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What is cultural appropriation in fashion?


The current trend topic in the fashion scene is cultural appropriation. It describes the practice of adopting components from a culture other than one’s own and appropriating or exploiting them. This can range from misusing traditional clothing or accessories of a particular culture. These cultural symbols can be used offensively or insensitively.

For example, the use of Native American headgear in fashion photography or on the runway is an example of cultural appropriation in the industry. Many Native American cultures consider these headgear sacred and only certain tribal members are allowed to wear them. It is considered disrespectful and a disregard for the headdress’s cultural significance for non-natives to wear it.

Another example is the use of textiles, designs or patterns with African influences. Many fashion designers and companies have been accused of stealing African textiles and patterns without acknowledging or respecting the culture they are stealing from. This is annoying because the people who came up with the original ideas may be living in poverty while these designs are sold at high prices.

Using ethnic symbols or motifs without knowing what they mean is another type of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry. For example, inappropriate use of a Chinese symbol can result from using it without understanding its meaning.

Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation

We need to understand that cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural appreciation. Cultural recognition is when one is interested in culture and tries to understand and respect it. Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is when one takes elements of a culture without permission or understanding and uses them in a disrespectful or exploitative way.

Celebrities called for cultural appropriation

This controversial topic in fashion continues to cause a stir. Many celebrities have come under fire for using traditional and sacred cultural clothing, accessories and hairstyles without knowledge, respect or recognition of their origins.

#1. Kendall Jenner

Photo: Mikael Jansson via Vogue

Kendall Jenner, a model and reality show actress, is a prominent example. In a 2018 Vogue photoshoot, Jenner received backlash for wearing an afro. Many African Americans saw this as disrespectful and said: “Very disrespectful. Just hire a natural black woman.” another said “Meanwhile we don’t get the job with Afro!” In 2021, Jenner landed in hot water for “appropriating” Mexican culture when she launched her brand of 818 tequila. The model was also spotted in cornrows, sparking more controversial talk.

#2. Katy Perry

katy perry
Photo: NME

pop star Katy Perry is another famous person who has come under fire for cultural appropriation in clothing. In 2013, Perry performed at the American Music Awards in traditional geisha attire, including a kimono and geisha-style hair. Many believed Perry would simply dress in the clothes without understanding the profound cultural significance of geisha in Japanese culture.

#3. beyonce

beyonce cultural appropriation 1532025416 scaled
Photo: Seventeen Magazine

American singer beyonce Also in 2010, she faced backlash when she wore traditional Indian robes during her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Many felt that she was using the outfit as a costume without understanding the deep cultural significance of traditional Indian clothing.

Brands have also come under the heat

#1. Louis Vuitton

Photo: The Express Grandstand

After being accused of cultural appropriation Louis Vuitton was forced to stop production of a particular scarf inspired by the Palestinian keffiyeh. The keffiyeh is revered and seen as a representation of Palestinian nationalism. Even worse? The scarf was sold at a ridiculously expensive price.

#2. Karl Lagerfeld

karl lagerfeld
Photo: The cut

designers Karl Lagerfeld printed a passage from the Koran on a corset in one chanels summer collection. Lagerfeld and Chanel were called. Due to the pressure, the designer and the French maison relented and threw the corset. Lagerfeld also came under fire for showing Native American headwear in his 94-piece 2014 pre-fall collection.

Where do we stand today with cultural appropriation?

Photo: Vulture

This topic has been criticized in the fashion industry for years. Recently, many designers and brands are making efforts to be aware of the cultures they draw from. This includes recognizing and respecting cultures and seeking advice on cultural issues from experts. This also includes consciously paying attention to how different cultures are represented in their designs.

Also, many celebrities have taken steps to educate themselves and make more conscious fashion choices. Everyone should take the time to research and understand the cultural significance of the clothes, accessories, and haircuts they wear, as cultural appropriation isn’t just an issue for celebrities.

One way to avoid cultural appropriation in fashion is to support and invest in designers and brands from the cultures you are inspired by. This way you not only wear beautiful clothes, but also support and celebrate the culture and heritage.

Fashion is all about expression, individualism and creativity. However, it is important to remember that these expressions should be made with respect, sensitivity and appreciation of the cultures they inspire. With this in mind, we can create a glamorous and inclusive fashion industry where everyone’s cultural heritage is respected and celebrated.

Featured image: @mikaeljansson @vogue/Instagram

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Vivian Bens Patrick

A creative writer with an insatiable appetite for fashion, beauty, lifestyle and culture. As someone passionate about empowering women, creating content that inspires intelligent style and lifestyle, and positive lifestyle changes, is a calling I take seriously. At Style Rave, we aim to inspire our readers by providing engaging content that not only entertains, but informs and empowers you as you strive to become more stylish, live smarter and be healthier. Follow us on Instagram @StyleRave_ ♥

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