Author Topic: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"  (Read 9778 times)

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Slartibartfast

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2013, 05:07:58 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.

This would be the big thing, for me.  Every culture has some sort of clothing/jewelry/hairstyles which carries a secondary meaning, or is appropriate for only one segment of the population.  Often it is something you have to "earn" - you've gone through particular religious rites, you're a specific age and gender and social status, you have a specific occupation, etc.  We've got this in the US too - plenty of people would be offended if I went around in a military officer's uniform (having had no military experience), wearing a yarmulke (not being male or Jewish), wearing a wedding ring if I wasn't married, wearing a sundress/pigtails/makeup if I were a man, etc.  Obviously not all of these would be equally offensive to everyone, but most people would find them ranging from odd to really rude.

I assume that many of the cultural "costumes" (for lack of a better word) we see in other countries carry similar baggage.  Some may just be odd to see on someone who doesn't fit the right demographic, but some may be downright offensive.  If - by virtue of my race and nationality - I'm the wrong demographic to wear something, I think it's important to acknowledge that and only wear it in places or ways it won't be likely to offend anyone.  On the other hand, some clothing is associated with a particular culture because it fits the climate and it's comfortable and for no other reason - I think those are perfectly fine to appropriate in whatever manner strikes your fancy  :)

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2013, 06:18:54 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.

I disagree with this. If a person hasn't earned the right to wear something, then they shouldn't wear it. Race has nothing to do with it. If it's offensive for a non-Native to wear it because they haven't earned the right, then it should be just as offensive for a Native who hasn't earned the right to wear it.

I think that's exactly where this issue gets sticky. If you (general) are offended by a person wearing distiguishing garb, because they haven't earned it, that's legitimate. If you are offended by a person wearing distinguishing garb, because they are of a different race, that's a problem for me.
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jaxsue

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #17 on: August 18, 2013, 06:23:02 PM »
Interesting thread.

A town very close to mine (as in 2 miles from my home) has the largest Indian population in the US. You drive through their business district, and every store/restaurant is Indian. I love the look of the saris, and even the shirts you see the women wearing around town (not dressy) look awesome. I would love to wear, at least, the shirts. They look so comfortable. I hesitate because I am totally WASP; I don't want to offend anyone.

I do have a few Japanese items of clothing, because my brother lives there. I don't think it's wrong that I own them. Of course, no one expects to wear a heavy wedding kimono, just because!  :)

I do agree with PPs about some native dress. I'd never wear any Native American items that have spiritual significance. I grew up in an area with a large NA population and you just knew that wasn't the right thing to do.

My X and I used to be into a lot of Scottish/Irish festivals. We had kilts and all the extras that go along with that. I have no problem with people who don't have a Celtic background wearing the clothes associated with it (unless they are just mocking it, which I've never seen).




blarg314

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #18 on: August 18, 2013, 08:52:38 PM »

This is a tricky one, I think. It can be done, but it takes a bit of thought.

It does matter if the outfit in question is one that people from that culture wear in normal life, or if it's an item of special cultural or religious significance.

I think there also is an issue of cultural dynamics between dominant and oppressed cultures.

Kilts have a long tradition behind them, and different patterns are attached to different clans. But wearing a kilt to a music festival is unlikely to make people of genuine Scottish descent upset, although they might laugh at the inauthenticity of your tartan. A caucasian person wearing a  feathered headress from a Native American tribe as a playful costume - that's a totally different thing, in large part due to the historical treatment of the one culture by the other. 



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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #19 on: August 18, 2013, 09:06:15 PM »
^^^ Agreed.

OTOH, we had a thread a while back about someone who wanted to wear a kilt to a wedding and the general consensus was that it was a bad idea, because kilts were not generally worn in their area and their set and it could be seen as attention seeking.
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Library Dragon

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2013, 09:15:43 PM »
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.

POD

I've always found that wearing salwar chemise to be very practical.  I shy away from very traditional fabrics in fear of looking like I'm "drawing attention". As a very pale WASC I don't want to look disrespectful.

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Millionaire Maria

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #21 on: August 18, 2013, 09:44:34 PM »

This is a tricky one, I think. It can be done, but it takes a bit of thought.

It does matter if the outfit in question is one that people from that culture wear in normal life, or if it's an item of special cultural or religious significance.

I think there also is an issue of cultural dynamics between dominant and oppressed cultures.

Kilts have a long tradition behind them, and different patterns are attached to different clans. But wearing a kilt to a music festival is unlikely to make people of genuine Scottish descent upset, although they might laugh at the inauthenticity of your tartan. A caucasian person wearing a  feathered headress from a Native American tribe as a playful costume - that's a totally different thing, in large part due to the historical treatment of the one culture by the other.

I've always wondered how to reconcile this with the concept of "white guilt", though. I strongly dislike white guilt and I think it does nothing to promote equality and progress. Making fun of any culture is certainly rude, but if someone thinks it's more offensive because the perpetrator is Caucasian, that's something I just can not get behind. It's not okay to tell members of a race that they shouldn't do something, specifically because of their race. Besides that, there are Caucasian people all over the world who's ancestors had nothing to do with the atrocities committed in North America.
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Promise

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #22 on: August 18, 2013, 10:11:12 PM »
What is the difference between this and a woman in India wearing jeans and a tee with tennies? As an American, I wouldn't think it odd to see western dress on a woman who might typically wear local cultural dress in her country.

