Since a reader pointed out the link to the Native Appropriations which is a "a forum for discussing the use of Indigenous cultures, traditions,
languages, and images in popular culture, advertising, and everyday
life" though in reality takes the piss out of any example of 'native appropriation' that comes her way, I've been reading it avidly.  Not because I necessarily 100% agree with her stance; that every instance of 'native' appropriation is offensive to the cultural originators, but it's fascinating to see how strongly one can feel about the subject.  I'm not entirely sure whether it's specifically JUST 'Native' (meaning Alaskan, American Indian and Native Hawaiian) appropriation that she has problems with or whether she feels the wider scope of cultural appropriation is a tawdry mess but I'll just assume that the latter is the case otherwise there would be some hypocrisy in her theories I guess…

I've broached the subject before with regards to my own culture, that wearing Chinese traditional dress makes me, the Chinese person, distinctly uncomfortable because it feels like a costume and not something that can easily be assimilated into the wardrobe.  Never for a second would I see a qi pao worn by someone who isn't Chinese and said "Wow, that is offending me…" and in fact I'm more likely to say "Wow I could never wear that and pull it off…".  The subject of cultural appropriation in fashion is a prickly one and again, one that I've touched upon.  So MANY designers have travelled the world and mined it for inspiration which isn't necessarily the thing that is the prickly issue, but that so often inspirations are then lazily regurgitated by the media and put under the oh so handy brackets of 'ethnic', 'native' or just completely mis-credited altogether.  In fashion anyhow, the issue for me isn't that dominant cultures peer into minority cultures for inspiration because depending on how you use that point of inspiration, designers could run away with their ideas and evolve the cultural seeds into something that is genuinely interesting and thought-provoking to regard and wear.  Which is also why I sometimes disagree with the aforementioned blog's stance – where do you draw the line of points of inspiration – how can you discredit something that has been inspired by the starting point of a supposed minority culture but has then actually become something that is an aesthetically interesting design itself?  Or in fact, IS ACTUAL offense being caused I wonder.  Personally I'm more concerned with getting references correct and spot on and giving credit where credit is due…

This is how I look upon this blue caftan dress which I hestiate to call 'Mexican' though that's how Supermarket Sarah described it.  I love it for its aesthetic values primarily, which I suppose is the selfish crime that Native Appropriations (the blog) points to in amongst those that say, don a feathered headdress.  And yes, I can't deny, I do like to walk around pulling the tassels that spout from this fella's head, who has been embroidered in a fluoro way on the dress…I've not yet given him a name but I feel I must.  I'm 95% sure it's a fella – but I'm far less sure of the origin of the dress… adding Boliva, Columbia, Panama and Guatemala as possible places of origin.  If it is indeed Mexican, I suppose the question therefore should be directed to anyone reading that is from that region… does it offend you, yeah?  Sorry, couldn't help but slip that one in… 

If it does, then I'll bury the dress in a cupboard, cede to Native Appropriations' theory and get on with my own non-native-appropriating life…

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Comments (56)

  1. alison says:

    love love love the dress, and paired with those yellow shoes…really great!
    <3 alison
    plastikneon.blogspot.com

  2. Aova says:

    im inspired by the way you are willing to try out everything… and set no boundaries !!
    aova
    xx
    http://www.aovaswardrobe.blogspot.com

  3. be proud for wearing this dress!
    kisses from Greece!

  4. Katie says:

    love those shoes!

  5. Sumo says:

    you looks cute :)

  6. RheanneLouise says:

    love your outfit ‚ô•
    http://rheanne-thegirlinnottingham.blogspot.com/
    ^^
    Love, x

  7. Kit says:

    So cute! Looks like a post-modern Hakka PJ dress.
    I have a custom made Qipao dress at home and I’ve never worn it cos it looks like a costume, never mind a traditional jacket. Well that goes in the bargain bin.

