Crimes of Fashion

17-year-old Brenda Adams went to a party wearing a brand new leather coat. But she didn't come back wearing the coat. In fact, she didn't come back at all. As Brenda was leaving the party, she was accosted by two tough-talking girls who demanded her coat. She was beaten, kicked, dragged across the street. Then one of the girls pulled out a gun and shot her. As Brenda lay dying, the girls ripped off her coat. It's a tragic example of a crime wave that's hitting our cities--kids killing kids for their designer clothes. Reporters are calling them "crimes of fashion." The trend began about 3 years ago, and in some places a quarter of all armed robberies now involve clothing. In Milwaukee, an 18-year-old was shot for his San Francisco 49ers jacket. In Newark, a 15-year-old was shot by five youths who wanted his bomber jacket. Schools are trying to control the violence by imposing stricter dress codes. The principal of a Brooklyn high school banned shearling coats and gold chains. The Detroit Board of Education imposed a new dress code after 2 students were killed for their Nike shoes and expensive jackets. What's behind these bizarre armed robberies? Since most of the violence occurs in low-income neighborhoods, it would be easy to pin the blame on poverty: Maybe these kids steal because they can't afford to buy their own designer items. But teens who steal aren't just taking one for their own use. Police have arrested kids with 4 or 5 jackets hanging in their closets. Newark police arrested one boy with 16 jackets. No, the real reason for the robberies is that clothes have become potent status symbols. Wearing $150 shoes is a way of proving you're important, you're a big shot. By the same token, stealing someone else's Nikes is a way of striking at his status. A Milwaukee district attorney says the robberies are about "humiliation and power." This is materialism run recklessly amuck. Material things defining the person. Your jacket more important than your life. The young people who commit these murders must be held responsible, of course. But so must society at large. In the past, families, schools, and churches worked hard to teach children moral values, self control, respect for others. But today, children are more likely to be on their own. They have less supervision, less input from adults who care about them. As a result, they are falling prey to the crassest of advertising and commercialism. They literally think clothes make the man. These ghetto kids are really not much different from the kids in our wealthiest suburbs. Teachers in posh Fairfax County, Virginia, report that even tiny first-graders are acutely conscious of which kids are wearing designer clothes to school. On every level, the problem is the same: People whose dignity is no longer rooted in being creatures made in the image of God are searching desperately for other ways to feel important, other ways to create a sense of significance. As Christians, we must not merely condemn. We must also reach out with the only source of genuine individual dignity: that the God of the universe made you and loves you. Kids giving up their lives for fashion need to hear that there's something much bigger to give their lives to.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary