Fashion Faux Pas: Designers Come Under Fire for Cultural Appropriation

By Kaliah Hobbs
For Unwind magazine

Marc Jacobs came under fire during New York Fashion Week 2016 following the unveiling of his Spring/Summer 2017 Collection, which featured a majority white group of models wearing dreadlocks, a traditional black hairstyle. Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation for having his group models wear a traditionally black hairstyle.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, cultural appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own without understanding or respecting the culture.

Cultural appropriation is prevalent in the fashion industry. Jacobs using dreadlocks in his show is just one instance of cultural appropriation. Vogue has also been accused of cultural appropriation. In their most recent diversity issue, Vogue featured Karlie Kloss, a white model, dressed as a geisha. Geishas are traditional female Japanese entertainers.

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Geisha styles were appropriated by Vogue. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Cultural appropriation also happens on the day-to-day basis. Native American costumes are sold during Halloween. YouTube stars teach their viewers how to create “boxer braids,” a traditionally black hairstyle known within the black community as cornrows. And make up artists paint their faces to resemble sugar skulls, a Mexican decoration used in the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

“Appropriation is popular because people see an idea, and they don’t associate the idea with the culture it comes from. They don’t care to learn about the history of that culture. They just think [the idea] is cute,” says Monique Parker, junior behavior and community health major.

When Jacobs confronted the accusations of cultural appropriation, he posted a response on Instagram explaining that, “Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing.”

“It’s a thin line [between appropriation and appreciation],” explains Aysia Morton, junior and government and politics and communications major. “If they’re appreciating then they would showcase people from those cultures. They wouldn’t just give those features to white models.”

While a person may have the intentions to appreciate a culture, they can easily end up appropriating that culture. The difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation lies within understanding and respecting the culture.

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Designers have come under fire for appropriating dreadlocks on white models. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

“Unless people give credit to the culture whose ideas they are using, then it isn’t appreciating. It’s stealing and taking credit,” Parker says.

For some members of minority groups, it can be frustrating to see aspects of their culture described as a new trend in fashion without their culture getting properly recognized.

“[The backlash that people accused of appropriation face] stems from them getting credit for the same things that other cultures get bashed for. When Kylie Jenner wears braids it’s cute, but it’s ‘ghetto’ on black girls,” Morton says.

For people who want to learn more about cultural appreciation and how to avoid cultural appropriation, Parker gives simple advice: “Know the context. Know the history and reasons as to why that aspect of someone’s culture is important.”

She also adds that if you are unsure whether or not something is offensive or is an act of cultural appropriation, “Just ask. Ask someone from that culture if it is offensive, but keep in mind that they are not a spokesperson for their entire culture.”

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