Three Tips on Being Fashionable But Not Culturally Insensitive This Summer

Summer dress shopping

Whenever we look at recent trends in fashion, a pattern often emerges: clothing, whether it’s a style or design, appropriated from other cultures. “What you have now then is the marketing of racialized identities as tools for consumption,” sociological author Amalia Mesa-Bains has written.

So what’s the problem, exactly? Critics would say that using another culture’s clothing is “appreciation” — a nod to the fact that we think their design is so rad, we’d like to wear it ourselves. Sometimes, this is fine, and indeed, staples like moccasin shoes have rarely generated controversy. To help you understand the fine line that exists between sharing and ripping off, we’ve generated a three point list of recent fashion trends and the “do’s” and “don’ts.”

1. Don’t: Wear a Pattern Identified as “Navajo”

Native Americans have been maligned many times in our country’s history. Today, many survive on reservations and keep alive the old forms of art and clothing by producing it for tourists. When you buy a “native” pattern mass produced by HandM, you limit their opportunity to make profit, and contribute to the dying out of these ancient arts. More so, when clothing is sold as “native style” it has the connotation of people being a flavor of the week.

What you can substitute: comic-book patterning. Choose your favorite superhero and while summer clothes shopping, buy a cute skirt with them as the pattern. This look is guaranteed to get compliments — even from strangers!

2. Don’t: Wear a Bindi on Your Forehead

What’s a bindi? That’s the traditional dot, either a powder or a press-on, that many South Asians wear on their forehead for reasons religious and not. When stars like Selena Gomez try on this look, it can be tempting to imitate. However, it’s worth noting that when South Asian women, themselves, wear this traditional ornamentation, they are often threatened and told to “go back to India.” In the Hindu religion, it is a physical symbol of the third eye. Don’t wear the bindi if you’re going to treat it as disposable fashion rather than as important, and serious, symbolism.

What you can substitute: bright red eyeshadow. It’s attention grabbing and on many faces, surprisingly flattering. All this, without offending anyone!

3. Don’t: Dia de Los Muertos Skulls

Now that Mexican culture has become more integrated in mainstream America, Dia de Los Muertos skull patterns — characteristic designs with flowers for eyes and more — have been popping up everywhere as part of recent fashion trends. What’s the problem? It’s important to remember that this day isn’t synonymous with Halloween — many Mexican people take it as a day to gracefully honor their departed family members. Throwing the symbolism onto everyday clothing you’ll wear throughout the year — not a good idea.

What you can substitute: normal skulls are perfectly fine. Rather than getting them as a small print as some recent trends in retailing have seen, go summer dress shopping for edgier designs with a full ribcage overlapping yours are popular.

What recent fashion trends do you suspect are appropriative? Let us know in the comments. More like this article.

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