Is It Always Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation has been a prominent factor in the fashion industry since the beginning of time. When we think of fashion, one of the first factors that comes into our head is culture. Culture plays a huge role and is very significant in the fashion industry as it influences dress, modesty, traditions, and developing trends based on the heaviness of the culture in the area. 

Cultural appropriation is when people adopt aspects of another culture that is not their own. It refers to a specific power dynamic in which members of the dominant culture take the elements from another ethnic group, which results in them being systematically oppressed by the dominant group. This essentially gives credit to the group of people who “took” the aspects, and give no credit to the culture from where the aspects originated. Many debates have taken place over this topic, as cultural appropriation can be viewed as a negative factor in society since it involves the dominance of one culture over another. It shows the take over of the culture which asserts dominance thus lowering the value, respect, and originality of the second culture.

In this news article featuring Rihanna, she is accused of cultural appropriation due to the items she is holding and the meaning behind the picture. She is holding a dainty Chinese fan in one hand and a bright, red sash around her waist. She is also resembling the fashions of China through various outfits as well. After these were published on Harper’s Bazaar China, the online reaction shows a differentiation in the way this post was taken. The intention of this post was to show how the western style meets eastern aesthetic, however, people have expressed concern over the idea of a non-Chinese person adorning themselves with items from another country’s culture and history. 

So, then is there a “proper way” to wear clothing from a different culture without dishonoring its traditions, values, and authenticity? In the case of Rihanna, many people expressed their concern that she was an American person wearing the name of the Chinese. However, it also stated that if the dress or makeup itself was from a Chinese designer, then it’s considered to be honorable and respectful to the Chinese culture. So looking at all this, maybe it’s safe to say that as long as it’s authentic and has people from the culture involved in someway, it’s not considered cultural appropriation? It makes sense, because if the people from the specific culture are involved, it won’t really be considered as the dominance of the other culture. It would only be asserting dominance if a completely different culture was taking the values of another one.

But where does this idea of “ownership” come into play? According to everything above, there is a certain ownership of the culture, which needs to give permission to another culture to use it. This ownership can come from anyone who was raised or born into the culture, since they are raised with the traditions, values, and morals pertaining to it. Nowadays, this idea of ownership is getting further complicated due to diasporas and blurred geopolitical lines. Some of these examples include Chinese designers who live in America and not mainland China, etc. Would these people not be considered authentic just because they don’t live in China? Cultural appropriation has no defined terms, but if someone pertaining to a certain culture didn’t live in the country itself, there are a reasonable amount of limitations as to how much cultural authenticity or “rights” they have over the traditions.

Furthermore, many incidents regarding cultural appropriation have occurred. Kim Kardashian West was accused of cultural appropriation after she launched a lingerie brand called Kimono, which is the name of a centuries old Japanese garment. Karlie Kloss for dressing like a Japanese geisha in the pages of Vogue, Kylie Jenner for wearing cornrows, and Gigi Hadid for being styled with an afro. Due to their background, wearing another culture’s clothing is taken as offensive and disrespectful.


But what if they appreciate it? Wearing clothes from a different culture can send many messages. Wearing another culture’s outfits is an emblem of appreciation as it shows how much influence that culture has on others and how it is an honor to be integrated into aspects of another culture. If the model appreciates the clothing and the culture, it could show that they are not trying to adopt the culture, but they respect it as well. A common misconception is that whoever is wearing the other culture’s outfit wants to be identified as one of them and reserve a place within that culture. However, it varies for each person and not everyone has the same intentions making it wrong to say that just because someone wears something of a different culture, doesn’t mean they are stealing their values and identifying them as their own.

Overall, although cultural appropriation is deemed in a negative way, there are many reasons to show that with the right attitude, mindset, and respect, every culture can be integrated within one another and add more diversity. 

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