Appropriation or Appreciation? Cultural Sensitivity in Fashion

With festival season already being in full swing and Kim Kardashian hitting the headlines once again for adopting her controversial braided hairstyle, now is the perfect time to talk about the issue of cultural appropriation in fashion.

Festivals allow for greater experimentation in style than is usually seen in everyday life. However, the boundaries between what is allowed and what can be deemed insulting can appear blurry for some. At events that celebrate glitter galore and eccentricity, items such as bindis, traditional headdresses, and hairstyles that are deemed as belonging to a particular race or culture can often be adopted with little consideration for the meaning behind the action.

Many examples of cultural appropriation in fashion are seen in the celebrity sphere, with Kim Kardashian, for example, receiving frequent criticism for her choices. When adopting a braided hairstyle that is typically sported by black women with a particular hair type, Kim is often subject to negative opinions that overall state that she should leave well enough alone.

However, it is the belief of some that actions such as these are not appropriating another culture, but instead are showing appreciation for it. Though integration of cultures is something to be celebrated and encouraged, an element of separation is still emphasised when wanting to disallow others from adopting aspects of alternative cultures.

The main issue therefore appears to be not simply the celebration of styles, accessories and clothes alike that originate from another culture, but instead the claiming of it as one’s own.

Though some are as extreme in their opinions as to suggest that food, music and art that was created by someone of another culture should therefore not be enjoyed by any outside parties, most are more reasonable in their desires. When it comes to adopting something in the name of fashion, many feel that this belittles the cultural significance of the thing itself.

Brands frequently sell metallic bindi packs with festival and party-goers in mind, and the Native American war bonnet is an accessory frequently donned at such events for its striking appearance. However, both have strong cultural significance, meaning that many find the use of these simply for fashion to be an insulting action.

The lack of knowledge behind the use of certain styles and accessories showcases the ignorance that people can be guilty of when simply following trends.

However, the appropriation or appreciation debate is an ongoing one, as it can be unclear where the lines are to be drawn. When categorising other aspects such as music and food as belonging to one standalone culture, problems can occur in that cultural crossover has produced much of what exists in the modern world we live in. If cultural segregation was to be strictly enforced, music, film, art, food, fashion, architecture, technology and more would all look starkly different today.

Much of the issue that arises then when looking at the problem of cultural appropriation in fashion stems largely from minority cultures feeling exploited, typically by western society looking to profit from anything and everything.

It is best therefore to research into items and styles that you are unsure about, to try to understand the significance of the thing itself and the possible impact of your actions. Though festivals, holidays and parties are excellent times to experiment with your self-expression, a little sensitivity in fashion can go a long way.

To appreciate doesn’t necessarily mean to appropriate, and to appropriate doesn’t necessarily mean to appreciate. There are plenty of ways to dress and accessorise that don’t interlink with cultural insensitivity, and there’s no better time to start than this summer.

A happy middle ground can certainly be found in which neither segregation nor appropriation are happening, and with more and more fashion inspiration surrounding us, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

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