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What Exactly Is Cultural Appropriation In Fashion?

What Exactly Is Cultural Appropriation In Fashion?



current hot topic in the fashion scene is cultural appropriation. It describes the practice of taking components from a culture other than one’s own and appropriating or exploiting them. This could range from misappropriation of the traditional attire or accessories of a particular culture. These cultural symbols can be used offensively or insensitively.

For example, the use of Native American headdresses in fashion photography or on the runway is one example of cultural appropriation in the industry. Many Native American cultures regard these headdresses as sacred, and only specific tribe members are permitted to wear them. It is considered disrespectful and a disregard for the cultural significance of the headdress when non-Native people wear it.

The use of textiles, designs, or patterns with African influences is another instance. Many fashion designers and companies have been accused of stealing African textiles and patterns without acknowledging or respecting the culture they steal from. This is upsetting because the folks who made the original ideas might be living in poverty while these designs are being sold at high rates.

Using ethnic symbols or motifs without knowing what they imply constitutes another kind of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry. Inappropriate use of a Chinese symbol can, for instance, result from using it without comprehending its meaning.

Cultural appropriation vs. appreciation

We must understand that cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation is when one takes an interest in culture and seeks to understand and respect it. Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is when one takes elements from a culture without permission or understanding and uses them in a way that is disrespectful or exploitative.

Celebrities called out for cultural appropriation

This contentious issue in fashion continues to cause an uproar. Many celebrities have come under fire for using traditional and sacred cultural attire, accessories, and hairstyles without the knowledge, respect, or acknowledgment of their origins.

#1. Kendall Jenner

Photo: Mikael Jansson via Vogue

Kendall Jenner, a model and reality show actress, is one prominent instance. In a 2018 Vogue photoshoot, Jenner received backlash for donning an afro. Many African Americans viewed this as disrespectful with some saying: “Very disrespectful. Just hire a natural black woman.” Another said, “Meanwhile us with Afro can’t get the job!” In 2021, Jenner landed in more hot water for “appropriating” Mexican culture when she launched her 818 Tequila brand. The model has also been spotted in cornrows, sparking more controversial conversations.

#2. Katy Perry

Photo: NME

Pop star Katy Perry is another famous person who has come under fire for cultural appropriation in clothing. In 2013, Perry performed at the American Music Awards while decked out in traditional geisha attire, including a kimono and geisha-styled hair. Many believed Perry was simply dressing up in the attire without comprehending the geisha’s profound cultural significance in Japanese culture.

#3. Beyoncé

Photo: Seventeen Magazine

American singer Beyoncé also faced backlash in 2010, when she wore traditional Indian garb during her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Many felt she used the outfit as a costume, without understanding the deep cultural significance of traditional Indian clothing.

Even brands have come under the heat, too

#1. Louis Vuitton

Photo: The Express Tribune

After being accused of cultural appropriation, Louis Vuitton was forced to stop producing a particular scarf inspired by the Palestinian keffiyeh. The keffiyeh is revered and regarded as a representation of Palestinian nationalism. Even worse? The scarf sold at a ridiculously costly price.

#2. Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: The Cut

Designer Karl Lagerfeld printed a passage from the Quran on a corset in a Chanel summer collection. Lagerfeld and Chanel were called out. Due to the pressure, the designer and the French Maison caved and tossed the corset. Lagerfeld also went under fire for exhibiting Native American headdresses in his 94-piece pre-fall 2014 collection.

Where are we today with cultural appropriation?

Photo: Vulture

In the fashion industry, this issue has drawn criticism for years. Recently, many designers and brands are making efforts to be aware of the cultures they are drawing from. This involves acknowledging and paying respect to the cultures and seeking advice from specialists on cultural matters. This also entails being conscientious of how different cultures are represented in their designs.

Also, lots of celebrities have taken action to educate themselves and develop more deliberate fashion choices. Everyone should take the time to research and comprehend the cultural importance of the clothes, accessories, and haircuts they choose to wear since cultural appropriation is not just a problem for celebrities.

One way to avoid cultural appropriation in fashion is to support and invest in designers and brands from the cultures you are inspired by. By doing so, you are not only wearing beautiful garments but also supporting and celebrating the culture and its heritage.

Fashion is all about expression, individualism, and creativity. However, it’s important to remember that those expressions should be done with respect, sensitivity, and appreciation of the cultures that inspire them. With this in mind, we can create a fashion industry that is both glamorous and inclusive, where everyone’s cultural heritage is respected and celebrated.

Featured image: @mikaeljansson @vogue/Instagram 

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