Cultural appropriation in fashion has now gone seriously mainstream. The favorite read of tweens and teens everywhere, Seventeen Magazine, featured this “Navajo” fall fashion spread in their August issue. On many levels, I find this even more offensive than having a generic “tribal fashion” spread. I know I always point out that those spreads lump a million different Native tribes, images, and traditions into one catch-all, otherizing, “tribal” idea–and at least this one listed a tribe, right? Yeah, not so much.
They still rely on generalized Native stereotypes, but this time are referring to a specific
culture. This points to the fact that in the collective American consciousness, all tribes are interchangeable. Navajo, Ojibwe, Kootenai, take your pick. They’re all the same! For instance, dream catchers: definitely not Navajo. Would I still be upset if they had
paid attention and made taken inspiration from actual Navajo culture? Like if they had a white model dressed up in a rug dress? Of course. But hopefully you see my point.
My friend Marlon did a little research, and found out that in January 1973 Seventeen actually did a cover story entitled: “Special Report: Today’s Young Navajos”. I love the cover image (below) for many reasons, but mainly because they didn’t have her pose in traditional clothes or try and have her conform to a more stereotypical image. She looks like she’s about to laugh, just hanging out with her friends. Well done. I can’t find the article, so I have no idea if the accompanying story was a shining example or a cringe-inducing piece, but it’s still pretty interesting to examine the cover alone:
As I was pulling together this post, I wanted a shocking, over-the-top example to illustrate how these fashion spreads make me feel every time I encounter them in magazines or on other fashion blogs…so I turned to polyvore and MS Paint, and made this:
UPDATE 8/28: After sleeping on it, I took it down. What was here was a “fashion” spread made up of various Africa/Urban/other Black stereotype “inspirations”. It didn’t illustrate my point, and any point it did make was at the expense of another marginalized group with not nearly enough context or description given. I was going for a visceral reaction, but in a blogging world where most page views are a matter of seconds, it’s definitely not enough to throw that up there alone. I also want you to focus on the juxtaposition of the two Seventeen images rather than my misguided attempts at making a point. Apologies for my initial transgressions, and in the words of Kanye West’s prolific Twitter: IT’S A PROCESS. Thanks for bearing with me.
I bet every fashion blogger making an Native-inspired version relies on the same tatic–pulling together complete stereotypes of what they think of when they hear “Native American”. We are so much more than that–but to the readers of the August issue of Seventeen and the fashion blogosphere, we are simply feathers, dream catchers, headdresses, warpaint, moccasins, and beads. Nothing more.
(Thanks Lauren and Marlon!)