‘Native American’ Apparel

By Sophia Coleman

In just the last two months, I’ve seen hipsters in Navajo print, pop stars pitifully portraying indigenous women and lingerie-clad models in headdresses. It’s clear many members of our society need a history lesson instructed by Native Americans, whose culture has been so disgustingly objectified.

You’d think by now pop culture would recognize cultural appropriation as a faux pas, but the offense continues and now seems to be trending more than ever. Though Victoria’s Secret issued an apology concerning its tactless use of Plains tribe headdresses, and No Doubt took down its “Looking Hot” music video that featured frontwoman Gwen Stefani as a sexy Native American woman, there is no reason these ideas should have ever come to fruition. There are plenty of other ways each could have been artistically expressed without disrespecting a culture that is still reeling from the wounds inflicted centuries ago by white European settlers.

Then there are retailers like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, which, even after cease-and-desist letters from the Navajo Nation, are still stocked with moccasins, feathered earrings and “Navajo-inspired” shirts that cheaply rip off Native culture. Consumers are also to blame because they often do not take into consideration what the symbols they’re wearing actually stand for.

Look at the leather fringe that decorates trendy purses this season. They are actually modeled after medicine bags, which are spiritually significant to many Native Americans. The vibrant, geometric patterns that decorate panties and miniskirts have a greater purpose than just looking cool. Found on woven rugs, pottery and clothing, the symbols and colors represent the Navajo way of living in balance with natural order. Please don’t try  convincing me that undergarments hold that level of meaning.

I am sick of seeing Facebook and Tumblr photos of girls and guys—mainly caucasian—sporting feathered headdresses and “warrior paint” in a feeble attempt to look cool or edgy.  While it is ironic, it is disrespectful.

Some say they wear these items out of an appreciation for Native American culture, but if that’s true,  they should purchase authentic products from indigenous designers. Not only would it support them, but I’m certain the buyer would benefit from learning about the item’s origin and significance. To further educate those with an appetite for Native fashion, people can flip through the pages of Native Max, a Native American fashion magazine that launched online in mid-October. It features Native models and trendsetters offering insight beyond the stereotypical fashions that have been popular with designers like John Galliano and Proenza Schouler.

Native American traditions are fascinating and should be respected. People need to be correctly educated on tribal history because the Native culture is not disposable, unlike the cheap fashion it often inspires.