Appreciation vs. Appropriation

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Often times people praise fashion industry for its emphasis on creativity and being ahead and forward-thinking, but it seems that in the past decade or so fashion has been lacking in both of those departments. Many designers( both big and small) have fallen into the clutches of what we call “Cultural Appropriation” or just simply “Appropriation”. If you’ve been socially forward sites such as Tumblr or Twitter, you have probably heard those terms before, and have witnessed the heated debates that accompany them. However, I don’t see enough effort for people to be one hundred percent clear about what cultural appropriation is, and to define it in the most objective way possible, ie without snooty remarks or language that seems to target one particular group of people. So it’s important to first lay out exactly what we are talking about here. Oxfordreference.com defines the term as, “A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”

 

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Now that we understand what it is, it’s important to understand what it looks like, and how we can react to it. While looking through some posts and tweets, I came across a variety of examples of what one would label as Cultural Appropriation. Gigi Hadid has come under fire for appropriating the hijab, and making it into a “look”. This is especially problematic because she is doing so during a time when Muslim women in particular are being targeted with laws banning burqas, hijabs, and niqabs all around the world. It doesn’t end on your newest cover of VOGUE, it happens on the runway too. Many runway looks have fallen into the appropriation and exploitation like Givenchy’s gelled “baby hairs” chola look or Victoria Secret’s use of traditional Native American headdresses.

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There’s no doubt that cultural appropriation and its effects are REAL. However, it’s important to refrain from keeping a stationary view on appropriation. It changes by the situation, and to be honest it’s not only white people that need to be held accountable for it. We all can be found to be rather guilty of it without even being aware that we are being offensive.

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It’s also important to note that sometimes people are simply appreciating or borrowing an idea from the culture.

Sometimes it’s okay for people to get closer to the culture and rather than feeling attacked or offended, perhaps we should get to know those people better and allow them to understand the culture. As Robin Givhan said in an interview with students at Rutgers, “ Fashion does not exist in a vacuum.” This applies to politics just as much as it does to culture because it happens almost as seamlessly.

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