The Importance of Cultural Appropriation in Fashion

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Evidence 1 - Undermines the culture Indigenous people have fought to preserve for decades and strips it of its significance.

Suffering from centuries worth of genocide, Indigenous people continue to fight to preserve their culture and traditions. However, appropriation has led to the modernization of Indigenous clothing through costumes that undermine the oppression they continue to endure. Firstly, these costumes have stolen parts of their culture and stripped them of their significance, a pattern that has been repeating itself for centuries.

Headdress - The headdress is one of the most disrespectful and explicit examples of culturally appropriated costumes because it belittles what elders in Native communities have spent their lifetime earning. In Indigenous culture, the headdress is a symbol of bravery and strength created from bird feathers, each of which signifies an accomplishment. Warriors also prepare days in advance for receiving it. As a result, the headdress is only worn by those who have earned this honor such as powerful and influential members of communities. Despite this, it has been taken out of its context and used as a costume worn at festivals, parades, and Halloween. For another person, especially a non-Native to go out and wear it is a mockery of what elders in Indigenous communities have spent their lifetime earning. It is inappropriate to walk into a store, buy a headdress and slap it onto your head without acknowledging its meaning to someone else.

Clothing - Halloween costumes inaccurately portray what traditional clothing truly looks like and is made of. Much like a rip-off, these costumes have modernized and sexualized sacred clothing.

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Body Paint - On Halloween, individuals not only appropriate Indigenous clothing but add paint on their bodies to further stigmatize this group of people. Intentionally or not, what they’re unaware of is that body art is an “ancient tradition which carries deep spiritual significance”. There are specific designs and ways that body painting can be carried out, so, for someone to wear it as apart of their costume is unseemly. For example, different colours and symbols can denote different things about the person wearing it such as tribe, responsibilities, social status, etc. It is worn during ceremonies and cultural liveliness. To this group of people, it is not just 'paint', it is a part of their identity and culture.

Weapons - Often associated with Native/Indigenous Halloween costumes are also weapons. These plastic pieces of garbage contribute to the appropriation of Indigenous clothing because they’re inaccurate portrayals of Indigneous life. They keep this group of individuals stuck in the past and perpetuate a stigma of “savages”. The most ironic thing about Native costumes is that before 1951, Indigenous people needed permission from an Indian Agent to wear their traditional clothing off reserves.

So, for someone to purchase a Native costume today, not only strips it of its significance, it undermines the oppression they endure and culture they have been fighting to preserve for decades. These costumes remove integral parts of their culture and perpetuate harmful stigmas, hence, they should not be worn.

Evidence 2 - Indigenous costumes perpetuate the sexualization of females in the community.

“Sexy Tribal Native Costume”, “Women's Native American Healer Costume”, “Sexy Indian Princess Costume”, available now at By purchasing these costumes, individuals are promoting the imperial narrative and projecting the idea that Indigenous women are “savages”. In addition, these costumes also perpetuate the sexualization, romanization, and exotification of Indigenous females. In fact, many are unaware that the costume “Sexy Indian Princess” is emblematic of the rape and degradation young Indigenous girls faced in history. This is proven in letters Columbus wrote as he stated, “there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” By dressing up in sexualized Indigenous/Native costumes, you inaccurately reflect the women of this group and succumb to the stigmas they encounter. While appropriators may argue that it is light-hearted, choosing to emulate a member of another culture is blatantly disrespectful. These individuals may not realize it, but by wearing a “sexy Native costume”, they invoke dangerous stereotypes, many of which are contributing factors to the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Evidence 3 - These costumes are produced by non-native people.

Traditional clothing is made in very specific ways in different Native communities. Taking elements of their culture erases the meaning of what they practice. From top to bottom, each bead on an actual pow wow dress, each design, pattern, feather and colour means something. But intentionally or unwittingly, manufactures of costumes modernize this clothing and remove an integral cultural part of it for mere profit and their personal gain. When re-created by a non-native person, they deprive the clothing of its cultural significance.

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