Author Topic: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"  (Read 9827 times)

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Onyx_TKD

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The current thread about ethnically Indian bridesmaids being expected to wear saris to a Western wedding brought another topic to mind for me.

If you want to wear a type of clothing strongly associated with a culture not your own, what guidelines should you follow to do so respectfully? (Sorry if I don't express this clearly.)

Specific example: Saris
I have no Indian heritage at all, but I think saris are gorgeous. I also have a lovely sari given to me by an Indian friend who showed me how to wear it. So far, I've only worn it out of my house to go to some events at my university--a Diwali festival that my friend invited me to and an international festival where we were both wearing saris. But if I wanted to just wear a sari as regular clothing (assuming the sari was appropriately casual or formal for wherever I was going), would it seem inappropriate for a non-Indian woman? On the one hand, it's atypical clothing for someone of my own culture and I don't want to seem like I'm appropriating another culture's clothing as a "costume". On the other hand, I have an outfit that I love and that makes me feel pretty and it's just sitting in my closet because I'm not sure where to wear it. I live in a very multicultural area, so I see women wearing saris a lot...but they all appear ethnically Indian, and I don't know how it would be viewed if I did the same.

Nemesis

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2013, 12:51:05 AM »
I would wear it, especially if I lived in a multicultural city. It's only a costume if you treat it as such :)

delabela

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2013, 01:01:58 AM »
I think this is an interesting question.  It seems to me that there's a difficult line between 'appropriating' and 'respectfully adopting'.  I think people are likely to assume you are wearing it in a costumey way to some degree.  But then again, it's not the same as doing something like wearing an explicitly religious or otherwise meaningful garment in a casual way. 

I suppose the things I would look at are

- Is the item specifically religious or meaningful (such as worn for a funeral only)?  If so, am I using it for it's intended purpose?
- Will I be calling undue attention to myself (wearing something very attention getting to someone else's wedding for example)?
- Do I understand the history and purpose of the item?

As for the sari specifically, if you feel good in it and want to wear it, that seems fine to me.  It sounds like you are knowledgable about the original culture, and that your goal is not to be cool or different, but to wear something that makes you happy.

Millionaire Maria

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2013, 01:33:25 AM »
People appropriate the traditions of other cultures all the time. As long as one isn't doing so in an effort to be disrespectful, I think it's fine. I dislike the notion that I'm not allowed to wear or do certain things because of my race. I think that's a pretty universal feeling actually. Exclusiveness is not a flattering attribute to any culture.
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Miss Tickle

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2013, 02:02:19 AM »
I've always felt a sari is a bit too formal or fussy for regular dress, like a cocktail dress, or "Sunday best", so I wouldn't wear one in informal situations, but that's just me. I like to wear salwar chemise, so I know what you mean. As long as you are not attempting to draw attention, and wear proper undergarments, I can't see what would be disrespectful.

Steve

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2013, 04:34:30 AM »
I got married in a sari, and  have loved them ever since. I have a few of them at this moment, some more formal that I use for eveningwear, and some less formal that I use as summer dresses. In the the small indian shop where I buy them, I was told that the owner there could not understand why so few dutch girls came in, as sari's are so flattering to your figure and nice to wear (like you said, they make me feel al pretty and elegant too, but usually I am not even close to feeling that way).

She might have increased revenue in mind when telling me that, but I doubt that is the only thing. She sees sari's as clothes, not as costumes. So on a non-enthnic person, she will still see them as that: clothes.



Ms Marple

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2013, 04:48:21 AM »
I am so happy that someone started this thread. I am Dutch too and just came back from a wedding in India. I was told that it would be very much appreciated if we would wear Indian clothing at the wedding. I wore a sari at the wedding (with sari blouse and underskirt). It was indeed highly appreciated by the other attendants that we made the effort.

I am now planning a party at an Indian restaurant and have been debating with myself whether or not to wear my sari again. Thank you for solving my dilemma. I will be happily wearing my sari again at the party!

Amanita

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2013, 02:55:24 PM »
I'm a huge fan of costume, clothing, and textiles, and I've got quite a collection of clothes from various places. Kimono- both cotton yukata and elaborate wedding robe, a Chinese Qipao , two sari, both a simpler everyday one and a stunning green and gold brocade one, and a robe from Ghana.

