Why is This a Good Thing?
Some people have commented that they don’t like the idea of people with no African heritage wearing these styles, and feel that it is appropriation. However, the fact that these unmistakably African looks are being appreciated and enjoyed in other parts of the world can really be seen as a good thing – when it is done purely out of enjoyment of the colors and designs rather than in a patronizing way. High end Italian design house Valentino was recently in the spotlight as part of the appropriation argument, following an ‘Africa themed’ fashion show, but many people believe it is actually a hopeful and positive thing that people are developing such an affection for African design.
Fashion and Global Inspiration
Adding prints inspired by other cultures to existing popular styles is nothing new in US and European fashion, with Indian, Chinese and Japanese fabrics and prints regularly making their way into and out of style. Even as early as the 1960’s, people were interested in wearing Asian inspired looks like Indian printed dresses and the Chinese Cheongsam style. By discovering the bright, bold and beautiful looks African people are accustomed to having in their wardrobes, designers really want to be seen as celebrating how great these cultures are, rather than using them as a fashion gimmick.
When Does Appreciation Become Appropriation?
It is always difficult to determine when people are crossing the line and being inadvertently offensive or racist when they choose to adopt the styles associated with another culture. However, in some ways it is hard to see how choosing a pretty, brightly colored print when designing a dress could offend anybody. When people wear things that have a religious or cultural meaning that not only doesn’t apply to them, but which they do not understand, this could be seen as taking things too far, as could wearing far too much culturally inspired clothing to the point where it looks like someone is trying to actually be of that culture. Simply adopting attractive African prints or beads, however, or African hairstyles as US model Kylie Jenner was recently criticized for, seems more like appreciation, which if anything, should be seen as positive.
While most people have a view on this issue, it is important to remember that at the end of the day, fashion is supposed to be fun and not taken too seriously!