Inspiration in Conservative Dress: Inspiration or Appropriation?

Inspiration in Conservative Dress is a reoccurring series of posts of various modest and feminine outfits to inspire other women to dress modestly and resist society’s pressure to dress provocatively and subscribe to “hook up” culture. Through conservative dress, A Lady of Reason sends a message of resistance to the “sexual revolution” and radical liberal feminism, and the upholding of feminine virtue. Arguably, this could also extend to the support for social conservatism in general. How we dress signals who we are in society. I also want to state that this idea is not mine originally, but done on another religious blog called The Catholic Lady. I was inspired by hers to make a secular version for A Lady of Reason. 

For many of us, it is cool to be inspired by other peoples and cultures in our fashion. From what was once an innocuous Halloween costume, to cornrows, hoop earrings, tribal prints and more, are now deemed politically incorrect by the radical liberals. While many see it as innocuous fun, they feel it has a more sinister undertone. To them, it’s “cultural appropriation”. The idea is in essence, white people are “appropriating” or “stealing” another culture’s or country’s material culture and treating it condescendingly as “exotic” and “foreign”. Also they feel it sends the wrong message of “we’re entitled to use and enjoy your cultural assets, but not face the hardships and struggles of your people. We can just take off the costume when we feel like it…” whereas real people of that marginalized group cannot and have no choice in facing discrimination. For example, it’s “cool” for white people to act hipster and have cornrows, but when black people do it, they’re thugs. Or, you can pretend to be from the Orient, all reinforcing Orientalism and Western supremacy by treating their objects as exotic, as some examples.

Image result for cultural appropriation

Now, it’s true we shouldn’t be mocking or condescending another culture and what is important to them, but the question is, is that the intent of many who use other cultures’ styles today? The issue I have with it is, first of all, cultures have been borrowing from other cultures for centuries. In the ancient world, places like Ancient Rome, for example, were very cosmopolitan and they borrowed plenty of ideas and items, especially from the Greeks. Now, one could argue, then, as they argue for today’s cultural borrowing, or “cultural diffusion” in scholarly terms, that it’s a power imbalance for us, as the dominant group, or even Ancient Rome as the conquerors. They argue, minorities have to mimic us to be seen as valid and taken seriously, whereas we can simply choose what parts of their culture seem “cool” and imitate it without acknowledging the cultural context of it. That’s also why the liberals don’t see it as a double standard that many have adopted our way of life.

Image result for cultural diffusion ancient rome

I argue, however, that imitation can be a form of flattery too, or simply innocuous. In the historical example, Rome conquered the Greeks, and did in modern terms, “appropriate” much of their culture and ideologies, like philosophy. However, the Romans admired Greek culture, and thought much of it would help enhance Rome and make Rome better. Ancient Greek, like Latin is today, for them was the language of scholars and the well-educated. Greek slaves were prized as teachers and scholars. While there was a definite power imbalance, that did not mean the Romans looked condescendingly when they imitated the Greeks, quite the contrary, they wanted to emulate them. Now, we may not be trying to model our culture after others we borrowed stuff from time to time, but borrowing certainly does not mean condescension! I think much of the hoopla over it hearkens back to resentment over past colonialism when we were imposing our culture on theirs. Nowadays, many have a knee-jerk response to anything Western crossing their “turf” so to speak as they feel they have to be guarded and territorial over what they feel is “theirs”, like a dog guarding its food as it’s been taken away in the past. Emotion, not logic rules much of this debate. The stewing resentment of past colonialism.

Most people don’t think much of when they dress up in a cultural costume for Halloween, or decide to wear a cultural thing as a fashion piece. Condescension and Related imagedisrespect never even cross the minds of many at all, and would be horrified to think they did something disrespectful.  Sometimes, the idea to borrow something from another culture is because it looks interesting or they admire the craftsmanship, or the look. It’s something new and different, which aren’t bad things, like the snowflakes say. “Exotic” does not have to mean foreign in a bad way, or in a condescending way. It can simply mean something different, unique to what you’re used to. After all, what’s exotic is relative. Hamburgers and fries are quite “exotic” to the Bedouin nomads of Africa and the Middle East, wouldn’t you agree? 😉 Sometimes a little difference adds some flavor to life. As they say, if we were all the same, it would be pretty boring! Why not incorporate and be inspired another culture’s style sometimes? Cultures have exchanged looks, materials, technologies and ideas throughout history, why not us too?

A last point to make is also, who says certain items only “belong” to a certain group? what makes a group have the right to claim ownership of an item, such as hoop earrings for example? They’re not religious items, or some sort of medal, or even tied to one group! It’s not like a bindi dot for Hindus, or some native country’s traditional dress. Even then, there’s the hypocrisy of anyone can appropriate native European stuff, like Lederhosen, even if you’re not Germanic for example. You can dress up like a French person, or Italian, or English! It’s only for non-white peoples you can’t appropriate, but plenty of European groups faced ethnic prejudice in this country and towards each other in Europe! Why can we celebrate St. Patrick’s day if we’re not Irish when the Irish were caricatured as brutish apes by Americans only a century ago? African Americans haven’t been slaves in over a century, yet we’re not allowed hoop earrings? Or cornrows for that matter? Who said they own the concept of braided hair? A sombrero on Cinco de Mayo does not mean you’re bigoted and wish to subjugate Mexicans! It’s simply having fun sharing another culture’s tradition. I can see how some items may be best left alone if you’re not an insider, like religious-wear, ceremonies of deep significance, and such, but many things, like a fun Halloween costume, or hoop earrings, or braided hair, can “belong” to everyone. I think the key is intent: are you trying to mock another or be disrespectful? If the answer is no, I’d say it’s probably innocuous. Whatever happened to being able to laugh at yourself and letting others join in the fun? History has shown cultures can be inspired by everyone, why can’t we?

Image result for cultural appropriation political cartoon

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