  8. Alana says:

    Your style is mind-boggling in the best way possible!
    http://oakvintage.com/
    http://oakvintage.etsy.com/

  9. I guess there is a line between appropriation and inspiration – it is also annoying when you see fashion designers whose work has been wholesale ‘lifted’ and passed off as someone elses. And then there becomes a point when an idea or symbol becomes so well known it can be considered ‘out of copyright’ (like the cheong sam or kimono, or cherry blossom icons). I wonder also why it is never considered that western influences are appropriated into other cultures. Anyway, the line is very blurry and for the most part, I don’t think it is a particularly important issue in fashion. Let’s worry about sweat shops instead hmm!
    All that aside, the dress is lovely and really suits your colouring. Hopeing to get to your sale this Sunday but might be kitten-sitting, drat!

  10. erika says:

    I love it. As far as it being a Mexican dress, my guess is it is from Mexico. As far as cultural appropriation we all trade and share and as a multi-cultural human being I would like to think we are far enough along now that we can get past the cosmetic.
    I do take issue with this http://www.freepeople.com/hippie-collection/vintage-long-indian-cotton-dress/
    I don’t think it’s Native American. I believe that this is an Indian dress as in from India ( i have been collecting vintage for 20 years, it’s very similar in stitching to some of my vintage tunics which are definitely Eastern and not native)Mixing that up with Native American seems just plain ignorant and historically ironic. Remember how Native Americans were called Indian in the first place ??
    Also have you seen the vintage prices on Free People ??? whoa!

  11. Urooba says:

    Waaaaaaaaah!
    Bloody brilliant outfit, Susie!

  12. Winnie says:

    Kit’s comment made me laugh but I used to have a Qi Pao when I was a kid, it was a bit of a novelty, only coming out once for CNY festivities…have to say that whatever the origins of that dress, it looks mighty comfy.

  13. jennine says:

    oh dear…i saw that blog, and i don’t know.. it kind of annoys me… what really annoys me are white people who have read that post, lecture me about posting a headdress.
    i am actually native american. tribally enrolled. my mother is full blooded squaxin island. and i have never been ‘offended’ by the clothes one chooses to wear regardless of origins of appropriation.
    that dress is darling by the way!
    :)

  14. Leah says:

    I believe it’s not as simple as assuming that since your culture has been appropriated and it doesn’t bother you personally, that the same will be true for everyone else whose culture has been mined. I think this kind of attitude is problematic!! You can’t speak for another race, and you can’t allow your (maybe privileged, in this case over someone of first nations descent) position to cloud your judgement.
    I live in Canada(which should be lumped in with north America… similar things have happened in central (mexico!) and southern americas as well as Australia and New Zealand too), and from my perspective and first hand experience, the issue is that these people are continually being oppressed in a way that isn’t really being dealt with. Through Colonialism we have committed both near and total genocide on many tribes. How messed up is it to regularly express racist thoughts and sentiments and contribute to the system which keeps our First Nations people in a tractable position, while simultaneously wearing their sacred articles like some kind of costume?
    Now, I am white and a 3rd generation Canadian, and I would never personally wear a first nations article unless it was bought directly from an artist OR given to me by a first nations person (which has been the case with a few pairs of moccasins etc).
    Inspiration is one thing, but I think there needs to be a number of levels of abstraction before it reaches a point of not being completely derivative and apropriative.

  15. jennine says:

    sorry…the blog itself does have some good points, but i think the whole headdress thing is a little weird. it’s the people who go about lecturing others once they read *one* post about the plight of native americans that annoys me. like, really? lecturing isn’t offensive?

  16. Elissa says:

    Fuck that noise! Granted, it’s annoying when things are mis-credited or stripped of their meaning/context but let’s get real. Every culture has something insanely beautiful to contribute to the world of fashion, and when “outsiders” wear it, I think it’s a wonderful thing to make our wardrobes a celebration of all cultures. WHo the hell would even know what ikat was if it wasn’t dug up by some designer and distributed to the rest of us? Batik? Macrame?
    Bah. Guess I’ll stop eating Olive Garden (well I prolly should actually) because their Italian isn’t legit. Guess I’ll stop listening to Justice cuz I’m not French. Guess I’ll stop using Mane ‘n’ Tails cuz I’m not a horse!!!
    AHHHHHHHHHH

  17. Joy D. says:

    This is probably on of my top 10 favorites!

