August 27, 2010

"Navajo" fashion in Seventeen

Adrienne reports on another fashion faux pas in her Native Appropriations blog:

"Navajo" Fashion Spread in SeventeenCultural 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.
Comment:  I guess what makes these fashions "Navajo" are the "sunset colors and woolly knits." These things may apply more to the Navajo than to some tribes, but they're extremely generic. It's like calling a painting English because it has fog and umbrellas in it. Yes, the English are more likely to have fog and umbrellas than Saharan nomads, for instance, but that's not saying much. It's pretty lame to identify a culture so generically.

If this were just a "tribal fashion" spread without the dreamcatacher, I wouldn't consider it offensive. I don't think it's wrong to wear clothes with Native designs. Problems arise when the fashion is overly stereotypical (e.g., with feathers and fringe) or when someone misidentifies it.

For more Native-style fashion, see Aztec, Inca, and Avatar-Inspired Fashion and Audigier's Stereotypical Fashions.

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