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Cultural Styling: inspirational or offensive?

You could be forgiven for feeling like every day brings a new trend, a new phase, or a new “look” which is considered the must-have of the season. But how often do we really stop and think about where these different looks and concepts come from?

More often than not, style and image is taken from things we have seen and ideas that we recognise from other places. Some great examples include the revamp of the 1950’s housewife style head bands and tea dresses, and the reinvention of military uniform into something we now consider to be “camo fashion”. The fact is that no idea is ever 100% original: it must always come from somewhere else. And how far can we take this before we start to blur the boundaries between inspiration and causing offense?

Hair braids. Religious symbology. Feathered headdresses. Woven skirts. Bindi’s.

All of these are examples of fashions and trends which we have seen repeatedly on the mass market, and yet which have a far greater and deeper meaning somewhere else, whether it be another community, another country, or even another time period.

So, where is that line and when does cultural inspiration and exotic trend become offensive?

The line between inspiration and offense

The fact is that this largely depends on who you ask. Our world has become dominated by individuals with loud voices who share their own personal views and thoughts far more openly than others. These people own blogs, they run Youtube channels, and they operate widely in the media.

One of the best quotes we have read on this subject states that:

“You cannot offend someone; you can only get offended”.

What this quote introduces is the very basic idea that the only person you will ever be able to truly offend is yourself. Life is all about interpretation: if you choose to view Kim Kardashian’s head braids as offensive, then you are free to do so. However, someone else might look at them and herald her for her use of a practical and aesthetically pleasing hairstyle.

Someone else might look at Urban Outfitters’ feather headdresses and see them as an offensive take on ancient Aboriginal tribe culture: but just because they think that, does it really mean that they are right?

The biggest lesson we need to learn is that it’s okay to wear whatever we want to wear – as long as we do so in a way which is respectful of any cultural messages that we may be portraying. Most of this is super simple: don’t wear huge slogans which outwardly offend a specific culture, don’t wear something just to make fun of a cultural or religious concept, and take the time to consider who you will be seeing when you decide to wear a particular outfit.  

Besides, in a similar way, there are some cultural trends which have seen huge success and which the Western world has adapted and truly made its own over the last few years and decades. Beaded jewellery, fur lined boots, faux fur coats, eyeliner and even knitwear started life as culturally significant designs and pieces. Our modern versions may be unrecognizable, but that shouldn’t stop us from understanding where they came from and what inspired our modern designs.

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