  18. Elsa says:

    I second Leah’s comment. It’s problematic, as someone who is not a part of that culture, to pick and choose what you think they should be offended by, as Elissa is suggesting. I wouldn’t advise wearing the dress. I’m sure you have many others that are just as wonderful that don’t rely on cultural appropriation. Perhaps I seem like the ~PC police~ but these people are being oppressed and it’s not being dealt with and it makes me feel uncomfortable if I see people who aren’t Mexican/Native American etc. wearing these things.

  19. diane says:

    You look amazing in that dress with those yellow shoes. I would have guessed the dress to be from South America, judging by the character design. Just a guess.

  20. Terri says:

    I like the dress. I don’t believe a native American would be caught dead in such a large plaid.

  21. Esti says:

    I am much more bothered by people directly appropriating the spiritual elements of another culture (Eat Pray Love has me really riled up) than its aesthetics. On the other hand, certain things (feather headdresses, kabbalah bracelets) being made into fashion items is problematic. And on my invisible third hand, I love when people asthetic-ize their own nominally spiritual tokens (because I’m a raging heathen despite a Catholic upbringing), like Madonna’s cross earrings or vintage rosaries worn as necklaces. There are fine lines, but they’re not invisible. In the end it comes down to how you feel about what you’re wearing and why you’re wearing it.
    I think the dress is darling and shows a playful appreciation for another culture rather than any negative attitude.

  22. Laveena says:

    That is such a cute dress, and it looks so good with those heels.

  23. Luiza says:

    I have to say I don’t really understand the whole fuss about “native appropriations”. Quite frankly, to me it all sounds incredibly hypocrite…
    I’m brazilian and if “native appropriation” is a crime, then we have a whole country that’s guilty. The very core of our culture and of our national identity is based on the assimilation of all the different cultures that make up Brazil: european, african, native and, to some extent, even asian. Every single brazilian is a mix of all those cultures; I have dutch, portuguese, native and african ancestry. And still, I don’t think that my ancestry gives me any right to go around telling off people because they’re wearing a headdress (hello, Carnival?), african prints and whatnot. Brazilian culture is proudly based on appropriation and, shall I say, remix.
    In the end I guess it all goes down, like you said, to two simple questions: “Is it interesting?” and “What are the references?”. I think appropriation is indeed valid – and even necessary.

  24. Eline says:

    I agree with Leah!
    I think appropriation is only truly offensive if said piece of clothing has a deeper meaning that’s intertwined with its culture. Or if you know, in the case of the Indian headband trend the girls modelling it are basically picturing a ‘wild & savage’ Indian… Or in the case of the Keffiyeh, wearing it when not knowing what it stands for? Offensive. Simplifying a garment or whatever that has a deep cultural meaning to something that’s purely fashionable for a person of a different culture is offensive, and that’s that.
    Also if a person from a certain culture finds it offensive they have every right to, and that’s that.
    But I cannot see how this dress can be offensive. Also I love it and I want it.

  25. Frances says:

    The more rooted one is in their culture, the more likely offended they will be when non-native ethnic groups choose to model sacred indigenous attire as part of their everyday wardrobe. Often times there is symbolism attached to indigenous regalia sacred to each indigenous culture it represents. I personally am never offended when I see non-Native people wearing head dresses because as an individual indigenous of Southwestern Arizona I know my tribe never wore head dresses. It is easy to become detached to sentiments when it is not part of your culture. And, even if it part of your culture, but you lack understanding of its symbolism, then you likely will not feel offended either.
    In regards to your Mexican dress—that is a style popular in Mexico with no symbolism attached. It is no different than the moo moo dress is a style popular amongst frumpy white women in the United States. Now if you were wearing a Mexican folklorico dress some Mexicans might be offended because there is symbolism attached to it as some natives are offended when they see symbolic articles of clothing worn in non-traditional settings. Style and culture are two completely different things.
    ****
    On another note, native appropriations is also frustrating because non-tribal members are making a profit off of indigenous cultures without their input or permission to do so. So many tribes live in poverty and choose not to market their culture yet non-indigenous peoples are marketing these items anyway.

