I've been pondering this question for awhile now as you all surely have noticed by my slight suggestions at the subject in previous posts. But it was especially after the African Queen editorial was released that made me decide to pursue this inquiry on the blog. It's one that is hard to approach for me especially as I feel like I am someone that is on the outside looking in. By that I mean that I am from the foothills of North Carolina. My family is from there and I have no real culture that I consider myself to be apart of outside of my mixed Western European heritage. Since the 1960's fashion has democratized into something that was more than just an industry that set trends but into something that allowed people to make decisions about their attire that expressed more than just their own culture and lifestyle but their unique identity by wearing other's. That is how I became interested in fashion and while I think there is a huge difference between fashion and style today I want to focus on the fashion aspect of this issue.
A few months ago I became friends with a girl originally from Tanzania. I was fascinated by her traditional garments and she was unbelievably generous enough to give me a few pieces such as the one's seen above. I see many girls around my campus wearing these long scarves as hijabs yet my friend does not even though she follows the Islam religion. I asked her if it was a choice or if some people's parents make them wear it? She told me that it was a choice and that from time to time she will wear her's but uses it more as a fashion accessory that also is revealing her spiritual beliefs.
I myself have always wanted to wear scarves in these same styles but have never wanted to be seen as wearing it frivolously or disrespectfully and thus have not other than for photo shoots. Strangely I have no issue wearing the tunic or the pants but when it comes to wrapping my head with a scarf I feel like I am trespassing on taboo territory. Perhaps it is because the hijab is such a major symbol for a religious belief at this point that my lack of belief makes the wearing of a hijab style feel insulting. However I still love the style and understand it's history and think it is beautiful and the history behind it's meanings is beautiful. Thus after reading a few other bloggers opinions on the matter and having countless discussions with my peers I have come to the conclusion that as long as you understand the history of a piece then it is ok to wear it. With google at our fingertips in today's day and age it is unacceptable to claim ignorance. Maybe you don't know what you bought into when you purchased that tribal print skirt at Forever 21 but if you are confronted with the knowledge or deeper historical roots of it one day it is your job to take the time to read more into. To understand what it is you are presenting yourself as and from there you can understand what you are doing differently with it and if your ok with that.
"Fashion parodies itself. In elevating the ephemeral to cult status it ultimately mocks many of the moral pretensions of the dominant culture, which, in turn, has denounced it for its surface frivolity while perhaps secretly stung by the way in which fashion pricks the whole moral balloon. At the same time fashion is taken at face value and dismissed as trivial, in an attempt to deflect the sting of its true seriousness, its surreptitious unmasking of hypocrisy." -Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams
This is a quote from my most current book about fashion from a sociological perspective. What it has made me conclude is that fashion is a serious and extremely complex industry. It can be looked at from multiple perspectives with extreme differences in meaning ranging from surface frivolity to cultural and individual insight. It is clearly an industry of both which makes it all the more challenging sometimes to understand or fully accept. The frivolousness of fashion makes it easy for us to look past the ways it could be mocking or poking fun at religions or cultures. Sometimes when I look at the runway collections I am shocked at some of the things that get sent down but then realize that most of the people tweeting how amazing it is probably don't even recognize the symbolism. I applaud the critics and art/fashion historians that are able to point out what is happening and look forward to seeing more people like that in the industry. People like Bill Cunningham, Diane Vreeland, Nick Knight, Susie Bubble and Tim Blanks. To me these are people that really pay attention and are willing to call themselves (because they themselves are apart of the fashion industry in some way or another) out. By doing this they are able to move beyond the face value and understand its true seriousness. So whether you are wearing bindi jewelry, scarves wrapped around your head, tribal prints or logo sweaters it's important to understand it's history so as not to reinforce the frivolous and trivial reputation fashion has. Morality can exist in fashion, we just have to be willing to put in the research hours.