I have been known to wear those out in public, and I don't get flack for it. I think it's because of how I carry myself- I don't consider the clothes to be costumes and don't wear them as such. I wear them like regular clothing. And I don't act any differently than I would in regular clothes.

When it comes to sari, I love how they look good on so many body types- unlike many western styles which only suit certain figures. Anyone from a rail-thin model to a generously sized woman can look awesome in one.

Now, that said, I've decided not to wear some things, like the string of Krishna beads I saw for sale at a local import store. I read the sign next to them explaining their purpose, and the things that a wearer would have to do to show the beads proper respect, such as practicing a strict vegan diet.
Needless to say, I decided not to bring those beads home with me, as I would not be able to meet the religious obligations.
Likewise, Native American/First Nations dress and regalia is a sensitive area- Outsiders wearing war bonnets, or misusing other objects or regalia is a real issue, and many Natives have asked outsiders not to do that.

So I think that as long as you don't treat the clothes like a costume and don't put on an act while wearing them (trying to act faux-Japanese like some obscessed Anime fans do, for example), I think it's fine. Cultures borrow from each other all the time.

AmethystAnne

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2013, 03:00:30 PM »
Sari fabric is beautiful!

I was curious about how to put on a sari. I looked up on YouTube and watched the video that was shown on Martha Steward's show in 2010(?).


Amanita

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2013, 03:06:03 PM »
Where is the original thread that inspired this? I can't seem to find it.

sweetonsno

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2013, 03:41:25 PM »
This is a good question. I like delabela's guidelines.

I think that it's important to understand the intended purpose of the garment or accessory and make sure that you are using it appropriately. I probably would not wear something that had a religious/spiritual significance casually. I also wouldn't wear something that was designed to be worn to only a particular type of event randomly.

I don't think there's anything wrong with wearing a sari out and about so long as you are wearing one that is at the appropriate level of formality. That said, I also live in a multicultural area (I also work with a number of Indian families), and I rarely see young women dressed in sari as everyday clothing. This may be unique to my area, but I think a lot of the young Indians around here treat them as formalwear.

squeakers

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2013, 03:53:40 PM »
Where is the original thread that inspired this? I can't seem to find it.

http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=129464.0
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Amanita

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2013, 04:05:52 PM »
thanks!

Shea

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #13 on: August 18, 2013, 04:18:08 PM »
People appropriate the traditions of other cultures all the time. As long as one isn't doing so in an effort to be disrespectful, I think it's fine. I dislike the notion that I'm not allowed to wear or do certain things because of my race. I think that's a pretty universal feeling actually. Exclusiveness is not a flattering attribute to any culture.

I do think there are times when intent doesn't matter, and it's offensive anyway. There's an unfortunate trend of some people wearing faux Native American war bonnets to music festivals and the like. Even though they almost certainly intend no offense, and simply find the bonnets aesthetically pleasing, the fact is that a non-Native person who has not earned the right to wear a war bonnet should not do so. Among Native cultures that have such regalia, there's an immense amount of spiritual significance attached to them, and if you haven't earned the right to wear one, your doing so is highly offensive to members of that culture, whether you mean offense or not.

Items that are simply clothing or decoration, however, are I think more up for grabs. For instance, I own some Navajo silver earrings (purchased from the Navajo artist who made them), a huipil (embroidered blouse worn by Maya women in southern Mexico and Guatemala) and a variety of other items I've bought while traveling. They're all distinctly from a culture of which I am not a member, but they have no spiritual significance in their cultures of origin, they're just regular items of clothing. That, I feel, is not offensive.


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Bijou

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2013, 04:28:13 PM »
I think some people can carry it off and others wouldn't be able to, looking, as you say, like a prop, or in costume.  There are also people who would object and resent someone not of that culture adopting their way of dressing.
I wouldn't even attempt it because I would feel self conscious.  However, I love the look, fabric and designs of saris.  I would feel comfortable with using the fabrics, incorporating the flow and so forth as part of my own style (like in scarves, blouses, skirts or dresses) short of wearing the actual garment.
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