  26. michelle says:

    love it, I own several qi pao and collect vintage sari’s. I am 1/4 micmac(native american) and love adding tribal peices to my collections

  27. Poochie says:

    Eline says the stance perfectly. If an item from another culture or religion is worn by someone nit of that culture or religion and in a way that alludes to stereotypes of that culture/religion, it is appropriation. Especially when these are used in ads and on sites to convey a “feeling” or mood or to create a scene. Worse yet is when someone or company not of that culture or group makes the items to sell but with no sense if the meaning or history or significance. Taking an item that has deep significance to another group, not buying it from a skilled craftsperson who can explain it’s context and who is keeping traditions alive, and wearing it just because it is pretty, is wrong.
    Tha

  28. Boop says:

    I really enjoy this! But Susie.. You are getting too skinny!! ;) x

  29. Kendall says:

    OK so I will not make this long. Everyone has the right to their own views, but we ALL come on susie’s blog because we admire her writing/opinions/fashion choices/views on things in fashion.
    We don’t always need to agree on what she says, but I think we do need to agree that she did write, 100 times, it is her view. NOT yours she is writing.
    I am half persian have scottish (odd, yess) but I agree 100% with what Susie is saying in regards to wearing traditional ethnic outfits that coincide in our culture.
    I never wear yellow gold for that matter, for it makes me feel so persian. It’s not that I don’t want to channel my inner persian-ness … it just doesn’t make me feel comfortable.
    and their isn’t nothing wrong with that sentence!
    I am intrigued to see Susie’s response to the posts, for religion & fashion clash on a daily basis, just usually not on her blog.
    http://http://kendalldonaldson.wordpress.com/

  30. susie_bubble says:

    Ello all – I had hoped that there would be some interesting responses and I’m not disappointed…. I do have a long reply but I’ve just had the clear out of my life with an early start tomorrow but I promise I do have a response!

  31. angela says:

    beautiful dress and lovely vibrant colors… thought-provoking issue raised.
    http://www.benchesandchandeliers.com

  32. My name is Giacobba says:

    i love your outfit, you always have the cutest shoes!

  33. Mary says:

    I totally agree with Leah’s comment – in this case it is not an argument, that someone who belongs to the “used” culture, is not feeling offended. It is way more complex than that.

  34. Mary says:

    I forgot to add, threadbared had a very revealing article with a lot of links on cultural appropriation last april: http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/linkage-the-feather-in-your-native-cap/

  35. Jodyy says:

    The dress looks so good on you!
    You really suit quirky clothes ;D

  36. Wphotography says:

    Love the shoes! the yellow is great!

  37. susie_bubble says:

