Art, fashion and everything between are all indestructible forces that compose the backbone of the big apple. The hearts and minds of those crazy enough to get involved in this world are on display almost all the time. At least, that’s what I think when I take the 6 train to fashion school every day. It’s only been a week since school started, and since then, I’ve absorbed more information about the ladies and gentlemen who attend various fashion-related colleges in the area than I ever could have imagined. Along with the glamour of attending fashion school comes the realization that there is a tremendous presence of wealth inequality among the relative student body, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Planning your first day of school outfit is always an exciting process, at least to me it is. But when you’re a fashion student, you are virtually competing with your peers on this superficial level, whether you like it or not. As much as I love fashion, the culture that comes along with it tends to be toxic. When you look around the room, you tend to naturally do some mental calculations based on the products that you see people wearing and holding. Of course, this is something that becomes innate over time when you’re exposed to that very industry on a daily basis. A $2,000 Chanel bag there, a $600 Gucci top over there, a $100 pair of adidas shoes there, and a $20 shirt from Forever 21 on…yourself.
I have the privilege of attending a private fashion school in New York City. I recognize that this fact alone is something that so many people don’t have access to, and for that alone I am grateful. Am I paying for everything out of pocket? Absolutely not. Every day it feels surreal that I’m even really here. Every single penny of costs towards my education has thus far been covered completely by financial aid. FAFSA was the deciding factor in my educational journey, and is quite literally the only reason I am in the fortunate position I’m in today. Because of my family’s economic situation, I was granted more than enough financial aid funds than needed, so much so that I’m able to get a refund. Thousands of people are in the same boat as I am in colleges all over the country, but here, it doesn’t seem like it.
When you look at someone and their outfit costs more money than you would make in three months, your entire outlook on life is impacted. I’m no stranger to the extreme economic inequality faced in our nation in particular, where the top 1% own 99% of all of the nation’s wealth. However, there is something about seeing it right in front of you on an everyday basis that hurts a little bit more; it makes it real. When you see a business man on the street in a $3,000 Tom Ford suit walk past a homeless person and not even bat an eye, you know there is something profoundly wrong with our economy and society.
When you live in a dorm and work a part-time job just to pay for groceries, it’s frustrating to see someone waltz into class wearing Balenciaga from head-to-toe. You’re both here, you both want the same thing and have the same dream, but you’re starting from two completely different places. In the fashion world, it benefits you to try to do as many things as possible all at once. Getting your name out there one way or another is critical to the future of your career. I believe that this principle is as true in fashion school as it is in any other area of life: the more money you have, the more opportunities you have. Some people quite literally can’t afford a summer internship in the city, or to study abroad, or to dedicate 110% of their time to their school work, because they’re working on making ends meet at the same time.
The economic disparities in fashion school are extremely visible. When you’re in the working class or poor and you willingly throw yourself into a world like this, you do so to change things and to fulfill your own dreams. The fashion industry is ever evolving and addressing issues like this every day, and that inspires me and others like me to keep pushing, speak up, and never be intimidated by another person’s wealth. To fashion students who are in my position, always remember: wealth is not a reflection of your personal worth. You can do this, and never give up.
Written by Jenna Curcio