Cultural appropriation or festival fashion?



Festival fashion is showcase of experimental and rebellious styles. It’s evolution over the years has seen some iconic trends which have had notable impacts on the fashion industry. But where do these trends originate from? Are we guilty of appropriating other cultures? As important as it is to express ourselves, it’s just as important to understand the cultures that influence us. Cultural appropriation can be a huge issue when it comes to festival fits. In our enthusiasm for statement festival looks, we mustn’t ignore the cultural and spiritual significance tied to them.


The Bindi


Worn mainly in south Asia, specifically India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the bindi has become a popular accessory for festival-goers. These pretty gems stuck on the forehead between the brows have become a massive trend. But most of the people sporting the trend might not even know its origin and symbolism.


There are a few reasons for wearing the traditional bindi. Over the years, it’s been most commonly worn as a red dot on the forehead. In Hindu culture, it has links to the third eye chakra and represents one’s connection with their spiritual energies. The third eye is also for looking inward towards god, linking the forehead marking with piety and prosperity. The bindi can also represent marital status. Married women would often apply a red dot to the forehead or hairline to symbolise their status. If she became a widow, she would stop wearing this and all other accessories associated with marriage. It’s also common to see both males and females with some form of marking on the forehead during auspicious occasions. In this way, the bindi holds great religious and spiritual significance for many south Asians.


The styles and colours of the bindi have evolved through the years. We now see them in new shapes and beautiful designs with colours to match every outfit. However, the use of the “accessory” as a mere fashion trend can be very insensitive to people of that culture. It’s important to understand that many Asians have been ridiculed for embracing certain aspects of their culture. So, when others wear it to look exotic, and receive nothing but praise, it can be hurtful and disappointing.


The native American headdress


Use of the Indian headdress, particularly the ‘war bonnet’ is a common sight at many festivals. This is probably due to its’ colourful feathers and bold design. But there’s a strong importance and meaning behind the headdress. To the indigenous people of North America, it’s a well-known symbol of strength and bravery.


If we try to imagine an Indian headdress, we’d probably all have a similar idea of what one looks like. But in actuality, there’s a huge variety of designs that differ from tribe to tribe. Many don’t even have feathers at all. It’s believed that the Sioux Indians were the first to wear the traditional feather headdress that we see in the mainstream today. Sadly, our commercialisation of this sacred item ignores the differences between indigenous peoples and reduces them to a general stereotype.


The headdress was typically worn by warriors and chiefs. They were acknowledged as the most powerful and brave amongst their tribe so it was seen as a great honour to wear one. The feathers we love and admire for their flamboyance also have a deeper significance to the native Americans. It’s understood that a feather was earned by a warrior each time he acted bravely. And receiving a feather was a high honour which involved a period of preparation including fasting and meditation. Not only was this a privilege, but to be a close friend who makes the headdress was also a source of great pride.


Through understanding the importance of the headdress, we should rethink our adoption of the style. Its’ purpose is to be earned. By wearing it as a fashion piece, we’re compromising the validity and meaning behind its’ origins.


Printed fabrics


Festivals are definitely a hot-spot for bright and bold patterned clothing. Many of the unique prints we see in mainstream fashion today can be traced back to their global cultural influences. An example of this is the very popular African print fabrics that have made their way into festival-inspired looks.


Known as Kitenge and Ankara fabric, these designs originated in Indonesia when the Dutch colonised them and discovered batik. Batik is the method of applying hot wax to a fabric to create designs and then dyeing over the wax. The Dutch were inspired to manufacture their own batik fabrics in the


Netherlands. But these weren’t well-received by Indonesians who preferred their original methods. In their pursuit of a new market, the Dutch turned to West Africa. Here, the uniqueness of the fabric designs was appreciated for its imperfections and became more popular over time. The designs developed into a form of communication for many west African women. They’re sometimes used to symbolise social status, marriage or tribes and are used to tell stories. Many prints are given meanings by the women who wear them and this is how they’re named.


Understanding the importance of the fabric designs and the rich history behind them is a wonderful way to appreciate their place in modern fashion. What seems to us as a fun, colourful design actually holds great significance to the lives of so many people. And this deserves to be respectfully considered by everyone who chooses to wear the styles.

Our Responsibility


Whether we mean to or not, most of us have worn something without fully understanding the meaning behind it. It’s very easy to get carried away with the festival spirit of fun and eccentric self-expression.


We often see something we like on other people and adopt the styles for our own enjoyment. But awareness of the connotations associated with what we wear is also very important! There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. And it’s our responsibility to have a deeper understanding of the cultures we gain our influence from. In doing so, we can create more acceptance and appreciation of our cultural differences and celebrate them. Together.