The following post looks at the idea of cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation, particularly in relation to the connection of attire to culture. We’ve looked at a variety of different types of cultures, geographical and otherwise to help us consider the point at which cultural appreciation becomes appropriation.
Appropriation or appreciation of Indian attire?
I’m a very white-skinned, Anglo-Saxon Australian who performs with a Bollywood dance company, so the topic of cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation is very relevant to me personally. I find much of Indian wear, for instance saris, beautiful and often comfortable. However, I do not wear Indian wear outside of performance and rehearsals. I can’t find much logic in it – why wouldn’t I wear what is basically just a long piece of fabric? I’d wear a sarong at the beach, but a sari seems different. It’s as though it has some cultural significance and I don’t have the right to wear it because I don’t belong to Indian culture due to the fact I have no Indian heritage.
Some Western designers apparently feel able to incorporate aspects of Indian design into their own designs. Chanel’s 2012 Paris-Bombay show drew heavily from Indian design and tradition. As you can see from the video below, Karl Lagerfeld evidently had no issues using Indian inspiration for his designs, without necessarily understanding India, and even says he drew on British colonial influence for inspiration (and included Bombay rather than Mumbai in the show’s name).
Interestingly, the response of Indian actresses Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor, at least in the opinion they present in an interview, was to be enthusiastic, certainly not offended, by an Indian influenced Chanel collection. These actresses regularly wear Western clothes in films and in their personal lives and could perhaps be assumed to view fashion as art or simply fun, rather than attaching great cultural meaning to garments.
The trend goes both ways of course. Many Indians prefer Western style clothes to traditional Indian wear for their daily lives and sometimes even for special occasions. The link below is to the website of a top Indian couture designer, particularly popular for bridal wear. In recent years he has begun to incorporate European techniques into his designs, collaborating with Italian craftsmen, and some of the designs now look noticeably ‘Indo-Western’, as can be seen in the image from his website below.
‘Indo-Western’ is a well-recognised category of fashion in India, there are designers who specialise in creating these styles. Examples of styles considered ‘Indo-Western’ can be found here:
Clearly there are many Indians and Westerners who feel comfortable adopting the other’s culture in regards to fashion. Whether an individual person considers this is cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation probably depends on how they view fashion – are they ‘just clothes’, art, or significant elements of cultural tradition? Ultimately how a person views clothes is very personal. Some people attach great meaning to their clothes and select what they wear very carefully, others just wear whatever they think is comfortable, or appropriate to the climate, or fun and aesthetically attractive. For me I think I would possibly wear something like Indian couture (if I could afford it), as this seems more like art or fun and is a new creation. I would however be extremely hesitant to wear a traditional Indian outfit specific to a particular region/culture, which has possibly been worn the same way for hundreds of years, due to the meaning the people of that culture may attach to that outfit and the offense I might cause should I wear it.
Steampunk and its relationship to the Disabled community and culture:
According to the urban dictionary, “steampunk” is defined as as subgenre of science fiction and fantasy with the slogan “what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” It’s an attempt to create an anachronistic quasi-Victorian alternate history, and by far the most popular and well-known aspect of this movement is the attire. Indeed, the attire itself has an intriguing set of components, combining Victorian attire with technology and creating an aesthetic inspired by 19th century steam engine technology.
However, the designs of many of the accessories adored by followers of steampunk are also inspired by the various orthoses and adaptive devices used by another community and culture: the Disabled community. Whilst many individuals do not accept the idea of Disabled people having a particular culture, those of us who are part of it can assure you it exists. In our culture, mobility aids are more than just the physical objects. Often to us they are imbued with a story. To us, mobility aids symbolize our struggle to fit in with the normalized able-bodied world, and the way many of these devices mold us and restrict our movements so we can appear more normal is akin to the restriction we feel in our day-to-day lives, as though we cannot be our physical or personal selves because we will not be accepted. In this we can see part of our mythos, the struggle to fit in with the able-bodied community is something that is conceivably timeless and constant: for as long as there have been disabled people there has been this struggle.
So when non-disabled people put on symbols of our identity as costumes, it is not the mere wearing of the item that is the concern (as Armstrong identified in 2000, mythos is not concerned with the practical, but rather with the meaning of life,) it is the fact that they are emulating a symbol of our culture and community, but when they do so the items lose their meaning. Is this sort of thing something that should be considered good? Will acceptance of leg-braces and things associated with disabled people soon lead to acceptance of disabled people themselves as mainstream? Whilst I don’t believe the latter to be true, the answer to the former in my option is no. This is simply because those who choose to be part of disabled culture have shared identity, perspective, and community, and with that comes a shared way of looking at the practical aspects of life (the logos,) and a shared set of stories (mythos;) the loss of meaning of our shared stories if they are co-opted by the non-disabled cultures around us, such as steampunk, would mean a loss of the part of the richness of our community.
The relationship between dress and religion is a complicated one. Many people use dress to express their faith; while others might wear an item (of religious connotation) out of habit or tradition, rather than out of deference to God.
