top of page

Does Cultural Appreciation Exist in Fashion?

The term 'cultural appropriation has been viewed as a weapon when questioning any use or a mix of other cultures. Looking at one side it can be seen as a justified defence. On the other hand, some would say that it causes further division in an already divided world. Cultural appropriation has occurred without malice, but due to a lack of information and awareness of how or why this could hurt others. The subject I wanted to investigate is if there is such a thing as appreciation, or whether wearing or adopting a culture in any setting should always be considered stolen and unethical.

Coming from a less 'privileged' culture, I have heard hundreds of different opinions from multiple different sides. Some felt justified while others would have viewed them as dramatic. I have also felt almost an obligation to be against the 'opposing side' when sometimes I can see their perspective. There have been blatant moments in which the person in question has done something completely wrong no matter how you look at it: Kim Kardashian trying to coin the word kimono. I wanted to see if there are less obvious situations.

The difference between the two

It's hard just to stick to the scope of fashion when cultural appropriation has been questioned in multiple aspects, whether it is hair, music, even food and drink (e.g. Kendal Jenner’s tequila). So what is the general difference between appropriation and appreciation, and how much weight does it hold in the fashion world's perspective?

Another perspective discussed in Harper's Bazaar is the roots of appropriation, one being colonialism, where it was normal to loot and steal cultural artefacts. Harper's Bazaar’s take on the word appropriation is when there is a mockery or ridicule of another culture, as well as using it for one's personal gain. The statement that stood out for me from the magazine is the take of distinguishing borrowing from exploiting. This vagueness came across as some kind of loophole because the tone sounds like ‘anything goes’ besides profiting and mocking. In my opinion, this is only a single layer of the issue. The same article then regards Adele’s Bantu braids and Jamaican bikini for Notting Hill Carnival as appreciation as it was for a celebration of black culture.

Glamour magazine was on the complete opposite side of the spectrum which I agree more with about the culture behind it being more than just the hair but an identity. Borrowing sounds harmless but what needs to be taken into account is the history behind a said item that is being used. There is a weight to everything and history behind everything. While Adele was definitely on the side of the black community and the oppressed, it should be known that these cultures aren't just protecting an aesthetic - they are protecting themselves and their ancestors.

When it isn't obvious

So can appreciation exist then? What is regarded as identity and what isn't? In regards to clothing, there are many avenues where the scenario can be deemed inappropriate, but sometimes I do believe a genuine embracing of clothing does exist. Especially when you are going to a certain area that requires you to wear certain things to be more respectful to the local people.

Without being directly involved within the religion, I believe religious wear should be deemed as completely off-limits. Whether profiting or not, using anything that involves someone's beliefs and spirituality just because of how ‘nice’ it looks, in my opinion, is immoral and disrespectful.

Another thing to question is appropriation in inspiration. A grey area is formed, because of how much inspiration you take for your pieces and how much of it is your originality and own ideas. Inspiration should always have a factor of giving credit where it's due and not completely dissociating from the original culture and leaving them out of it.

As WWD mentions world-famous designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, and Jean-Paul Gaultier were inspired by African designers and got huge recognition for it. This leads to an increased unbalance of representation in the design world as the original people who created these pieces won't be acknowledged as the first but as a copy. Or they will not have a chance to break out in the mainstream fashion world with their smaller platforms.

My answer

I feel appropriation is subjective depending on how an individual views their own culture. It's honestly a matter of understanding that there is a line - a vague one - but still, a line and exploitation of another culture is more than just blatantly copying but also taking inspiration without crediting. There needs to be an understanding that not profiting doesn't mean that the appropriation doesn't exist. Wearing something sacred in another culture can be seen as a mockery regardless if it is malicious or not. Culture, whether in fashion or otherwise, is permanently linked to identity, history and ancestry, and we need to try to have more awareness and respect that.


bottom of page