White Lotus

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #23 on: August 18, 2013, 10:28:56 PM »
  I would never wear something of religious or serious cultural significance to someone else -- like Native American dress, and I would enquire if I did not know.  I dislike cultural groupies and wanna-bes, but that is much more about attitude than the actual clothes.  If you simply love the clothes and aren't trying to BE a faux-whatever, why not wear the clothes where and how you see them worn?  Wear what makes you feel beautiful, while always being uniquely yourself. 

Nemesis

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #24 on: August 19, 2013, 12:31:20 AM »
It has very much to do with the actual clothing itself. For example, Chinese do wear the qipao, or cheongsam, or variations of it for outings. Indians do wear the sari for outings as well. However, the more elaborate versions of the qipao and sari are reserved for special occasions like weddings and formal dinners. So it is like wearing a nice summer dress versus a ball gown or prom dress - you need to know the occasion and the type of dress that you own. Wearing a prom dress to your office is really like wearing a costume, and you would expect people to raise their eyebrows. Wearing an elaborate sari or qipao will get you a lot of giggles and stares from members of that cultural group. And they would probably assume that you're going out for a party.

Btw, qipao and sari are dresses for nice outings, meeting friends etc. If you're planning to go to the grocery store, you don't wear them. They are not the equivalent of jeans and t-shirt.

Now kilts are a different story. I don't think the Scottish wear kilts everyday for normal activities. So if you wear one, I do think you'd draw lots of attention.

Teenyweeny

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #25 on: August 19, 2013, 04:51:57 AM »
There are three very simple questions to ask yourself before you wear a piece of clothing from another tradition.

1) Am I wearing it appropriately? You wouldn't wear a western wedding dress to a funeral, for example. Find out when it is appropriate to wear the item. Some things, like war bonnets, will probably never be appropriate for you to wear.

2) Could this be in any way construed as 'dressing up as another race'? If the answer is even a little bit yes, take it off, now.

3) Would you feel embarrassed wearing *item* in front of a stranger from its associated group?


If your answers are 1) Yes. 2) No, 3) No, then you are probably good to go, but still proceed with caution.



guihong

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #26 on: August 19, 2013, 11:10:05 AM »
My apartment complex has a large Indian population, relative to the city itself.  Many of the older women wear saris, but the younger women mostly wear what look like loose pantsuits-long tops over flared pants.  They are so comfortable looking, that one day I asked one of my son's friends (he is Indian) where I might get one, and if it would be all right, given I'm not Indian.  Come to find out it's more than OK and there was an Indian clothing shop nearby :)



NyaChan

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #27 on: August 19, 2013, 11:14:23 AM »
My apartment complex has a large Indian population, relative to the city itself.  Many of the older women wear saris, but the younger women mostly wear what look like loose pantsuits-long tops over flared pants.  They are so comfortable looking, that one day I asked one of my son's friends (he is Indian) where I might get one, and if it would be all right, given I'm not Indian.  Come to find out it's more than OK and there was an Indian clothing shop nearby :).

Salwar Kameez - you can shop for them online too http://www.fabindia.com.  If you check out the kurti section, they have ones that are easy to wear over jeans as well.   

saki

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #28 on: August 19, 2013, 12:55:38 PM »
My cultural background is Indian and I have no problem at all with Westerners wearing saris.  Various people in my family, myself included, have taken English friends to Indian areas of London to shop, etc.  Saris aren't inherently formal - it depends on the type of sari.  Some are quite plain, some are highly embroidered/decorated (some in between), some are more formal fabrics (e.g. silk) others are washable (e.g. cotton), it's like Western clothing really.  Similarly salwar kameez are not inherently less formal, they just originate from different regions of India.

The only thing that does sometimes annoy me is when people wear them incorrectly - and, even then, it's not so much that I think it's rude or anything, more that I itch to rearrange it.


Outdoor Girl

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Re: Wearing clothing from another culture S/O "Feeling a bit like a prop"
« Reply #29 on: August 19, 2013, 01:17:20 PM »
Are salwar kameez the loose fitting pants with the long, often embellished, tunic over top?

I love those - they look so comfortable and beautiful and would seem to hide a multitude of sins.   ;)

And I just read NyaChan's post so I now know that is indeed what they are called.

A cousin of mine - as WASP as you can get, considering his mother was an Anglican priest - married an Indian girl.  They had a ceremony in the Anglican church with his mother doing the service, where the bride wore a western wedding dress.  The next day, they had a shortened version of a Hindu wedding - still took an hour - and the bride wore a beautiful, elaborate red sari.  Her family had brought back saris for the groom's mother to try and the tunics for the groom and his father, too.  She was a bigger lady, both in height and girth and looked absolutely fabulous in the sari.  I was only a teenager at the time and I was fascinated by the whole proceeding.
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