Fashion 101: Cultural Appropriation


In fashion we continue to see new and old creations for many people to wear. But lately we’ve seen tribal prints, girls wearing bindis on their foreheads, models taking photos with headdresses and paint on their face. But, do we ever think about the particular significance of any of these pieces of clothing? This is the act of cultural appropriation where one cultural group of people takes on an element of another cultural group and uses it for their own purpose.

Just scrolling down on Forever 21’s website there are dozens of clothing pieces detailed with tribal prints. Of course it is the next best thing out there to wear. But, how inconsiderate are we not to even know its true cultural purpose to tribal print that Native Americans use. Here we are using symbolic pieces because it looks cute. But, we should be open minded to what we’re doing and how we are disrespecting another person’s culture. More examples are the bindi. Lately this trend is for the “hipster.” You can see this with those that wear the bindis on their forehead as a jewelry accessory. But, in reality, the bindi symbolizes energy that is usually worn by married Hindu women. Not only does it signify energy but it also signifies protection, and yet it is worn by those who think it looks cute and fun. 

Now thanks to certain celebrities, we look to their fashion sense for the latest trends or ways to be innovative in fashion. One celebrity that is famous for cultural appropriation in fashion is Lady Gaga. She not only has been parading around in scarfs to cover her face and hair, she also has a song called “Burqa” that was leaked onto the internet and has caused her fans to create videos for the demo. In these videos her “little monsters” are either wearing bed sheets to replicate burqas or images of people wearing the burqa. They have dubbed it “burqa swag.” There is also a photo of Lady Gaga wearing a pink see through burqa. This is incredibly offensive in the way that she creates a sexual aspect to their burqa considering its significance. It also leaves her fans to be ignorant towards the significance. Wearing this piece of clothing is of a religious significance.  It is traditionally worn by women in certain Islamic traditions. This piece of clothing is worn so that in public other men cannot look at a women’s face or body. She normally takes it off when she is home around her husband or family.

This is also lastly seen in Halloween costumes. You can get a “Sexy Indian”, “Black Face”, “Belly Dancer,” “Arab” and so much more. Each of these costumes depicts a culture and creates stereotypes in communities everywhere. We continue this tradition of wearing a costume of someone else’s culture thinking it’s funny. Instead it furthers the influence in this model of thinking and continues to create ignorance.

So as you can see there are many fashion don’ts when it comes to cultural appropriation. When waking up tomorrow and looking through your closet or shopping at the mall or online think about what your wearing and buying. No one’s culture should be your latest fashion trend.


Yesenia Torres


Posted on March 26, 2013, in Fashion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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