By: Zahin Quayyum
Cultural appropriation is defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of a people or society by members of another, typically more dominant group of people or society. Cultural appropriation has become a new medium for ignorance in social media, and, more recently, in fashion.
The world of fashion has always been associated with innovation, the inhabitants looking for the next big thing and bringing it to the attention of the world. However, some designers have been going to certain extremes, and have begun copying other cultures in an attempt to gather new inspiration. The examples are numerous: Gucci sending models wearing sikh-style turbans down the runway, Marc Jacobs setting up their white models with a head full of dreadlocks, and Victoria Secret models wearing Native-American style headpieces.
Often, cultural appropriation is not done purposefully, but is a result of not properly researching or understanding the culture. As a result, their efforts come off as shallow and ignorant: the classic example of cultural appropriation. They seem to be making a profit off of the culture, while not associating themselves with the people or their issues.
One of the many complaints against cultural appropriation at the high fashion level is the lack of representation of people in color. By taking influences from the cultures of people of color but not representing them in the industry, it shows how the industry is not willing to enfranchise the people and the society as a whole, but rather pick and choose what they want. Examples of this can be seen in instances where designers opt to give white models traditionally black hairstyles, such as afros, rather than hiring models who naturally have this type of hair.
The problem with having these high fashion brands displaying cultural appropriation is that it creates a ripple effect. These brands make it seem okay, being culturally insensitive, which then sends message to other smaller fashion brands, seeking to copy their example, and then finally to consumers, who wish to be “fashionable” as well. This spreads the false idea that it is okay to be culturally insensitive, that it is actually something that should be imitated.
Therefore, to try to bring light to this situation, it helps for large and influential brands to be mindful about what time of content they are putting out to the public. It may mean going through the effort of properly researching certain cultures and history, as well as hiring people who properly represent these values. However, the end product is something invaluable: a brand new contribution to fashion and society that creates positive influence.
Image credit: Unsplash