This opinion piece was produced by a student in the Madison365 Academy. It reflects the opinion of the author, not necessarily the opinion of Madison365, its staff, board of directors, sponsors or funders. To learn more or support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.
“It’s just a hairstyle.” “It’s just clothes.” “I’m just expressing myself.”
These are only a few of the excuses, excuses, and more excuses people come up with when they are accused of cultural appropriation. If you have used one or maybe all three of these excuses, then you might be showing your love for ethnic cultures the wrong way. Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation are two different things. One is respectful while the other is ignorant. Cultural appropriation is when someone uses things from a culture that is not theirs without knowing what it is exactly or the history behind it. Cultural appreciation is when someone uses parts of another culture but gives credit to the culture and the history behind it, or at least is willing to learn more about that specific culture and respecting it. Cultures can be used in fashion the proper way, but cultures should not be used ignorantly in any case. If you’re still confused with the difference between the two let’s look deeper into examples of both.
“I don’t see color or race. I see people,” said fashion designer Marc Jacobs via Instagram when he received criticism for cultural appropriation because of a particular look he chose to include in his 2016 fashion show. He had decided it was a good idea to have white female models walk down the runway with fake colorful dreadlocks on their heads. By the way he responded to the criticism he obviously did not, and probably still doesn’t, understand why many people found this offensive, and he isn’t the only one that still doesn’t get it. Saying “I don’t see color or race” does not at all excuse a person, because race and color is a part of this world and disregarding that to “Just people” makes you more ignorant. If he had stated who his inspiration was and showed that he knew about the history of dreadlocks and not just used as a fashion prop maybe people wouldn’t have gotten upset.
Fashion designer Zuhair Murad is the most recent fashion designer that has been called out for cultural appropriation. In his 2018 “Indian Summer” collection he includes clothes that have traditional Native American patterns and during his fashion show models were seen walking the runway with eagle feathers which is a sacred symbol of freedom, wisdom, and honor, in both their hair and clothing. Zuhair truly seemed to have wanted to bring light to Native American culture through his fashion pieces but the way he went about it leaves people offended. Zuhair, after receiving much criticism said, “The house pays homage to the craftsmanship of an array of ancient tribes”. Now the difference between Marc Jacobs and Zuhair Murad is that Jacobs did not give credit to the culture behind dreadlocks but Zuhair paid respect to the inspiration behind his collection. Though it was after he received criticizing comments. Jacobs could have at least done this as well if he really wanted to appreciate different types of cultures. I mean how could you show your appreciation if you do not give a shout out to who you are trying to represent. Fashion designers are not the only ones under fire for this.
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian are often called out for appropriating cultures, specifically Black culture. Kim Kardashian is someone who loves to play with different styles whether its clothes, makeup, or hair but sometimes these different styles should be credited and properly. A big thing that occured is when she wore braids that are commonly called cornrows in the Black community but she did not acknowledge that and instead called them “Bo Derek” braids. Bo Derek is a famous white female actress who wore similar braids in a movie called 10. These braids obviously go further back in time than both Kim and Bo and if Kim would’ve given credit where it’s actually due, then things could have potentially went differently.
There is a way to show appreciation for a culture in a respectful way. According to the Huffington post a Brazilian sportswear label “Osklen” has shown one of the few proper ways this can be done. Osklen not only asked the indigenous people from the Brazilian and Peruvian rainforest who they had gotten inspiration from for their next collection if it was okay to use pieces of their tattoos and traditional clothes in their collection but paid them too. Gucci has also showed a proper way to show appreciation instead of appropriation. Gucci has a collection that was inspired by a Black Harlem designer, Daniel Day, and they not only made him the face of a campaign but also collaborated with him on a store in Harlem. These are two examples of showing appreciation. If a person that wants to wear, design, or use parts of another culture then they should know the history behind it or talk to people that’s actually apart of that culture. Talking to people that’s actually apart of the culture being used for fashion purposes would help build an understanding about the specific culture. Just using aspects of a culture because its pretty is not a good thing to do in any case. It shows respect when a culture can actually see and feel the appreciation a person has for their people.
Some may disagree with people calling out cultural appropriation because they think it just isn’t real and does no harm. They think using other cultures is how the world goes round and makes us more united. Calling out someone for cultural appropriation does not tear away from the idea of unity. Becoming educated about different cultures and the history behind their fashion can actually bring more unification because we learn more about one another from each other than just this or that group of people have nice style so let me use it.
Ultimately all cultures should be respected. If you don’t respect them and just wear or use their things then you’re in fact appropriating. Just taking things from a culture that isn’t yours is like if you worked on a project for a long time and then someone uses it without your permission or giving you credit. You would feel disrespected because you made that project therefore it’s yours. This is how many people feel when their cultures are used in fashion. You may be thinking, “Oh I do respect this or that culture” but ask yourself do you really understand that cultures history? Have you ever spoken to someone from that culture? And do you know exactly what it is you are wearing? If no then you may not be respecting it as much as you think you were. Think about what you are wearing, why you are wearing it, and learn more about it. Appreciate don’t appropriate.