Perhaps the most contentious topic in fashion over the past ten years, cultural appropriation touches on a pressure point for many, as we grapple with the question, “who owns culture?” This is precisely the question that law scholars like Susan Scafidi pose as we are immersed in a globalized society, and philosophers like James O. Young examine the ethical implications of appropriating culture outside of one’s own lived experience—for the sake of art and inspiration. ⁣⁣
Yet, when it comes to why people grow upset over cultural appropriation—particularly in the world of fashion—it’s a matter of power dynamics, most notably articulated by scholar Minh-Ha T. Pham. Pham, who has written that she is exhausted with the discourse on cultural appropriation, seeks to further complicate and interrogate the mechanisms of cultural, material borrowing—calling it ‘racial plagiarism.’ ⁣⁣
All of this said, the key issue we hope to address here is that privilege and the balance of power (between individuals, cultures) must be in the purview each time we see an object or style borrowed. There must be a personal line of questioning: Who/Where did this come from? What is its history or significance? Will my borrowing/inspiration of this object or style cause harm?⁣⁣
Let’s research cultural appropriation together. Here’s a few items from our shelf to get you started:

three runway models with their hair arranged in multi-colored dredlocks

Marc Jacobs Spring 2017 Ready To Wear Collection⁣⁣

Be sure to check out a second reading list by Laura Beltrán-Rubio: A Short Introduction to Cultural Appropriation II, and we also invite you to explore other resources under the keyword cultural appropriation, as this topic is addressed from various angles.