Last week, a 2012 Urban Outfitters financial report surfaced online that included comments made by the company’s CEO Richard Hayne that essentially explained his marketing philosophy to Wall Street folks. To specifically describe the target Urban Outfitters shopper—the company also owns Anthropologie and Free People—Hayne said this: “The Urban customer, we always talk about, is the upscale homeless person, who has a slight degree of angst and is probably in the life stage of 18 to 26.”
Now, we’re pretty sure his remark was meant merely to evoke a specific image, but it was only a matter of time before angry Internet commenters started to take him to task over the use of the word “homeless.”
This got us thinking about that fact that the fashion industry has been referencing (even fetishizing, some might say) the homeless for years now, in everything from editorials, runway collections, and comments to the media—and often creating mini-controversies because of it. While there’s nothing wrong with being influenced by certain subcultures, choosing to continually seek inspiration from people who are, in fact, homeless is tricky business. The fashion industry exists to seek profit, so creating high-gloss depictions of people who look the way do they because they’re struggling can easily come off as tasteless or highly condescending.
To show that fashion’s strange fascination with the homeless is nothing new, we’ve put together nine particularly offensive examples that have made headlines.
Click through the slideshow above for some of fashion’s most blatant objectifications of the homeless and let us know: Do you think it’s harmless or tacky?