GUEST POST: Three Simple Rules For Wearing Culturally Sensitive Clothing

By Sneha Dawda


As a rule of thumb, no matter what culture you belong to, you don’t wear a Bindi everyday to work. Even the pious tend to refrain unless for significant religious reasons. And the subject of 'offensiveness' in fashion and style is a perennial argument of appropriation versus expression (see: the Jenners) - so it can be hard to understand why you're not allowed to don that Bindi without getting some serious side-eye, especially when it looks kinda cool, right? Gwen Stefani wore it so that makes it okay, yeah?

Well, when it comes to fashion, society typically flexes its social boundaries to allow for more artistic endeavours, which is not only liberating for sartorial reasons, but enjoyable for all voyeurs of street-style. However, the cultural values we attribute to items of clothing often become mired in a conversation about cultural sensitivity, so in order to prevent me storming up to you in a club asking why you've put your third eye on your arse cheek, I have devised a list of three thought points to consider before you go sticking Bindis where the sun don't shine. Everyone's got their own limits on what is and isn't acceptable, and here's mine... 

Rule 1:

Learn where your clothes came from.

Yes, the ethics as to the origins of your clothing are important - but also, if you're going to be donning that bindi, it's worth taking some time to understand why they're worn and what they mean to people and where they come from spiritually. It may make you see them differently and think twice about wearing it while twerking at Glastonbury. 

If, however, you've decided you're going all in and you’re going to wear a Saree to a club (yes, I’ve seen it and I had to double take as there wasn’t one Asian amongst them), first read up on what the saree signifies to Indian women and at least try to delve into the history - 9 times out of 10 it’s unbelievably interesting. For starters, every saree colour has a different meaning, one that signifies feelings to the wearer. I’d put money on you being fascinated at mood rings once upon a time - so take some of that fascination of hues and use it to learn about the meaning of what you're wearing should someone wish to converse with you about it beyond 'I like your outfit'. Or, y'know - don't wear it should you feel that you're not fully understanding and respecting the culture it came from. 

Rule 2:

Wear it respectfully.

Don’t put that Bindi on your butt cheek because it’s funny. Yes, I have seen this too. The Bindi signifies the third eye in Hinduism, so when you put it on your butt, your spiritual centre is basically linked to your, well, a-hole. I would be worried for your spiritual well-being - plus that's totally disrespectful. 

Rule 3:

Don’t get defensive.

Look, you’re borrowing a piece of someone else’s culture, so if they come up to you and ask (either calmly or angrily) what you’re doing wearing that saree in a club,  don't turn angry - again, I have seen this. Instead, politely explain you wore a red saree to signify positivity and fertility and you know the saree is really important. And also understand that some people may not feel comfortable with someone who doesn't follow the other traditions of the culture, and be willing to listen. Et voila! Situation diffused, and you may just learn something.