16631-what-is-cultural-appropriation-headerPhoto Credit: Instagram

Fashion is a world where thoughts about a shape of a skirt or buying the latest “It” bag is the norm. But there has been some worldwide issues that are affecting the fashion world and the designs that come from it. From Kylie Jenner’s braids to Selena Gomez’s bindi, the term "cultural appropriation" has been all over the web and pages in magazines. With this global attention drawn to the issue, many are asking, what exactly is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation, or the act of adopting other elements of another culture, has ruffled the feathers of the fashion elite.

16631-What-Is-Cultural-Appropriation-braidsPhoto Credit: Splash / Kylie Jenner's Instagram

We all have seen the Instagram postings of actress Amanda Stenberg calling out Kylie Jenner for her attire and lack of social activism. Or pictures of young people wearing sacred Native American headdresses at music festivals. However, many people don’t recognize these issues as cultural appropriation due to a lack of understanding.

According to Dr. Monica Skylar of the blog Worn Through, cultural appropriation in fashion is seen “when mass market brands use symbols, textile patterns, jewelry designs, and unique clothing shapes that were originated for use within a particular group, and not meant for mass consumption.”


 Photo Credits: Resistancealways.com; HuffingtonPost.com

Due to immigration, Americans come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. Many of these people hold certain sartorial practices precious that others may not be aware of or understand. For example, adherents to Sikhism wear mandatory turbans that act as an article of faith, while a female member of a Fundamentalist Christian group will wear her hair long and few accessories.

These varieties of styles and clothing can be inspiring to designers who are looking for new ideas on the average trend. This is where too much inspiration and too little research can get a designer in hot water.

“High fashion designers also sometimes succumb to this when they are inspired by a culture.” - Dr. Monica Skylar

“High fashion designers also sometimes succumb to this when they are inspired by a culture,” Skylar told WomensForum.com, “But then their use of the particular visuals is not interpreted as appropriate by the original wearers of the designs.”

16631-What-Is-Cultural-Appropriation-headressPhoto Credit: NativeAppropriations.com

These real life traditions turned designs become an issue when a cultural item is either something sacred or the wearer/designer does not offer proper credit to the original design. Jean Paul Gaultier was in deep water for his take on Hasidic attire, a conservative Jewish sect that adheres to conservative clothing rules.

Recently, the Kardashian family has been in the news for their clothing and hair choices. By wearing tightly braided cornrows and loose sweats among other articles, some have claimed that members of the family appropriate black culture through their look but ignore important African-American causes.

Although tricky, it is possible to wear attire inspired by another culture without offending others. “Knowledge and appreciation are key.” states Skylar, “If someone travels to a culture, or is engaged with a culture that is not necessarily their own but have a true appreciation, and then wears the jewelry, or a poncho, or has a bag, that . . .  is perfectly fine.”

16631-What-Is-Cultural-Appropriation-jewelsPhoto Credit: Jewelry Made By Silver Sun Boutique

Buying directly from within a culture is a good way to not strip an item of its meaning. “Items like handmade jewelry made by Native American groups or accessories produced by women in Sierra Leone not only look great but also help those in need," says Dr. Skylar. 

Fashion can be a fun and beautiful world. Where else can one get excited over a glittery shoe or purple eyeliner without any shame? However, it can also be the first impression one receives upon meeting a stranger, thus making everything one wears a personal statement. With a little caution and lots of knowledge, wearing pieces of a differing cultural origin can become a rich educational experience.

For more on Dr. Monica Skylar’s work, please visit her blog Worn Through.

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