Although individuals may appropriate types of dress (as we have discussed), this appropriation takes on a new shape when it is done by the state. This piece will evaluate the outcomes of cultural appropriation perpetrated by the state of France.
A 2004 law prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools. In 2010, a law banned the full Muslim face veil, known as the niqab or burqa, from public places.
The law was based on three principles: the neutrality of the state, the freedom of religious exercise and public powers related to the church. This law is seen as the backbone of the French principle of laïcité, meaning ‘freedom from religion’.
This phrase ‘freedom from religion’ suggests that religion is something to be cautious of, to be held at a distance. Although the law maintains that its purpose is to protect its citizens, it has many arbitrary limitations. For example, the 2004 law, regarding the display of religious symbols, does not apply to universities. This seems to be an institutional dimension to the law, rather than a legal one.
It is this institutional manifestation of the law that has led me to see these reforms as acts of cultural appropriation. It is the dominant Christian state of France that is defining what it means to wear a burqa. The French government has commandeered religious symbols, and assigned them a new meaning.
Approximately 5 million Muslims live in France, out of 5 million, less than 2000 are believed to wear a burqa. The large scale protests that have occurred in France (and around the world), since the ban, indicate that the law is offensive to more than just the burqa-wearing community.
Many of the press conferences held surrounding the issue, have explored the reasoning of cultural protection. However, the logic that one student wearing a burqa somehow prevents others from learning or practicing their religion is heavily criticised.
The social outcomes of this controversial law have by far been the most damaging. The French Muslim community, and burqa-wearing women in particular, have experienced increased violence. This in turn, has resulted in further alienation and antagonism between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities in France.
Cultural appreciation vs cultural appropriation of the Ganguro phenomena
The Ganguro phenomenon among Japanese teenage girls has been recognized as a new fashion style reproducing certain hip-hop physical features. Their physical appearance is manifestly different, such as their blackened faces and necks with shimmering makeup, blond or white hair, boots with solid platform soles, and bright colored tight miniskirts. As commonly recognized, such an imitation is indeed said to be an open expression of individualism, freedom, and self-expression.
Reflection of hip-hop culture in Japan
Ganguro as a new fashion style reflects the global influence of hip-hop culture and affects Japanese youth ideology. This notion has emerged among Japanese teenage girls in metropolitan cities such as Tokyo. Because of the worldwide effect of hip-hop culture, some Japanese teenagers become Ganguro girls to make them stand out and be prominent as being different from others of the same generation. There are many features that are representative of being a Ganguro girl, some include; heels with solid platform soles over 10 centimetres high, bright coloured tight mini-skirts, having blond or white hair, and wearing shimmering makeup. Some Ganguro girls even go to the extreme by having their faces and necks blackened, often highlighted by white makeup to give them that uniqueness. In so doing, they make themselves look similar to black women. As often observed in Japan today, Ganguro is not a secluded social concept, but an impact exercised by hip-hop culture upon the Japanese young generation.
Reflection of self-identity
Ganguro can be seen as a social concept, however many believe that Ganguro is more than a new fashion style among Japanese teenage girls; it is an explicit expression of self- identity for those who attempt to advance from traditional Japanese cultural values and social standards. Some speculate that Ganguro girls are using hip-hop image to rebel against wearing traditional uniforms to express their individuality and personality. For whatever assumptions, ‘Ganguro’ is the name not created by the Japanese girls themselves, but by the Japanese public who complain that these “creatures” reflect all of the negative aspects of society. Ganguro girls attempt to identify themselves as real and free individuals. This may be seen as the case because of a number of reasons which include; lack of adequate communication between Japanese children and their parents, lack of loving family environment, and family neglect which may cause many serious childhood psychological and emotional problems. Strict school rules as well as stress may affect the young adolescents. Thus, for some Japanese girls, being Ganguro is a gateway from many problems they face in their everyday life with family, education and school environment to name a few. The adoption of the explicit hip-hop appearance does not fulfil with family and school standards, but openly expresses Ganguro girls’ attitudes of rebelliousness as well as their self-identity.
Ganguro as a subculture
Ganguro as a subculture is in conflict with mainstream Japanese culture, and although this subculture may not spread to the majority of the Japanese younger generation, it has socio-cultural and ideological significance in Japanese society. Researchers in the field of Japanese studies believe that Ganguro is a form of revenge against traditional Japanese society due to resentment of neglect, isolation, and constraint of Japanese society. This is their attempt at individuality, self-expression, and freedom, in open disobedience of school standards and regulations.
Cultural appropriation/appreciation of Lolita fashion
Lolita fashion is a Japanese subculture which, in itself, incorporates elements from other subcultures including Rococo and Gothic. Although appealing in certain ways to all genders, the Lolita style is predominantly adopted by women and is considered a feminine movement. The fashion subculture originated in Japan, however has spread worldwide with many other cultures mimicking or adopting the trend, stated by Bernal, 2011. The fashion movement was originally developed through the inspiration of historical dresses of dolls and depictions of fictitious 19th century adolescents.