    Alright so here comes the responses….
    Kit: I had one too‚Ķ but I just can’t bring myself to wear it…
    Penny: You’re right, it is precisely the supposed minority cultures that are appropriated by the ‘Western’ culture and even if there were any vice versa motions, perhaps that is supposed to be completely acceptable?
    Erika: That dress DOES look it’s from India‚Ķ seems like a pretty OFF judgement to make for Free people‚Ķ
    Leah: I suppose your comment warrants the longest reply‚Ķ and I agree with you in some points….
    You’re right, my attitude does speak for myself and for myself alone. Of course people who feel offence are entitled to that especially if they feel something sacred has been compromised‚Ķ
    But in all fairness, I wouldn’t say I’m in a privileged position either‚Ķ. one could say that the racial abuse that i experienced as a child growing up in the UK (I’m not angry about it or anything‚Ķit’s just the same old shit like the kids doing the slitty eye thing, people shouting things at you on the street‚Ķ though I did have some very scary incidents in a swimming pool when girls would crowd around me saying “Go back to China!” and drown my head under the water‚Ķ) could have in turn then made me think that it was somehow wrong for someone to then appropriate my culture‚Ķ. it hasn’t but if it did, I suppose I’d have a reason why‚Ķ
    I would agree with you that with Native Americans, in all their tribes, there is a PERTINENT issue where they are being continually oppressed that it is a far more complicated issue, especially when profit is being made by the Western culture off the backs of them…
    What I’m trying to say is though where are the lines to be drawn‚Ķ. with practically every minority culture, you could draw some sort of issue of oppression – e.g. racism in Salford, Islam-hate linked to terror, ignorance to what is going on in Congo‚Ķetc‚Ķ all of that committed by the ‘West’‚Ķ yet from all of those there are sari-inspired pieces floating around in past Jean Paul Gaultier collections, Islamic art motifs in some print or another and Paul Smith taking some notes from Congolese sapeurs…
    So does this mean that everything needs to be fully authentic and bought from the source culture or not…?
    But yes, my point is still that cultures need to be acknowledged and credited and that in general, I think it’s great to encourage education about world fashion (and not just Western dress‚Ķ this looks particularly useful‚Ķ http://www.bergpublishers.com/BergFashionLibrary/BergEncyclopediaofWorldDressandFashion/tabid/3748/Default.aspx) and then modes of abstraction are therefore still acceptable in my eyes – well‚Ķ I guess there is no end to it anyway seeing as cultural appropriation is pretty much so far gone…
    I suppose this in someway answers Mary’s comment too‚Ķ
    Elissa: Yes, the idea of NOT sharing cultures now would seem extremely strange‚Ķ but I guess Leah’s issue and the opinion of that blog is particularly specific to Native Americans…
    Elsa: Well, I’ve already decided my position with the dress which is that as it isn’t a ‘sacred’ dress necessarily that the dress itself isn’t problematic though I would agree with Leah’s points regarding the wearing of Native American sacred dress‚Ķ
    Esti: That touches upon ‘religious’ cultural borrowing which is a WHOLE other issue – THIS I probably have more of a problem with because religion should be sacred‚Ķ
    Luiza: Yes, exactly we have become a cultural melting point but at some points, there are still boundaries… love what you said about the basis of Brazilian culture….
    Eline: Yes, definitely agreeing with you over the ‘sacredness’ of a garment/piece‚Ķ.
    Frances: Point taken and i think I would change my attitude with regards to certain items but of course, it’s also hard for EVERYONE to be educated about the symbolism of certain attire‚Ķ
    Poochie: Again all agreed about the exploitation and miscommunication of someone else’s culture through profit-making eyes!
    Kendall: Hopefully in this comment I’ve said everything I need to say!

  38. valerie says:

    susie,
    you are the brightest blogger on the net…the dress seems like it’s more South American than mexican, though it may very well be from central america…i love the gingham, long pippie long tails tassels and the little dude standing atop a pile of what looks like books to me..xoxo indie queen

  39. Kendall says:

    thanks susie, you’re a doll. keep it up.

  40. ripley says:

    thanks for raising this discussion!
    I think the issue is especially important to consider not just for “minority” cultures, but for indigenous people who are victims of nearly being wiped out by colonizers. I don’t want to make a hierarchy of suffering by any means, but i do think the question of “cultural survival” matters more when people were (or continue to be) victims of systematic ‘extermination.’ when you are talking about Native Americans, for example, that is really what the history is. Europeans actively tried to destroy indigenous people and their culture. Similarly in Australia, New Zealand, etc and lots of other places. So the dominant or just outsider culture suddenly picking up one aspect of the indigenous culture and making money off of it while stripping it of its connection to indigenous people can be particularly painful in light of that history and of that continuing fact (indigenous people are punished for or forced to renounce some cultural practices even tody).

  41. Nickie Frye says:

    Those shoes are amazing!

  42. Kris says:

    Oh, great outfit, loving the colours!

