Sarah wrote this in the comments section of the last post:
“PB, Here’s a question I’ve been stewing over since reading this (and other recent) posts re: muumuus, caftans, Hawaiian Shirts, etc. I think a muumuu or Hawaiian shirt is great if you’re Hawaiian. Otherwise it has an inauthentic tinge to it. Clothes associated with a culture other than one’s own have the potential to look very out-of-place on one’s body. For me, this begs the question: What is “good etiquette” regarding wearing clothes associated with cultures and ethnicities other than one’s own? Like a white non-Latina non-Spanish speaking minister who wears a Guatemalan woven dress (and hasn’t been to Guatemala), or a non-Indian wearing a salwar khamise to a professional meeting. I think some issues that need to be taken into account are one’s relationship to a culture and the context in which the clothing item was received/acquired. Also, to be frank, whether the wearer is “posing”–trying to appropriate some of the “vibe” or stereotypes about a culture into their own vibe.Personally, I’ve sometimes felt like a poser when I’ve worn clothes associated with ethnicities other than my own (I can legitimately claim Jewish, Scottish, and English ethnic clothes. Yay for grandmotherly head scarves, riding pants, and tartans!) What do you and others think and feel about this issue?”
PB just today bought an adorable scarf at an outlet store. As she tried it out in her hair, the lady at the cash register said, “Some people can pull that look off, but most people can’t. You can.” Quoth I, “Well, I come from a long line of babushka-wearing women from Eastern Europe so I come by it naturally.”
PeaceBang, you see, feels ethnic enough on her own without having to borrow other people’s ethnicities to give her some mojo.
I think you put it perfectly. Sometimes wearing clothing from another culture can be a compliment, a tribute, an expression of affinity (like when you just plain LOVE that dashiki and it feels it belongs on you). A lot of the time, however, people don ethnic garb with a smug preciousness as if to say, “Look at how down with the people I am in my little Guatamalan hat.”
When they do that, I want to pinch them. I think you’re right, Sarah. There’s a lot of “vibe appropriation” going on out there, and as much as I don’t want to live in a world of Eddie Bauer and Dockers, I also don’t want to go to another gathering of liberals and be treated to the self-satisfied mug of the old white guy in the kimono, if you know what I’m saying.
Dudes and dudesses, if you scored that Indian shirt while on tour with the Maharishi, okay. Props to you (mostly because you can still fit into it). But if you have no personal, experiential connection to the garb, or an ethical relationship to the people who would customarily wear that garb, please.
Give it a rest.