The trend originally intended to carry the notion of innocence and respectability; however the adoption of this subculture, particularly by the western world, has lead to a sexualisation of the garments and the individuals who wear them. This sexualisation is the product of cultural appropriation, in which the individuals adopting the style are changing it in a way that it does not appear to be sacred to them. The portrayal of promiscuity associated with the Lolita movement, particularly in Japanese pop culture, has lead to the confusion by many individuals worldwide of the fine line between “cute” and “sexy”. This confusion can result in the misinterpretation of the fashion ideas put in place by the movement in the early stages of its existence. The sexualisation of the trend sheds a negative light on the original ideas of the movement (cute, innocent etc.) and therefore may lead to individuals within the subculture to take offence to something which has such a bearing on the way in which they present themselves in everyday life. This sexualisation is not something that is familiar with the original Japanese trend, rather an element that has been incorporated by non-Japanese individuals wearing the garments. Most non-Japanese Lolitas are seen to be ‘borrowing’ from another culture’s clothing style and therefore can be seen by some as appropriating original Japanese Lolita fashion. Drawing upon another garment originating in Japan, the Kimono, it can be seen that non-Japanese individuals wearing these garments can come across to native Japanese as disrespectful. There is a similar point of view shared by those who wear Lolita fashion for its original, Victorian-style trend. Lolita’s around the world that are not Japanese incorporate elements of styles from early Japanese culture in their attire and may unintentionally offend those Japanese who are so heavily invested in Japanese fashion.
The Lolita subculture is one that is heavily affiliated with dolls. Individuals who are involved with Lolita fashion are strongly associated with collecting dolls and dressing in ways that resemble these dolls. Individuals who adopt the fashion trend but have no affiliation with dolls may be considered by those who do as not having a strong appreciation for the original cultural ideas, and therefore it can be difficult to determine whether these individuals are appreciating the culture or are demeaning the culture to a certain extent.
Peace, love and Tie-Dye; Dressing the part of a Hippie:
I think many people will agree with me when I say, Hippies fashion is still in style even nowadays. Their rocking bold colours, flower bands around their messy wavy (unbrushed) hair, crazy vintage round sunglasses and off the shoulders top seem to still be an ideal look shown in the present societal norm.
History of the Attempted Peace Makers:
Hippies was a counterculture which developed during the 1960’s, then becoming an alternative lifestyle that originated the title hippies, freaks or long hairs. It became a culture of individuality, fighting to overhaul domestic policy within the United states after dissatisfaction with the consensus culture that developed after World War II. Although they were somewhat known as the rebels, excluding themselves from society, creating they own culture and forming a new drug culture, their clothing attire is what differentiated them from society, making them stand out. It was believed that they were all about the peace, love and no war, the now famous peace sign was something they used frequently. They are also stereotyped as the free-spirited, the continuous love makers and the believers in earthly powers/atmospheres. Vibrant colours they used were pink, yellow, orange, green and purple. most of the time all those colours were used at once which created the tie-dye revolution. Their use of patterns, swirls and flowers evidently became their signature.
Hippies Fashion in the Modern Society:
Fashion and trends in our modern society has now obviously differed from many years ago. The revolution continues with age, culture and generations. However it was noticed that recently the hippies unique sense of style has returned to our local stores, such as tree of life and Ishka. Even certain websites such as boohoo.com and missguided.com.au have implemented the taste of this style into their clothes. Fashion statements and garments such as loose tops, long maxi skirts, chokers, flower crowns and off shoulder crop tops are now being worn by people of all ages.
In saying that, the hippie stereotype continues to follow that fashionable attire. Just because one wears vibrant colours, a flower crown and a hanging peace sign around their neck, they are still believed to be apart of the revolution of make love, not war, but nowadays we label them indie (short for individuals), boho (short for bohemian) or hipster (modern twist on Hippies). Speaking from experience, I adore the sense of individuality in this style, however I cannot bring myself to wear these outfits out in public to a friendly barbecue, my local shopping centre or a friends party because what is expected of my outfit is the role of the free-spirited, care-free and an earthly human being which is what the hippies were known to be. Nonetheless, no, I don’t attend protests and I don’t put dreadlocks in my hair; I do shower everyday, live inside a home with a roof above my head and sleep in my own bed. I believe in making peace, love and not war but it’s not the sole intention of why I have a liking for that attire. I have a friend who is earthy, admires nature and wears crystals because she believes they symbolise something beyond this world, yet she doesn’t dress the part of a hippie and doesn’t label herself as that. So the subculture goes both ways, some hippies love to dress the part, some don’t and some non-hippies like to dress the part but cannot without the stereotype of the titled attire.
Famous actress Vanessa Hudgens is well known
for her hippie style at Coachella Music Festival
in the Unites States.
References and Bibliography:
Bernal, K (2011). ‘The Lolita Complex: A Japanese Subculture and its Paradoxes’. AUT University.
Armstrong, K (2000). The Battle For God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Exact title of the Act : Loi n°2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics.
Rajia Aboulkeir ‘Hijab debate returns to France after student asked to remove her ‘thing’’ Al Arabiya News, Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Raphaël Liogier, ‘Révolution culturelle dans la lutte anti-secte’, Le Monde (Paris) 4 March 2008.