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27 August 2019

The uncomfortable rise of the Deliveroo jacket as fashion accessory

By Elliot Hoste

Amidst a sea of vintage football shirts, pseudo-fetish wear and sunglasses so tiny they cease to function, one item leapt out from the crowd this festival season. In all its silver, turquoise and hi-vis glory, you were just as likely to see the signature courier jacket of takeaway delivery service Deliveroo in muddy fields as you were whizzing past on your walk home from the bus stop. But how did this apparently innocuous item make the leap from everyday attire to serious cult status?

Of course, tracing the exact origin of any trend is a fool’s errand. Fads seemingly materialise out of nowhere then disappear into the ether – leaving behind little more than a few thousand Instagram posts, a digital graveyard of unsuccessful attempts to pull off a “formal leather bum bag”.

There are, however, discernible markers in a trend’s lifecycle that point to shifts in its popularity. In March 2017, the fashion YouTube channel PAQ uploaded a video called “Hustling Uniform Fits from Deliveroo and DHL Workers”. In the video, the channel’s four young, male stars attempt, through various underhand means, to score uniforms from Deliveroo, DHL and Royal Mail employees and style them as streetwear. As of now, the video has 695,000 views.

In May of that same year, The Guardian ran a piece exploring “How the Deliveroo jacket became a streetwear must-have”, in which the writer proclaimed “clothes emblazoned with mundane logos are where it’s at right now”. In the two years since, then there’s been a steady increase in the number of off-duty Deliveroo jackets spotted in the wild. I witnessed a number of eager adopters at Field Day in Tottenham, Gala on Peckham Rye, and there were more reported sightings at Glastonbury, Parklife, Boomtown and Green Man festivals. The trend, while too niche to have reached the levels of pandemic-proper, is now the predilection of those in the know, the style sages of the festival circuit.

It’s almost too easy to imagine who is wearing a Deliveroo jacket as a status symbol in summer 2019. I picture Nicholas From The Home Counties standing in a grey, urine-soaked field. He’s paired his £500 Supreme trackies with that all-too-familiar green and grey jacket. But Nicholas does not work for Deliveroo. In fact, Nicholas has never worked a day in his life. Nicholas lives in Surrey with his parents and has just unwittingly bought half a crushed-up Imodium Plus he’d been categorically informed was ecstasy.

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Wearing a Deliveroo jacket as a fashion statement instinctively feels caught up in some problematic class dynamics. But are the hypebeasts scouring Depop for 21st-century workwear all hyper-privileged lads of leisure engaging in the ironic fetishisation of working class culture? I reached out to some people who had shown interest in the jacket online to investigate its appeal.

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What quickly became clear was that wearers see the jacket first and foremost as a means of “standing out from the crowd”. Tom, a 20-year-old from Kent who was selling the jacket on the marketplace app Depop, says that interest in his listing was mainly from “trendy, edgy students who want to separate [themselves] from the everyday person”. This may be the case, but anyone who’s been to a music festival knows there are myriad ways of standing out from the crowd: dressing as a Deliveroo courier doesn’t need to be one.

Of the numerous festival attendees that I spoke to, there was one universal reason every person identified as cause for donning Deliveroo: it’s funny. Ed, a geography student at Bristol Univesity who runs his own Depop page, says the jacket is “quite jokes”. Luke, 20 from Leeds, was wary at first, but tells me, “the more I saw it the more I thought it was funny.” Ceilidh, a journalism student from Glasgow, agrees: “it’s all kind of a big joke – wearing hi-vis in the pissing rain with a can of Tennent’s.”

In other words, it’s ironic. According to Ian R Webb, professor of fashion and design at Kingston School of Art, irony acts as “a membership card for an exclusive club. It offers the wearer a sense of superiority in that their ironic fashion statement will only be recognised by those in on the joke.” The Deliveroo jacket has just the right mix of irony and aestheticism to birth a genuine trend.

There’s something deeply uncomfortable about this joke. Is the item “funny” not just because these are not the kinds of places you’d expect to see a Deliveroo jacket, but because these are not the kinds of people you’d expect to see wearing one? Dr Malcolm Barnard has published several books on fashion, and is senior lecturer in visual culture at Loughborough University. When I speak with him about the trend, he reminds me that “irony is a luxury that the guys on zero hour contracts cannot afford”, adding “if these garments are worn by affluent people… then it is very easy to argue those people are ethically and morally delinquent.”

So is this a case of good, old-fashioned class mockery? Are the trend’s participants socially removed from the Deliveroo employees? Luke, who saw several Deliveroo jackets on display at Parklife Festival in Manchester, thinks otherwise. “It’s hard to pin point exactly what kind of people wore them,” he tells me, “but I’d say working class students if anything. I spoke to a couple of them and they were talking about how they used to work for Deliveroo before keeping the jacket.”

The people I spoke to mostly consider themselves working class. Ceilidh, who says she has friends that work for Deliveroo, tells me, “Nobody likes work, but you’re actively choosing to wear something that you would wear to work. It’s just silly, which makes it all the more fun in my opinion.” In her eyes, the joke is on capitalism, not low-wage workers themselves – but she does admit that “a lot of rich kids have jumped on the bandwagon”, which spoils the fun. Barnard points out that with trends like these it’s interesting to note “the ‘direction’ in which appropriation happens”. In this case, appropriation may be moving within class lines.

That doesn’t mean there’s no cause for criticism. When I speak with Tom, a former Deliveroo employee, about the supposed irony of the burgeoning trend, he is sceptical. “It’s funny to see people using something I used to dread putting on as a genuine fashion statement,” he says. “It’s funny how perspective can change your opinion.”

Ultimately, even if those people sporting the Deliveroo jacket as an accessory aren’t rolling in advances from the Bank of Mum and Dad, what separates the festival-goer from the courier is the luxury of choice. Or, as Barnard recognises “the notion of choice is, of course, what distinguishes fashion from non-fashion, determines whether the use is a joke or not, and for whom it is a joke or not.”

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