Fashionably Trendy Cultural Appropriation?


Cultural appropriation in recent years has been highlighted by cultural items becoming fashion accessories, traditional clothing becoming tacky costumes and fashion styles that sometimes have questionable influences.

But we’re here to ask where can the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation be drawn in fashion? When does a fashion item become an act of cultural appropriation? Can we call it a “cultural influence” with respect or an act of appropriation that disrespects?

Recent festival trends have seen the popularisation of native headdresses, bindis and temporary “tribal tattoos” as the must have fashion accessories to these events. Coachella sees an influx of young girls wearing bindis on their forehead (so much so a hashtag #reclaimthebindi was ignited).

So when is fashion cultural appropriation? Well we’d have to say that sometimes it just takes some common sense. Are you taking an item that traditionally is regarded with high respect?Used on special occasions? Signifies an importance in a culture?When you’re using it does it still mean the same thing? Answered yes? Yep most likely that fashion trend is cultural appropriation.

That being said that doesn’t mean fashion can’t be influenced or draw from other cultures. Fashion can exhibit other cultures yet still be respectful and not be appropriating. Designers such as Akira Isogawa and Bethany Yellowtail both incorporate elements of a culture into their clothing with respect. Akira Isogawa sees Western influenced designs paired with  Japanese fabrics that exhibits creativity from both culture without appropriation. Similarly Bethany Yellowtail designs clothing with a Native American influence that aims to redfine beauty and experience of culture. Both sharing culture through fashion with the aim of appreciation rather then a loss of meaning through appropriation.

So next time you wear an item that you’ve given a second thought about and you’re unsure if its cultural appropriation. Ask yourself.
Are you taking an item that traditionally is regarded with high respect?Used on special occasions? Signifies an importance in a culture?When you’re using it does it still mean the same thing?

(Obviously a bit of common sense will also help, there’s no need to question everything you wear. Unless its about how clean your clothes are after a week and if they smell. Which is yes they do.)

R.C.W – Stopping Cultural Appropriation

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Akira Isogawa work can be found at (x)
Bethany Yellowtail work can be found at (x)
Ongley, H. 2015 “#ReclaimTheBindi: 8 Important Lessons About Cultural Appropriation and Coachella”. (x)


My Culture is NOT a Costume


With Halloween steadily approaching we’ve seen an upsurge of the hashtag “culturenotacostume” and we thought its about time we weighed in on this topic.

That being said it is incredibly hard to speak for a whole culture and there will always be disagreement. The views represented below are my own personal thoughts and views and with time and even more education/information may change. So please go easy on me here.

Growing up in a white dominant culture as a minority I’ve experience all types of racism, stereotypes and prejudices.  I’ve experience people yelling “CHING CHONG” as a group of my friends walked down the street, or “Go Home its an Asian Invasion” (I’d have to say good work on the rhyme there didn’t think he’d be smart enough for that). I’ve been asked if I’ve eaten dog countless times, why do we put chopsticks in our hair (we don’t) and had people laugh at me as they pulled their eyes to make it look slanted. And the best bit, all this happened before I was even a legal adult, 18.

So to say I feel strongly about this subject is an understatement. So why is it that my culture gets joked about to my face but once someone else experiences it, it becomes “cool”? I’ve always wondered why in High School why some kids would wear chopsticks in their hair to look “exotic” or wear kimonos and cheongsams as a costume and everyone thought it was awesome. Whilst I stood here wondering if we would get the same reaction if we did it. Why it just felt plain wrong. I’d ask myself well we don’t do that? Why is it cool for them but when we do it we get isolated? Why does that costume have like 50 different asian cultures in one? So you can understand why when I found out there was an actual name for this I rejoiced a little knowing other minorities had experienced the same thing.

Orientalism, a term made popular by Edward W. Said in his publication “Orientalism” in 1978. Loosely put it is the term to describe how Western Society has a tendency to collate cultures from Asia into one whilst viewing them as “exotic” and “underdeveloped”. Reinforcing these ideas through constantly reproducing images to represent a single culture and VOILA we get stereotypes. Obviously this term goes a lot deeper and can be explored on multiple levels. But a great example of this is when someone says “Japanese” and immediately all we can think of is “Geishas” and “sushi” as if the culture has nothing else to present (a bit extreme but you get the general idea).

