“Yo son, do you know where this shirt is from?”
Outside a trendy art gallery in Brooklyn, I stood there confused. My friend had turned and spilled his drink on my pencil skirt, pumps, and apparently on the most expensive button-up shirt on the eastern seaboard. Standing there was the nephew of a famed New York rapper-mogul, uncomfortably squirming and enraged.
“Look man, you may not understand this—but this is Burberry.”
The truth is that from the minute he asked the question, I knew the answer. And from his dramatic reaction, I knew something else: for him the answer mattered far too much.
The answer was not merely the name of the label on his shirt, it was more than that.
But what is this “more?” A more that makes people who can’t afford the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, the trips they take, worth it for them? Well, simply put—the ghetto fabulous of the nineties is back and has upgraded. Whether you know it or not, we’re in the age of the high browed hoodrich.
To clarify, we’re not talking blinged out watch faces or spinning rims. Overly saturated glamour? We’re off that.
The new hoodrich is a more refined but equally unsustainable culture of Black spending. More subtle than the opulence of the past, Black spending has left the realm of flashy but stayed in the realm of foolish. We’ve become highly sophisticated in our tastes. No more of the Juicy Couture and Ed Hardy that dominated years past. We’ve left that sort of velour and blatant show off wealth to the cast of Jersey Shore, because, well, we’ve grown up.
We understand what it means to save, the gravity of student loans, the consequence of debt. We have talked openly about Black spending, but it seems that even a marathon of CNN’s “Black in America: Almighty Debt” couldn’t cure us. In many ways nothing much has changed. We’ve replaced our old bad habits with sleeker harmful ones.
Watching Black girls in Louboutins that cost half their check and carrying Chole bags that they saved up for for months, it makes me think that we spend almost self-destructively. We would rather not eat than go without the boots we want, we’d rather pay it back with interest than wait till we can buy it on our own, we’d rather have Facebook pictures full of memories than wait until we can afford to go to the places we do. After all, it’s a small price to pay really. We’re buying the image we want instead of working to attain the lifestyle to support it.
It makes me wonder if we’ve actually gotten too smart for our own good. It seems that despite all we’ve learned about wealth management, we’ve also learned how hard it is to really attain the lives we want. The harsh facts about money have left Black girls close to bipolar—connoisseurs of how to spend, but failures at exercising that control. I know what it’s like to buy a splurge piece I could’ve done without, what it’s like to say money comes and goes and hand it over anyways. But so many sisters take the next step into habitual financial slavery, charging cards and dropping whole paychecks on moments that come and go. In the midst of this recession, even middle class can seem out of reach. And so in a blissfully mindless denial, our actions do not reflect the reality we face.
As an aside, Black people are not the only ones with an affinity for hoodrich spending. Materialism is colorblind. There are plenty of White girls spending more than they can. Watching Kim Kardashian’s Bentley purchase, it’s clear that everyone has materialistic benchmarks for success.
However, for many Black women the benchmarks are not markers for success, in fact they’re small but costly payments towards displaying a success we’ve yet to earn.
Two years ago, at the start of the recession, a study from ING showed that 68% percent of Black women said that they bought what they wanted whether in a good economy or bad. In 2010 with the economy being the biggest issue on American minds, we haven’t stopped taking what we want.
It’s what many would refer to as the princess syndrome, the belief that if I want it, I should have it. No many matter what is facing us, we’ve kept our heads in the clouds, dreaming of Alexander Wang, Lavin, and the finer things.
The American dream has always been as much a goal as a vaporous fog. And it seems for many of us, ghetto fab no longer, but we’re still caught up in the haze.