boutiques specialising in alternative fashion that you’re met with authentic Punk and Goth garments, but authenticity is apparently not what the masses want anymore, they want throw-away, bandwagon pieces that match what their friends are wearing.

Chavvy Chic

Marks and Spencer are another chain that have joined the ‘Punk’ craze, adorning classic garments with out-of-place zips, an affluence of buckles and the classic red/black combination. This hardly comes as a surprise - it’s no secret that Marks and Spencer have long been desperate to shed their ‘OAP’ image and appeal to a younger demographic. Who knows, in years to come M&S might even begin publicising recreational sportswear – if they really are keen to attract the young consumers it would be the best way forward.

Ultimately, I hope that society will let-up with unfair and entirely unjustified insinuations that all who dress comfortably are hiding an electronic tag underneath their tracksuit bottoms. It must be recognised that time and time again, these harshly criticised fashion subcultures eventually inspire British fashion at both ends of the spectrum. So take note, don't assume the worst. After all, that ‘delinquent’ you pass on the street every morning could well be on their way to a university lecture.

Further Reading