Behind the fabric: fashion across cultures

Ashley Garner/Columnist

Does fashion need to have a guidebook for political correctness? I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. 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 and I have no real culture that I consider myself to be a part of outside of my mixed Western European heritage. A few months ago I became friends with a girl named Anam who is originally from Tanzania.

I was fascinated by her traditional garments and she was generous enough to give me a few pieces. I see many girls around FIU campus wearing these long scarves as hijabs, yet my friend does not, even though she follows the religion Islam. I became curious and asked her if it was a choice or if people’s parents make them wear it? She told me that it was a choice and that from time to time she will wear hers 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. Strangely I have no issue wearing other traditionally rooted garments but when it comes to wrapping my head with a scarf I feel like I am trespassing on taboo territory.

Perhaps because the hijab is such a major symbol for the religion of Islam, my lack of belief makes the wearing of a hijab style feel insulting. Nevertheless, I still love the style and understand its history and think it is beautiful and the history behind its meanings is beautiful. Art history major Jackie Velken commented on the subject saying, “I know a lot of girls that wear scarves in the style of hijabs that aren’t from that culture and it’s really hard to say because I think a lack of knowledge and artistic expression can change the way the piece is interpreted.”

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 but if you are confronted with the knowledge of its deeper historical roots 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 you’re ok with 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. So whether you are wearing bindi jewelry, scarves wrapped around your head, tribal prints or logo sweaters it’s important to understand its history so as not to reinforce the frivolous and trivial reputation fashion already has. I believe morality can exist in fashion; we just have to be willing to put in the research hours.