Fashion’s Cultural-Appropriation Debate: Pointless

by Minh-Ha T. Pham


“This is the problem with cultural-appropriation critiques. They depend on reductive binaries—“high culture” and “low culture,” and oftentimes, “first world” and “third world”—that preserve the hierarchical relations between the fashion industry and the cultures being appropriated. This is related to the problem with cultural-appreciation defenses. Producers and consumers of culturally appropriated objects often present them as examples of healthy cosmopolitanism, of an openness to diverse global sources of inspiration. But the Indonesian plaid example shows that such production and consumption of “diversity” can often—intentionally or accidentally—obscure the actual diversity and complexity of the cultural object being copied.

Instead of the appropriation discourse, I suggest that critics and designers engage in an “inappropriate” discourse, one that reframes the debate to include all the things that are not carried over when white Western creators swipe from elsewhere.”

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