So this was what was happening to my culture alongside with cultural appropriation. I recently saw a picture come up on social media of a high school classmate with a group of his friend dressed up in short “kimonos” (looked more like a chinese hanfu) faces painted white with pink cheeks. Cheap tacky fans and chopsticks in their hair. Ouch. All I could think was. WHY? Don’t they understand how much effort goes into making traditional clothes. And it made me really think. How many times have I seen this happen. People wearing cheongsams but with geisha makeup and chopsticks in their hair with very little care about the effort, tradition and culture behind it.

It hit close to home. Why? Well my grandfather was a tailor in China, he worked to provide for my mother’s family making traditional qipao and tangzhuang out of the loveliest silk and handcrafted buttons. He’s made traditional clothes for me and I’ve witness his skills at work as he measured silk out with chalk string. Sewing with an old pedal powered sewing machine. Recently he made my grandmother a beautiful green cheongsam for a wedding. It took him a month and when I asked how much it would cost to buy one like this I got told close to $600AUD.

So when I do see people dress up in using clothes made for special occasions all I can  think is do they know how much effort goes into making those? Do they know anything about this culture? When it should be worn? How painstakingly hard it is to craft such an item?

So that is why I believe culture should always be more than just a costume worn at Halloween. Why should some get to pick the best of one culture whilst we have to carry the good, the bad the ugly side of it?

That being said I think its brilliant if you can invest some time just to find out about the culture, this doesn’t mean don’t wear it! If someone invites you to go for it! Its a moment of cultural appreciation. Really invest and be educated, be immersive. A good understanding and appreciation will give you the common sense of when you should wear/or not wear any culture’s items. So this Halloween have a bit of common sense.

R.C.W – Stopping Cultural Appropriation

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Said, E. 1978. “Orientalism”, Vintage Books, United States.
Cheongsam/Qipao Image by Mity on Flickr, used under Creative Commons 2.0 for non-profit. No modifications. (x)

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Assimilation


Appropriation? Assimilation? Appreciation? What is all this?

Why can they do it but we can’t? Isn’t the same thing? Isn’t this just double standards?

All these questions float around when the topic of cultural appropriation comes about usually in the comments. However are three main terms that many people often get confused with when discussing cultural appropriation. One may start commenting on cultural appropriation when actually what it really is is appreciation or assimilation. So here we are to help clear everything up and help you understand where your argument stands!

First off cultural appropriation what is it?
When elements of a minority culture are taken by members of a more dominant culture for their own use. This results in the original context to become distorted and it’s meaning reduced. Those taking elements of the culture do not experience the same cultural significance.

and what about cultural assimilation?
This is the process by which elements of a dominant culture are take by members of a minority culture this often occurs when a minority enters into a dominate culture and assimilates in order to survive.

The difference between the two terms answers the commonly repeated questions about cultural appropriation of ‘Well if they do it why can’t I?” or “Isn’t this double standards?”

Unfortunately in this society not all cultures are perceived as equal. That’s the truth. Minorities take on aspects of dominate cultures to survive or be accepted (or even to hopefully perceived as equals). Where as cultural appropriation sees dominate cultures taking on elements of a minority often for the sake of being ‘trendy’, ‘fashionable’ etc

And then recently we’ve been seeing cultural appreciation
What is this? Well from what we gathered it is when people take the time to learn, educated and understand a culture before taking an educated decision to express the culture in way that does not offend ands till respect it.

However to speak for a whole culture is incredibly hard and there will be inevitable be people who will be offended. So when attempting to do cultural appreciation tread lightly and be aware.

We hope this has helped you out in learning more about cultural appropriation!

R.C.W – Stopping Cultural Appropriation

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Definition by Young, J 2010, Cultural Appropriation and the Arts.
Definitions by Encyclopaedia Britannia (x)

What the hell is Cultural Appropriation?

The term gets thrown around by the media, internet, celebrities but what the hell is cultural appropriation exactly?

There are varying definitions of cultural appropriation floating around on the internet and what it can be applied to, so for many of us we’re just bloody confused to as what it is exactly.

In the simplest terms possible (and in no way trying to reduce the seriousness of this issue):

Cultural appropriation is when elements of a minority culture are taken by members of a more dominant culture for their own use.

This results in the original context to become distorted and it’s meaning reduced. Those taking elements of the culture do not experience the same cultural significance.

Often this can be seen as disrespectful and offensive. Culture is important to all people all around the world, as people we should respect that.

Hopefully this has explained what cultural appropriation is exactly, follow us to keep informed and inform others. And continue to find out why cultural appropriation need to be stopped.

R.C.W – Stopping Cultural Appropriation

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Definition provided by Young, J 2010, Cultural Appropriation and the Arts.