  43. nice chinese clothing, it is a nationality or only you design by yourself. whatever, i like this color.

  44. moncler says:

    I think it look profect if it can match a same clothes hat .

  45. vasilieva says:

    this look is absolutely adorable, love this certain cultural feel of the robe and the striking yellow shoes
    vasilieva
    http://elenavasilieva.blogspot.com/
    xx

  46. Carmen says:

    Your dress is Magic !
    I really love it !
    Xx

  47. Olive says:

    Love your dress.It looks cute on you :)

  48. MsM says:

    I agree with Leah and Elise’s points whole-heartedly.
    I would also like to suggest the concept of what is ‘native’ and what is ‘not’. For example, I bought a cheap bronze looking necklace of two interlocking feathers in Chinatown (LOL!). To me, one culture does not have a monopoly on feathers, so in my opinion it is a design I wear to add a touch of ‘something’ to my Spring/Summer outfits (usually with red/olive or white/olive/tan color schemes).
    However, a HEADDRESS is a TOTALLY different ball game. From what I understand there are language groups that have feather headdresses that speak directly on status etc. These elements were appropriated to be seen as the ‘norm’ of a ‘dying race’ and were propogated through colonial history and photography.
    As far as traditional dress, I choose to leave that alone entirely unless it is Croatian (my cultural background). But even in my culture, we have different regional groups where the embroidery explicitely links who culturally Imperalized us! My mother is from inland country, my father coastal…I could realistically wear both but to wear another region (and I actually DO prefer the Dalmation islands colors and embroidery) would not be appropriate.

  49. MsM says:

    FYI Bettie Page clothing is about to release a ‘retro’ Qi Pao for their Fall collection and I won’t lie, I am toying with investing in the black one with white piping…I cannot deny that the basic Qi Pao design can turn my fashion feelers all fuzzy on occasion :)
    Appropriation? Yes, both of regional design as well as the 1960′s fashion era :)
    http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=33674555823&share_id=129769003735773&comments=1#!/photo.php?pid=4493294&id=179136394420&ref=fbx_album

  50. Computerized pilots are not like regular pilots in that There was time when I took an active interest in the oil price. I made the classical economic assumption that the price was predominantly set by the ironclad laws of Supply & Demand. Not anymore. I can go for weeks now without knowing what the price is. But my curiosity was renewed yesterday when I noticed that a barrel of oil

  51. Leslie says:

    Wow, I’m mad late to the game. Just my two cents, since this is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit.
    For me, I think it is okay to draw inspirations from other cultures; what is important here then is that the fashion designer (in this scenario) respects the source that they are drawing from and utilizes it in a way that that is interesting, new, and innovative. Of course, that is subject to personal opinion as well. I felt that the past seasons of Dries van Noten and Proenza Schouler were done very well, because you could clearly recognize the references, but they were not reiterations of stereotyped tropes that Karl Lagerfeld’s last ‘India-inspired’ collection was.
    That being said. Personally for me it was a little uncomfortable for me to see you wearing the traditional Miao clothing from your recent trip to China (talk about anachronistic references here).. Forgive me if I am wrong, but aren’t you Han Chinese? Clothing and the identities associated with it in mainland China have transformed so much that I think we are in agreement that the cheongsam/qipao has become costumey (in that it is associated with a distinct, brief period in Chinese history).
    That being said, for something like the Miao clothing, it is a symbol of their ethnic identity and cultural heritage, one that distinguishes 90% of the rest of us moping around in China and diaspora communities around the world. Given the way that the Chinese government (Communist or otherwise) has treated ethnic minorities in China over the past centuries…it seems like kind of a politically delicate quandary to me.
    But maybe I am wrong. Maybe it’s good because it will give readers with a cultural claim to these garments to discover new ways to incorporate their ethnic identity into their everyday clothing. Personally I would like an updated version of the zhongshan, because I would like the jacket to wear over my dresses.
    Again, quite late. I considered posting this to one of your more recent entries, but it did not seem to fit…

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