As our world becomes continuously globalized and smaller, this opens the doors for new cultural exchanges and influences. With this knowledge at our mere fingertips, we are able to purchase goods, research religions, become influenced by another country’s values and the like. Because of the increasing interconnectedness of our world, there comes the capability to neglect or disregard cultures and societies to demolish their values into a fashion statement, an aesthetic or a halloween costume.
Halloween costume or vintage wear?
Let’s talk fashion. I am an avid purveyor of vintage and thrifted clothing. I love exploring dusty old vintage stores and finding that pair of perfectly worn in Levi’s as much as the next person. On occasion, I tend to find certain pieces in these vintage stores that make me pause and question, will I be appropriating a culture by wearing this? For example, while browsing a random vintage store in the Lansdowne area of Toronto, I came across a pair of gorgeous silk Chinese pants. I contemplated buying this beautiful pair of pants but this nudging thought crossed my mind. Will I be telling the world by wearing these pants that I do not care about the culture that I am wearing, so long as I look damn good? To pause and reflect, I am an individual of Asian descent, I am Japanese. I am not Chinese. What do I know about Chinese culture? What impact will I be making on Chinese education if someone asked me why I decided to get those pants? I didn’t have an answer to these questions so I placed the pants back on the rack. I suppose this could be taken that if I were to buy these pants I wasn’t necessarily appropriating Chinese culture if I were to wear them and acknowledge the roots of origin of this piece. However, I wanted to be confident in my decision that as someone who has experienced the appropriation of Japanese clothing done by others, I know what it is like to have your culture labelled as, “Sexy Geisha Halloween Costume,” for an abominable price of over $60. Screw that.
The other viewpoint I have on this issue is that I believe in the value that you vote with your dollar. Yes, I didn’t buy the pants because I didn’t want to appropriate culture. But, I am an individual of an open mind. I was at a mom and pop vintage store that frequents many local events. I could’ve bought the pants and researched Chinese history and shouted-out Asian culture and heritage. If someone were to wear a kimono out of respect for my Asian culture, having purchased it through a Japanese retailer or knowing that the craft of wearing a kimono is a high art form, I would gladly accept that. If someone were to purchase a cheaply made, sweatshop halloween costume from Partyland or whatever, that represented a culture or group, I would be enraged.
Many racialized groups and cultures have experienced victimization at the hands of the dominant cultural group. This group needs to understand their privilege, educate themselves and ask “Why am I wearing this?” or “What culture is being represented?” or “Where is this product coming from?” These are all important questions to ask to respect cultural groups, religions, etc.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if someone is appropriating a culture but realizes their privilege, we should not be shaming them. In my opinion, people make mistakes, people aren’t educated on every aspect of every culture. Once someone realizes their mistake, educates themselves and respects a specific culture in doing so, it is not our job as the cultural appropriation police to demonize them. As part of a globalized world, we should be accepting of all cultures and to be able to learn new things!
With this being said, please don’t wear Native headdresses to festivals if you are not in fact Native. You just kinda look dumb. Don’t wear bindis if you don’t understand their religious significance. And for the love of God, halloween costume stores need to stop labeling their outfits as “Sexy (insert cultural group or outfit here).”
A really good article on discerning appropriation and appreciation can be found on Interrupt Mag!