Almost everything trending in the fashion world these days can be brought back to culture. The baggy pants that you call ‘cool’ and ‘swag’? Those originated from African American streetwear in the 20th century. The sleek, silver nose rings that you saw in the window of Hot Topic? Those are derivatives of nose rings worn by both those in parts of South Africa and India. Now, things tied to culture don’t automatically become “off-limits” or taboo (so don’t go pulling out your nose ring yet). But if we are to respect culture yet still allow free will to dress up as we choose, where do we draw the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation?
Asian culture has spread like wildfire in the fashion industry, especially in 2020. Just head on over to Tik Tok and search up “#foxeye” or “#lolita” and you’ll find tons of examples. From elongating eyes with eyeliner to butterfly hair clips and knee stockings, you’ll find that all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures are having at it when it comes to trying out Asian-inspired looks. Is this right? Are non-Asians allowed to pick and choose what to make trendy from a culture that is not theirs?
Indalina (14), a Southeast Asian American, says it depends. “I think anyone of any culture can wear these things, just be respectful when doing so.” Respect seems to be a common theme amongst many sources. A Stolen Culture: The Harmful Effects of Cultural Appropriation 1, discusses how little respect for black culture has allowed people to get away with appropriation and stealing. If you’re going to partake in a culture, you can not pass it off as your own or disrespect where it’s come from. As Indalina states, “people who wear the Chinese New Year dresses cannot make gestures such as pinning the eyes to mock Chinese eyes. That’s just disrespectful to the culture and people.”
But from an older and more experienced perspective, do things still apply? Sandra Kuo (45), a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan who has spent her time growing up in Argentina and the U.S, has her bit to say. “It’s hard to go by morality because everyone has a different opinion about wearing clothes from a culture. You can’t just make a blanket judgement about why someone may be wearing it.”. Similar to what Indalina stated earlier, it becomes disrespectful at a certain point even if no harm was intended. It is becoming seemingly prevalent in plastic surgery, where surgeons can only sit and watch as clients reconstruct their faces to mimic the long, almond eyes prominent to East Asia or the plump, protruding lips that seem common to Africa 2. It’s hard to find bad intentions in a world where ignorance is normalized.
Of course, all people think differently about culture and cultural appropriation. What might seem disrespectful to one might be totally fine or even applauded by others. It’s hard to find an objective right or wrong anywhere, but there’s pretty much one rule to keep in mind: show respect. You can wear all the Kawaii clothes you want or even dress in a Hanbok during Chuseok, but always keep in mind that there’s a culture out there that values this, no matter how “trendy” it may be.
- Lockhart, Amirah. “A Stolen Culture: The Harmful Effects of Cultural Appropriation.” (2021).
- Jacob, DeAsia D., and Andrea Moreira. “The Dark Side of Aesthetic Surgery: Are We Promoting Cultural Appropriation?.” Annals of Plastic Surgery 85.6 (2020): 587.