Research and Respect: How to Dress for the Festival Season



British summertime is here. Warm nights, cold drinks, and thumping music can only mean one thing: festival season. Whatever your preference, whether that be large or small events, festivals are certainly on the summer to-do list. They are the perfect opportunity for you to experiment with fashion that you usually wouldn't wear. Because when else do you get the chance to smear glitter all over your cheeks and look trendy?


However, the excitement of festivals can easily lead to the dilemma of cultural appropriation, so let's research the ways to embrace festival-loving fashion whilst respecting different cultures.


What is 'cultural appropriation'?


Just in case some are still unsure on what appropriating a culture actually means, EverydayFeminism provide a great explanation:

"A power dynamic in which those from a dominant culture take elements of a culture that have been systematically oppressed." Maisha Z. Johnson, 'What's Wrong with Cultural Appropriation?', June 2015

Appropriation can take form of viewing certain cultural aspects as 'cute' or 'trendy'. But it's wrong to choose a specific aspect because it's 'fashionable'. If you want to wear a cultural piece it should be because you greatly admire the culture that it comes from and unfortunately, the experimentation of festival fashion has meant that some cultural aspects have been appropriated.


What NOT to wear during festival season


There is a saying regarding cultural appropriation: if you're not sure if your outfit appropriates a culture, don't wear it. But, here are some infamous instances of appropriation at festivals that you should definitely steer clear from.


A cultural item that consistently appears in the crowds of festivals is the Native American headdress; or war bonnets. Festival-goers flock to buy bright and tacky headbands encircled with plastic bird feathers, but these items could not be more different from the culture that they have been appropriated from.


Native American headdresses are beautifully intricate pieces, and are unique to each of the near 500 Native American tribes. Traditionally, only warriors who have earned the right to wear the headdress do so. So, it is completely understandable why it's wrong and offensive for non-Native Americans to wear them as a fashion statement at festivals.


Another cultural item that is likely to guest star at festivals is the South Asian bindi. A bindi is a decoration that women can wear on their forehead, and usually appears as a red dot. However, the form of a bindi depends on the specific South Asian culture that it comes from because it has many different meanings. So, just like the Native American headdress, a bindi is not appropriate festival attire.


The types of bindi sold at festivals are usually plastic, colourful gemstones, but just because they don't 'look' the same as traditional ones doesn't mean that they are okay to wear. Vidya Ramachandran provides an excellent explanation about the habit of fetishizing South Asian culture. So, even if you think those little diamonds would look 'cute' as part of your outfit - spend your money on something else!


Other ideas...


Only telling you what you shouldn't wear at festivals is not useful, of course. There are so many more fun and creative ways to look festival ready without offending a culture.


Glitter is a fashion staple of the festival season, and you can be as neat or as crazy with it as you want! Wearing glitter is different to wearing bindi gemstones because the gemstones deliberately try to replicate South Asian culture. Because of its popularity, glitter can now be bought in a bio-degradable form. So, you can look fabulous and be a friend to the environment. Click here to find out more.


Tie-dye fashion is another bold and creative avenue for festival wear. If you like your festival outfit to be 'themed', then opt for the 'psychedelic' instead of an offensive 'tribal' theme. Tie-dye clothing items are available on nearly all fashion websites but, if you're also aiming for your outfit to be sustainable, why not try tie-dying an outfit yourself? Good Housekeeping have provided an easy 'how-to' video, just one of many on the internet. Pair your tie-dye with some 'teashade' sunglasses and you're good to go!


Whether it's flares, florals, or fishnet tights, there are so many more outfit ideas you can wear without appropriating a culture. So for this festival season, research to make sure whether your planned outfit will be respectful towards other cultures. Feel free to take a look at more of Mindless Mag's inspiration for cute and non-offensive festival attire here.