Singer Kesha Sebert dons Native American attire.

Is Cultural Appropriation a Part of Fashion?

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “Navajo?” Do you shop at Urban Outfitters, and why? Are you interested in law and court cases? What does appropriation mean, especially when linked to fashion? Is it good or bad? These are all challenging questions that can be answered extensively. These are not simple yes or no questions, and neither is it easy to define appropriation, but I feel it is a term that people find applicable and connote negatively. It is, in essence, a negative word, to me, especially when we talk about cultural appropriation, but it does not necessarily mean what you may think it to mean when considered in the context of fashion.


Urban Outfitters has actually recently won its case against the Navajo Nation, which initially was filed by them in 2012. The question leads to how they brand their items, whether they are essential clothing items or then utility items. Judge Bruce Black ruled the case, approving the retailer and place for beatnik shoppers, the ability to brand their items by the name of “Navajo.” Urban Outfitters actually even claimed, as a defense, that they brand their items to describe the style or print of the item. So as not to contravene issues of political correctness and colonialist histories, this label is supposed to be used as descriptive and to have ascertained and branded styles and prints. It should not evoke the irrevocably and indescribably depressing and devastating histories of cultural appropriation and colonial thinking inflicted on the tribes of Native Americans.

When the use of a word can be interpreted as offensive, it can be problematic, but when given a voice for them to justify their usage of the word, it can be clarified. Should this be called cultural appropriation and should we stand against branding in this form? In popular culture, ample icons and stars have exhibited the clothing that is described as “tribal.” Every class on colonialism that, personally, I have taken, has shed cultural appropriation in a negative light, and why not? It is negative, no doubt. The question, though, is, is this considerably a form of colonialism, neocolonialism, and cultural approbation?

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