Fashion as we know it cannot exist without cultural influences. In many cases, demonstrating your culture relies heavily on self-expression through clothing, make-up, and accessories. What you wear tells an incredible story of who you are, what you believe, and even what your values are. Let’s explore some thoughts and ideas surrounding how to celebrate your culture with your fashion choices.
Little Additions and Big Changes
Pieces of jewelry, traditionally crafted bags, and the fabrics you choose can tell stories and make your culture visible to those around us. Bringing a small addition from your culture into your daily attire can celebrate it, recognize it, and bring to light the unique history that you’re a part of.
Try to keep in mind that it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to bear the burden of becoming a representative of their culture. Fashion choices that are unfamiliar to the majority will often raise questions, but many people feel burned out from repeating themselves to justify their fashion choices.
Support Your Community
One subtle but impactful way to celebrate your culture with your fashion choices is to invest in fashion and beauty businesses operated by those of similar heritage. As society gradually begins to spotlight BIPOC-owned brands, there are more opportunities than ever to support people of a shared background.
To incorporate elements of culture into fashion ethically, always try to avoid the cultural costumes that saturate the market. For example, it’s easiest to find pieces of Hawaiian culture in the “tropical” aisle of party retail chains, but there are differences between a fresh and plastic lei. However, a fresh Hawaiian lei can carry the craftsmanship and historical context that a plastic lei lacks.
When possible, try to research beauty and fashion brands that appear to emulate certain cultures before buying. This process ensures that your money goes to a business that understands, appreciates, and acknowledges its cultural inspirations.
Traditional Fashion vs. “Professional Attire”
In a world where appearance goes hand in hand with employability, celebrating cultural heritage through your attire is difficult in the workplace. Not everyone embraces wardrobe elements that go beyond western formal wear. Institutions still cling to an idea of “acceptable” attire that rejects many hairstyles, questions tattoos and piercings, and even limits the type of garments you wear.
It’s entirely fair for anyone looking to reflect their heritage in their professional attire to worry about pushback. It seems like there’s another story about students having their bodily autonomy infringed upon or employees facing hardship at work for their self-expression every year.
Fortunately, change is happening. Hair discrimination cases in schools are gaining more public attention and necessary outcry, forcing schools to reconsider their harmful policies. Even CEOs are changing the concept of acceptable professional attire, as former chairperson and CEO of Pepsi Co. Indra Nooyi sometimes attended meetings in her sari. To quote the Indian-born business executive, “An important attribute of success is to be yourself. Never hide what makes you, you.”