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From Goodwill to GrungeA History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies$
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Jennifer Le Zotte

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469631905

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469631905.001.0001

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Elective Poverty and Postwar Politics

Elective Poverty and Postwar Politics

(p.153) Chapter Five Elective Poverty and Postwar Politics
From Goodwill to Grunge

Jennifer Le Zotte

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter tracks the rise of voluntary poor dress and its links to a middle-class rejection of inherited class positions often rooted in political protest—against widespread poverty, the Vietnam war, gender inequality, and environmental destruction. Like rock-n-roll’s appropriation of black musical styles, the adoption of visibly secondhand clothing, as well as Native American and Old West costumes, relied upon the white, middle-class conviction that sincerity, depth, passion, creativity, and even social equality were more accessible from the margins of society—past and present. As public appearances and personal identities became central to the social and political conflicts of the era, a dramatized appearance of elective poverty—often through secondhand consumption— joined other visible means of middle-class, usually white, social rebellion. One commonality attends almost all the wide array of secondhand dressers in the postwar years: in one direction or another, they expressed a disaffiliation with the middle class and its connotations of homogeneity, conformity, and bland plasticity. Beats, hippies, and Tom Wolfe’s derided “radical chic” all followed this pattern.

Keywords:   Elective poverty, Postwar politics, Cultural appropriation, Secondhand consumption, Beats, Hippies, Radical chic, Poor dress, Middle class

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