• Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

(Cat)walking the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation

Gigi Hadid in dreads for Marc Jacobs, Gucci models in Sikh-style turbans, Victoria’s Secret angels in Native American headdresses. We have witnessed a good deal of cultural appropriation over the last decade. Culture appropriation has become a sizzling hot button issue for the fashion industry today. The world is a big melting pot of diversity and this cannot not be addressed. Ethnicity needs to be embraced.

Cultural appropriation in fashion is most commonly described as when traditional clothing of a certain ethnic group is “plagiarized” and “misrepresented” by people who don’t belong to these ethnicities, with either known or innocent intentions. It is when people of one culture start using elements of another culture that’s not their own. It can be seen as a violation when these elements are merely used to make a media or fashion statement, or when they’re taken out of context, becoming offensive – for example, when an item of clothing that has deep meaning to a culture is used as a fashion accessory flippantly by someone else.

How do ethnic groups feel about this and why so? Ethnic groups mostly have a strong sense of resentment. The reasons could be that there are still stark differences and inequalities between different cultures, or the representation of their culture has been executed in a careless manner without understanding sentiment and even because these items could be collectively possessed intellectual property among a group.

What is a fashion pioneer’s perspective?  Topshop believe that fashion has been and always will be a “mish-mash” of cultures and ideas. Maybe that’s what keep fashion interesting but at what expense?

Let’s talk about some big names. Marc Jacobs who put his models is dreads for SS17 and how Victoria Secret let model Karlie Kloss wear a Native American headgear and barely anything else for their 2012 show. Vogue has faced several back-lash, the time they featured Karlie Kloss in their issue in 2017, dressed as a geisha with a sumo wrestler walking down the stairs of a tea house ..…yes you read that right. Kendall Jenner the highest paid supermodel today was dressed up in an “afro” and starred alongside Imaan Hamaam who is an African-Arabic model with an afro…except her hair was straight as a straw. Things like, “We used to have our hair burned because society taught us that we were not beautiful with our afros, now they copy our afros but can’t use actual BLACK models with afros!” were said.

It is without doubt understood that these cultures feel their values and traditions being exploited for fashion to be more profitable and “unique”. What can fashion do to fix these problems? If fashion is doing a runway, they must feel obligated to use original inhabitants from the specific region or involve them in the production process. Fashion today needs to be more aware and diverse. If Kim Kardashian wants to launch shapewear and name it “Kimono”, she needs to understand the importance to evaluate the reference she is making and weigh the consequences of making a pun to disrespecting over a million people and have things end in #KimOhNo.

The next time you consider being hipster at a musical festival, know what you are representing, know the story of the people who live 24/7 in what you wear for a night or two.


Image: Mainstream via Flickr

By Karishma Balasubramanian

Karishma Balasubramanian is a 4th year Finance and Business student who joined the paper in September 2019. She is currently the president and resident agony aunt of the paper, holding positions of treasurer and social secretary in previous years. She has a keen interest in lifestyle journalism and writes about life, love, skincare, fashion and held the position of lifestyle editor from November 2020 - March 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *