Blog #2: Marissa McDonald

“Ringarde!” The word is a slap in the face, and one that I felt even while watching from a third person point of view. Yes, I am one of millions who devoured the Netflix Original Emily in Paris, and despite what the other half of the world may think, I, along with thousands of other fans–including my mother–, simply cannot get enough of the lust and lustre the show portrays. But one conflict that particularly held weight for me is the ever-present clashing of the old guard with the new guard, haute couture with everyday style, extravagance with practicality. 

On one hand, I can’t imagine being so haute that I’m disgusted by the mere presence of someone wearing anything but designer, like my morality is directly measured by my ability to name drop every time someone compliments my style. Sure, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to buy myself a pair of Louboutins, but I never failed to notice the irony of girls in my high school pairing their glistening Gucci belt with an American Eagle t-shirt and jeans. Does fashion really come down to a (sometimes very large) number on a piece of paper? I hope not, or else I am truly failing as the Director of Style for Marque Magazine where we source all of our clothes from our own closets, our models’ closets, and yes, Goodwill. 

On the other hand, I can’t imagine being so hungry for a following that I’d intentionally purchase a work of art, for a painful price I might add, only to defame it in order to make a statement in support of the working class. Of course, I know the phrase “No pain, no gain,” but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t include pain inflicted on someone other than yourself. Last time I checked, the haughty are still human, and their work means just as much to them as our work means to us. Why is it our natural instinct to see something beautiful and destroy it, like two mutually beautiful things can’t live in this world simultaneously? Why do we feel like personal success is only possible at someone else’s expense?

I don’t know the answers to these metaphysical questions, but what I do know is, while I may never be able to afford or feel comfortable purchasing garments in the realm of haute couture, my style is anything but basic. In fact, when asked to describe my style, I can’t do it in any one way, because my style is ever changing, bending to my every, multi-dimensional whim. I won’t apologize for checking Pinterest every morning in search of radical new ideas to fuel my fashion. I won’t apologize for walking into a store and heading straight for the clearance section. And I won’t apologize for crafting both of my prom dresses from pieces I found at Goodwill and feeling the most expensive I’ve ever felt in my life. But I also refuse to reject the woman inside me who longs to attend Paris Fashion Week in favor of frugality. I champion having things out of my reach because it pushes me to expand my creativity and ask myself how I can achieve the same with less. So can we all just let our guards–old and new–down? Because the only thing truly ringarde about this is making someone feel lesser than in something they would otherwise feel confident wearing. 

Blog #1: Marissa McDonald

I don’t know what to write this blog about. I’ve been saying these things alot lately, phrases upon phrases that start with those three little words: I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to eat. I don’t know why my wifi still won’t allow me to watch one Zoom lecture without kicking me out. I don’t know what to wear. I don’t know how to dress for a busy day within the confines of my row home in Baltimore, Maryland. That last one really hits hard, because, as someone who always used to base her outfits around a carefully selected pair of shoes, I’ve been a little uninspired to dress myself for an event that is shoes optional, and in my house, shoes prohibited. And with my foothold for my personal fashion no longer available, I, the Director of Style for Marque Magazine, am questioning why fashion ever appealed to me at all. I mean, did I only ever like fashion because of the compliments I received from my peers as I was walking through the halls? And now that I can’t receive that attention, is my passion for style stripped away like dirty laundry at the end of the day? Such questions really make you question what matters to you and the basis by which you make decisions each and every morning, and in truth, I can’t remember the first time I fell in love with fashion. 

Maybe it was the rush of excitement I got after returning from the mall for back to school shopping, eager to show the rest of my family what I picked out and deciding for myself what new pieces would go with those which I already had. Maybe it was the first time my sister exposed me to thrift shopping and the realization I made soon after that every article had a story, a previous owner with memories attached to the very piece of fabric I had stumbled upon in the treasure hunt whose only clues were the smell of a hundred different detergents mingling together and a wheel at the front of the store telling you the color of the week. Maybe it was the feeling I got after losing something that seemed so important to me at the time in highschool that the only remaining power I had to prove to the rest of the world I was still standing was a bold lip and a stunning pair of heels. Considering this idea that the only true strength I may have had left relied on my appearance makes me seem so surface level, but I know I’m not the only one. 

I see myself in the blue felt belt on display in the Holocaust museum, a belt that was found and secretly worn by a German Jewish teenage inmate at Auschwitz who described it as her ‘pathetic act of defiance’, yet something she is still proud of. I see myself in the signature, fiery red lipstick of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who feels it not only boosts her confidence in politics, but also connects her to her Latina heritage. I see myself in my beloved Grandmother who was never allowed to wear pants growing up, yet of whom I don’t have a single memory of dressed in anything but the most striking pantsuit and blazer combo, paired, of course, with a matching earring and necklace set. 

Something about fashion seems to give each of us a small and subtle opportunity to tell the world it can’t control us. Somehow woven threads of cotton, silk, and polyester give us the power to speak in opposition of the threads of time that fate has woven for us. So why then, at a time when things are most uncertain and undeniably at their worst, does the feeling to fight back with fashion not call me? Why then, despite encouraging other people to dress for Zoom, can I only drive myself to do so at a maximum of 3 days a week? Again, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the passion that I’ve had for as long as I can remember will call again, and when it does, I’ll be ready.

Perfect Polish: Mary Shepard

When I was younger I would beg my sister to paint my nails for me. After enough pestering she would oblige, and I would watch as she made cautious, precise swipes across my nails. She never needed nail polish remover for her careful strokes; her manicures were a manicure from her was perfect every time. I would practice and practice, trying to get my strokes as neat as hers, though they never were. I was obsessed with having a perfect manicure, but it would never be perfect unless it came from her. As I got older and my hands got steadier she taught me how to make the same careful strokes, no acetone needed. 

I am still a perfectionist, although less so as a college student. As can be said for most Hopkins students, I have had to get comfortable letting things slide and settling for completion instead of perfection as classes, clubs, and friends battled for attention. This is an important lesson to learn, and I think the sooner you do the happier you will be. For me, accepting this in my academic life meant aiming my perfectionist tendencies at something else. Painting my nails soon became a weekly ritual — a time to zone out and think about something frivolous and fun. This semester I find that my attention is more divided than ever; hearing my laundry signal it’s dry as I sit down to go to class, or the Friends theme song echoing down the hall into my room as I study for an exam. Having this time when I can sit down and focus my complete attention on a task that is now so simple for me is a respite from everything constantly pulling my focus.

I look forward to painting my nails each week, budgeting time to paint as well as the time needed for them to dry, daydreaming about what color I will pick next, so that when I finally sit down I can soak in each minute of calm. I start each week with the same base coat. I pick out the polish I have been thinking about since my last one started chipping and make those same careful strokes my sister taught me, sealing it with a shiny top coat. I can’t do work (for fear I may mess up my new polish), I can’t think about my classes or clubs, instead I just sit and watch TV with my nails cautiously laid out on a pillow in front of me. After an hour I test to see if they are dry, then go on with my day.

Nothing is as exciting to me as watching bright, newly painted nails glide across my keyboard. All week I stare down and see something I can control and manage (a rare quality these days), I see perfection. 

A Return To Form: Ryan Aghamohammadi

The other night, while I was walking my dogs down the concrete streets of my neighborhood, I remember hearing the insistent hoot of an owl. It was inescapable, echoing through the dark over and over again, breaking through the dense hum of insects. Even after returning to my house, shutting the door, and sitting on my bed, the soft glow of a salt lamp at my window, the call came. “Who? Who?” When I woke the next morning, the shout reverberated through my head. “Who? Who?” 

I’ve been in the woods for so long that I think some part of me has forgotten that there is more outside than just this. More than the red kissed maples. More than the same stories I’ve read and reread. More than the one tiny grocery store in town. More than the antique store lined streets.  More than the heady question of the owl. I’m not ungrateful, in fact, I think I revere this place so much sometimes that I have no room for anything else. 

Let me say that I’ve been considering the art science of metamorphosis. Not just visual change, but spiritual and artistic change. How can I not only change how I look, but also I connect and create? I’ve rifled through the classics: Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Iris Van Herpen, Rei Kawakubo, etc etc etc. The designers in which I always see more than just mere clothing and instead, whispers of transcendence and becoming, sacred geometry and demolition. I’m not really sure what I’m looking for, maybe it’s just a banal past-time, but it feels important. Who? Who am I looking for? 

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve been working to uncover a new relationality between my and the clothing I wear. I think I’ve hit a little bit of a deadend. I don’t think the problem is what I’m wearing per se, but part of me wonders if it’s time to evolve. With all this thinking and preoccupation with self growth, there’s a spiritual disconnect with who I am and how I am presenting myself. The change wouldn’t be radical, it would just be distinct. Perhaps moving away from my signature blazers? Incorporating brighter colors into my wardrobe? Wearing more black… is that even possible? 

Westwood’s imperative, “Buy less, choose well & do it yourself!” seems resonant. Part of this disconnect, I know, is coming from the fact that there’s a fundamental paradigm shift occurring within me. I really truly have no desire to buy things anymore. I want to make them. And, if not make them, then at least alter, or more carefully choose. Given that I don’t have any experience with sewing, stitching, etc, this is a source of frustration. Developing these skills, of course, is on the forefront of my mind, but they, like all things, will come in time. There is no overnight solution to this issue, nor is there an easy fix. That, I think, is both a complication and the resolution. 

It’s strange to say, but I don’t think what I want to wear yet exists. The Punk movement, which emerged as responsive and declarative fashion out of a particular socioeconomic context, created their own clothing to shape the world as they saw it. Iris Van Herpen’s gowns look otherworldly and alien. Rei Kawakubo’s work simply looks impossible. I’m looking to wear and create something that is generative of my invisible self. The only way I can find what I want to wear is if I do it myself. 

Where to start, then? Where to start? I can pick up sewing, of course. I can start dabbling with alteration on my older clothes. I can radically replace everything in my closet over time, donating that which no longer serves me. Or, I can do none of these things. I can choose to do nothing. There’s an aesthetic shift, a reconceptualization happening in me now. I can’t decide if I want to coax it out or let it happen on its own time.

While I’m writing this, I’m staring out my window to the treeline. The branches spread out in such a way that when the wind rushes through, the leaves look like a glittering red sea. The sun has just come up against the hedges, and casts everything in a rich auburn light. Everything is red and green and blue. I think what I’m looking for is starkness. Clarity. A fashion that says what it needs to, and nothing more. Not a return to the basics, but a return to a sort of primal reaction, a flash of lightning. A natural fashion, in all of its organic symmetry and chaos. Something new. Something impossible. Something I do myself. 

Blog #1: Tiffany Wong

This semester, I’m registered for twenty-one course credits. That, in addition to extracurriculars and other general social meetings also being conducted online, means I am on Zoom A LOT. I almost always have my video turned on during meetings, both because I am required to do so by certain professors and because I would like to when chatting with friends. I know millions of other students and professionals working from home are in the same situation. So I want to take this opportunity to ask the following: Does anyone else get distracted by their own appearance on Zoom? 

Now I don’t think this question need necessarily be correlated to narcissism. When on Zoom, I can be distracted by something in any person’s video — a cute pet, a wandering roommate, or someone clearly scrolling through a phone in their lap for an hour. I just find my own appearance especially distracting.

As a fashion- and beauty-lover, I’m still getting “dressed up” for Zoom. But no matter how much I love my outfit or how presentable I feel the last time I check myself in the bathroom mirror, bad lighting in my apartment can wreak havoc on it all. I have spent an hour getting dressed only to look bald on my webcam.

And it’s not just my appearance; I also find myself judging my facial expressions and reactions in real-time. Do I look engaged enough? Do I look sleepy today? Does it look evident that I have an exam plus two papers due tomorrow?

The distractions don’t always have to be due to how my static appearance looks either. I find myself checking my video during a meeting to see if my room looks messy, if my boyfriend is in the background, or if I am sitting too close to or far away from the camera. 

Zoom does offer solutions on its platform for some of these issues, such as virtual backgrounds and the option to “touch up”, or filter, your appearance. The filter smooths and brightens your skin and makes flyaways in your hair less noticeable. It’s a subtle yet noticeable change. I could justify using the filter in a professional meeting where I’d like to look particularly prepared and presentable, but I have yet to use the “touch up” option for myself. I’m worried that I’ll grow accustomed to my filtered face and subsequently be disappointed by what I see in the mirror. 

Psychologists would tell me that my concerns aren’t isolated. A lot of people, adolescents and young adults in particular, fall victim to the imaginary audience phenomenon — they believe that more people are paying attention to them than realistically are. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we want to be seen positively by our peers and to thus self-monitor our appearance and behavior. However, all this self-conscious self-monitoring can be especially dangerous for people who, whether temporarily, due to stressors, or more lastingly, due to a psychiatric disorder, view themselves in a negative light. For example, individuals with body dysmorphic disorder can view their own appearance negatively, and this issue is exacerbated by the overwhelming need to be on camera online during quarantine. In other words, seeing ourselves on a screen can force us to face whatever emotions we were trying to set aside.

So far, my solution has been to manually hide my own video from my Zoom screen, which is an option that Zoom does offer. It has been mostly effective but leaves me questioning whether I am overly petty or vain for needing to hide my own video to stay focused in class. For now, I’m going to keep hiding my video and focusing on doing well in my classes. But I’m not alone in this struggle, and hopefully professors and school administrators can note this issue, in addition to all the other issues, which make Zoom both a strange and uncomfortable setting for learning.

Blog #1: Saniya Ramchandani

Let me start by saying that I hate wearing neutral tone outfits (a combination of pure black, greys, and beige tones). I’d like to think of myself as a relatively happy, cheery, and positive person to be around (on most days), and the pop of color that almost certainly exists on me every day usually reflects that. I also swear against wearing sweatpants or pajamas in public, and would never be caught dead in a random assortment of clothing items thrown together without a care in the world. 

However, since COVID began, I’ve found that my motivation to constantly dress well has declined significantly. In March, I raided Nordstrom’s online sales in search of cute loungewear – matching tie-dye sets, cotton jumpsuits, and cropped sweatshirts – in an attempt to keep morale high even when I was just at home alone. By May, I had descended into lazing in an oversized t-shirt all day, so when I went out to meet another human being outside of my household for the first time in July, I was absolutely flummoxed. 

My wardrobe is my life – if you know me, then you know that. So, how was it that after years of crafting my personal style meticulously, I couldn’t even figure out how to pair pants and a shirt? I put wedges on and promptly proceeded to trip over myself. I tried a magenta top on with bright mustard and navy striped pants. I braided my hair all to one side. And then I looked in the mirror; I looked like discarded JoJo Siwa merchandise and was a complete and utter mess. 

Putting outfits together is just a blend of muscle memory and creativity. Muscle memory reminding you of the things you’ve worn before; pairings you loved, combinations you hated, and just keeping a general memory log of your past experiences that help inform your future choices. Creativity comes in to play in quite an obvious way – for me what I wear is how I feel, or how I’m trying to feel. This is where the hatred of bland color palettes comes in; if I’m in all black (please call someone, I’m not okay) I’m either incredibly upset or mad or just unpleasant to be around in some way, but if I’m in all yellow then I’ve never been happier and I promise I will cheer you out of whatever mood you’re in. What usually happens is a blend of neutral whites or beiges and a pop of red, green, or blue. 

My style signature is earrings. You’ll never find me without a matching pair – usually something dangly and unorthodoxly shaped; I love one of a kind, handmade, showstopping pairs. My dress sense also definitely falls on the preppy side. I can’t remember the last time I wore a plain pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. The thought of stepping outside in something so, for lack of a better word, drab, barring some sort of strange themed party, horrifies me. Some of my style icons are Amal Alamuddin Clooney, Blair Waldorf, and Audrey Hepburn (I love her sleek cuts and minimalist style but am well aware she wore all black on occasion) so you can see why. 

So, in July, my hopeless self turned to my earring collection for a shred of sanity as I’ve done so many times before. Every beautiful, unique, crazy creation was laid out in front of me as I let out a huge sigh. I picked up a pair of red dreamcatcher-esque earrings, put them on, and stared at my closet renewed with a completely new sense of purpose. I knew I had to start with red, so I instinctively grabbed red pants. The white shirt, white stilettos, red lipstick, and natural makeup look fell into place seamlessly not long after. Nothing else required a shred of thought; once I had the pants in hand, the blend of rose gold and silver rings slid themselves on and I instinctively pinned my hair into a messy bun. After hours of agonizing over mismatched looks that looked like various unicorn’s upchuck, I got ready in a matter of minutes. 

Today, I’m wearing those red earrings again. I started my morning in a red, navy, cream, and white striped skirt changed into a pair of skinny jeans and knee-high red heeled boots, and am currently typing away in a sweatshirt and baggy pants. The earrings, however, have been a constant. Whether or not I wake up inspired and excited to start my day or get dressed, I can always count on my array of earrings to get me through it.

The Facial Coverings of Fame: Alexander Orellana-Aparicio

The year is 2020. As one may inevitably know, the COVID-19 Pandemic has taken the world by storm and has affected everyone alike. From lockdowns, to curfews, to quarantines, to travel bans, to isolation, to contact-tracing; many collective measures have been taken, some earlier than others, to further prevent the disease at the time of this article. Individual measures include social distancing, hand-washing, limiting the number of people in one place, and — memorably — wearing facial coverings. Facial coverings have evolved from the thin, nurse-scrubs-blue, stereotypical mask and manifested many forms, some safer than others (Fischer et al. 2020), such as cotton masks and bandanas, to name a few. Like any other textile, creative new forms and designs are now seen when one enters a supermarket. In fact, it’s almost as if the original blue masks are seen as boring, outside of a medical setting. Personally, a simple black cotton mask is my go-to. Similarly, in the influential world of celebrities and glamor, face masks have made their mark and are present in everything pop. From social media, to live performances, to athletic tournaments, face masks are not only an essential but an easy form of creating statements in the ever-evolving pandemic state of the world.

On August 8, 2020, Bella Hadid tagged her Instagram post with #WEARAMASK. She is seen standing in front of uncovered police officers in an all-black outfit with a complimentary black mask. Many celebrities have used their social media platforms to influence and remind their viewers and fans to wear some form of facial covering as the world continues to face the pandemic. In a time of mass protests demanding for peace and abolition of an oppressive police force, it takes everyone to play their part to minimize the effects of the pandemic, even if some aren’t exactly getting the memo. Among those posting is Beanie Feldstein, known for portraying  Julie in Lady Bird, wearing a blue plaid mask and complimentary eyeshadow in a selfie on Instagram. In her caption she denotes “WEAR. A. MASK. It’s not political, it’s lifesaving. […] It’s being a thoughtful member of society. […] Protect yourself, protect others. #wearadamnmask” Not only did she remind her audience of how the political counter-argument against mask has no valid support, but also reminded them that wearing a mask is simply an act of decency in a time of chaotic adversity. Some may argue that the hashtag is a bit vulgar but the pandemic is unforgiving and relentless, so an explicit point is warranted. Feldstein isn’t alone either; Tracee Ellis Ross joined on the tag, challenging others, and even tagged #justiceforbreonnataylor in remembrance of her life taken unfairly, and now with no one being brought to justice. As influential celebrities can be, it still seems that both messages of wearing a mask and justice for Breonna Taylor have to be reminded every day.

In a more active setting, celebrities continue to use masks to make statements and send a message to their viewers. On August 30, 2020, the MTV Awards premiered live at 8:00PM with Keke Palmer as host, and performances, including The Weeknd, Black-Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, and BTS, with stages physically spread throughout New York. As she stood on a building with the iconic Zoom rectangles of the audience surrounding her on building faces, Keke Palmer in her graceful white dress addressed the state of the world and inspired a little hope in the audience. However, though she was not wearing a mask, she was alone. An indisputable 6-feet from anyone. Yet, there is no memorable show without memorable performances. Among them is the 10 minute performance of Lady Gaga, featuring Ariana Grande, done completely in  masks. In their coordinated purple outfits Lady Gaga is seen with a bulky mask with a LED screen displaying the frequency waves of her voice, and Ariana Grande to the left with a simple black mask. Her performance included a variety of dancers who moved actively while wearing masks. Not only do the masks add detail and compliment their outfits but they also convey a powerful message: masks are not encumbering. The performance and others, such as Doja Cat and her dancers, invalidates the common excuse for not wearing a mask due to physical hindrance. They are live visualizations of the fact that masks do not prevent anyone from doing anything (really, there’s literally a YouTube video of a guy running a mile in ten surgical ones). Furthermore, when Lady Gaga accepted her TriCon Award she was fitted in a spacious, shimmering dress with silver antlers elegantly hanging from her head, over her face covered in a bedazzled mask. She was alone, but her mask was still on and even stated “I might sound like a broken record, but wear a mask. It is a sign of respect.” One of the most distinguished artists of our time saying that is bound to touch someone somewhere and make them realize their simple duty.

Not fully convinced of the non-intrusive nature of masks? Look no further than sport tournaments themselves. Naomi Osaka has made it to televised, and in fact international, news not only because of her first win at the Tennis U.S. Open match but because of the masks she was wearing. Her collection consisted of seven black masks, each with a different name of a victim of police oppression. These include, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, and Tamir Rice, to name a few. “I have seven, and it’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names”, she told abcNews. Naomi Osaka not only proves masks do not hinder function at all, but also demonstrates the impactful and influential power of a simple piece of cloth. As the United States continues to see protests against police oppression, Osaka’s simple masks empower the Black Lives Matter movement and brings the discussion into the athletic table. This was Osaka’s intention as she posted on social media, “ I don’t expect anything drastic to happen […] but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.” And a powerful step it was. Though there is much still left to do to dismantle current systematic racism, it is reassuring that the simple act of wearing a mask with a name sparked an important conversation and inspired those who view her as a role model.

The mask is currently an essential and functional accessory, and though everyone should be wearing one, it does not mean the individualized nature of fashion is lost. From the simple blue mask to a lit-up audio visualizer, the mask is not only useful but customizable and can be used to convey individual expression in many different ways, as shown by celebrities converting it into a trend and a fashion must. The posts, performances, statements, all revolve around a simple cloth over the face to prevent droplets from reaching others. In a time of questionable leadership practices the mask also symbolizes the stance against oppression and selfishness. Face masks are not luggage but rather a symbol of respect and decency. Though the smiles of strangers may be currently invisible, they are still there, 6-feet away, under their unique coverings and in the slight squint of their eyes.

Works Cited

ELLE, Team. “Celebrities Wearing Face Masks During The Coronavirus Pandemic.” ELLE, ELLE, 25 Sept. 2020, www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/g33230414/celebrities-face-masks-coronavirus/.

Fischer, Emma P., et al. “Low-Cost Measurement of Face Mask Efficacy for Filtering Expelled  Droplets during Speech.” Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 36, 2020, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd3083.

Hoyos, Joshua, and Sabina Ghebremedhin. “How Naomi Osaka Is Using Masks to Make  Statement on One of World’s Biggest Tennis Stages.” ABC News, ABC News Network,  12 Sept. 2020, abcnews.go.com/Sports/naomi-osaka-masks-make-statement-worlds-biggest-tennis/story?id=72896685.

MTV Video Music Awards 2020, 2020, www.mtv.com/vma.

Cultural Appropriation: Jade Robinson

You’ve probably heard the term “cultural appropriation”  floating around over the past few years.  It spurs loud uproar in social media and then gets  swept under the rug mere moments later. But what is it, truly? Cambridge Dictionary defines Cultural Appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”, and Oxford  emphasizes that it is  “ in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance”.  Just now, you may have experienced a chilling flashback to an outfit you’ve seen (or even worn) and the sinking feeling that you might be guilty of this very thing. We live in a global society, where Fashion trends and customs form all over the world are available with just a quick Google search, and the occasional insensitive public figure pops up on our timelines. As such, it is inevitable that we sometimes teeter on the precarious seesaw, slowly swaying between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. 

I’m not claiming to have all the answers. This is a delicate topic with a vast gray area in the world of global fashion and worldwide influencers. Fashion is all about viewing life as art. What’s unquestionable, though, is that at a point, artistic appreciation can become appropriation. It always makes me roll my eyes when I see comments such as “Let people wear what they want!” or “What’s the big deal?” towards this issue. Let me be clear. If you are one of those “So what?” people, then you are a part of the problem. Firstly, cultural appropriation steals the opportunity for proper representation. For example, Gucci’s 2018 fall collection featured predominantly white models wearing turbans extremely similar to those worn by members of the Sikh community. In an instagram post, Diet Prada (@diet_prada), a self-described fashion watchdog account run by two fashion industry professionals, commented on Gucci’s actions: “There are many ways this disaster could have been avoided. 1. Hire Sikh models. Italy is home to the second largest population in Europe. It would have been a beautiful statement to see Sikh’s proudly representing their religion on one of fashion’s most major runways.” Due to lack of representation, some young people are still waiting to see their identities reflected on the covers of prominent fashion publications. 

It’s apparent that representation in the fashion industry has changed dramatically in the past two decades — from Amna Al Haddad, the weightlifter who fostered Nike’s sports hijab, to Winnie Harlow, the first model with vitiligo to walk the Victoria secret runway. Representation is finally becoming about celebrating and mirroring real people as society changes, rather than regurgitating the same image with some “rebranding” every few years. Seeing authentic representation is vital to true diversity, and it’s important to have genuine role models to inspire people.  It isn’t hard to find and celebrate models of diverse cultural backgrounds, and allow them the opportunity to give their own culture a spotlight. 

Secondly, cultural appropriation invalidates the struggles of those who truly identify with said culture. Black females all across the world especially  face scrutiny, ridicule, and microaggression for common black hair styles  such as cornrows, braids, finger coils, or afros. (eg. Why is your hair so BIG?)  But yet, Kim Kardashain has been praised for wearing cornrows for years to the point of them being dubbed “Kim K Braids”. One white woman receives millions of instagram likes, while a black woman is told she can’t wear them to work because it is “unprofessional”.  Using the style for aesthetic purposes while never having to face the challenges of one’s culture is appropriation. No one picks their culture, and choosing to adopt a certain trait without respecting the entirety of the certain culture’s experience is cherry-picking. 

 Cultural appropriation on a smaller scale can be just as impactful. In 2018, a teen from Utah decided to wear a qipao, or cheongsam in Cantonese, to her high school prom. Understandably, this created a tidal wave of incredulity and frustration from the world, Asian Americans in particular. The 18 year old teenager found the dress in a vintage store, and simply thought “it was a pretty dress [she] found”, not knowing her prom pictures would soon be viral. One teenager replied to the twitter thread “my friends in my school were/are still bullied for wearing this beautiful style of dress. but when a white girl does it its ‘beautiful’ and enriching, that’s the difference”(@emmaleerose).   Another tweet reads, “Ethnic people don’t wear our traditional clothes because they can be targets of hate crimes, a fear white people do not feel when they put on those same clothes” (@patriciaah_1).  Those tweets speak for themselves, the words weighed down by exhaustion and discomfort. It’s a storyline that is all too familiar for people of color. 

Culture and ethnicity play a massive part in one’s identity. Celebrating cultural identity can foster unity within a culture, educate others, serve as a symbol of pride, and connect people to those that have come before them. Especially for people who may live in areas where their particular identity is not often represented or welcomed, it is such a freeing feeling to be immersed in your cultural background. I say all this to try to portray what a culture truly means in our society, and to emphasize the grave injustice that occurs when any culture is invalidated or capitalized on. Think about the message one portrays when choosing to put on any  cultural fashion that does not align with that person’s cultural identity. It’s essentially: “Your culture isn’t special because I can do it too.” Don’t be that person. Don’t make people feel that way. 

As I mentioned before, sometimes, cultural appropriation can become a bit of a murky topic.  Cultural appropriation is one extremely slippery slope. One step too far and you may have offended someone or a group of people, and there is no worse feeling. If you’re ever facing a situation where you need to confront a friend, or even yourself in the mirror about your fashion choices, here are some guiding questions. 

Who inspired this look? Is it someone with a distinct cultural identity? Does this piece highlight or emphasize a cultural trait? What can you tell me about the significance of this style/piece?  Just a note: If the answer to that last one is anything along the lines of “it just looks nice!”, that’s a blatant red flag.  Also, we have the power to tear down cultural appropriation in the fashion industry. Let’s be honest, there is one way to really make a statement to those huge designer names: make their pockets hurt. Every time we choose to wear an item, we are proclaiming our support. If you see a brand releasing some questionable pieces, boycott! Convince your friends, start a petition, and stand against harmful businesses. Your seemingly small voice can start a movement that truly communicates the vast repercussions of cultural appropriation. Most of all: When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Trade out that fashion piece or accessory for a bold solid color or an eye-catching statement piece. I promise one day’s outfit is not worth making someone feel inferior, no matter how important it may seem in the moment. 

Sources: 

https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095652789

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/cultural-appropriation

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kassycho/keziah-daum-prom-qipao-cheongsam

https://www.fastcompany.com/40407096/meet-the-muslim-woman-who-inspired-nike-to-enter-the-hijab-business

PICTURE:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/16/nordstroms-indy-full-turban-gucci-draws-sikh-protests/?outputType=amp

Upcycling Your Closet with Katsthread: Will Rong

In a world with an increasingly globalized economy, there is a growing need for us to act as responsible consumers. The economic choices we make can have far-ranging societal implications due to the interconnected nature of global supply chains. What we consume and the business entities that we buy from can have a significant impact — positive or negative — on the workers in an industry as well as the natural environments that the industry extracts its materials from. The fashion industry is no exception to this rule. As a result, we see a growing movement for sustainable fashion, in which we as consumers can advocate for business models in the industry that work equitably with people and nature as opposed to exploiting them.

To explore how we can be more conscious consumers of fashion, I’ve invited my friend Kat, who runs a sustainable fashion account on Instagram, to give us some advice on how to get started with upcycling. Upcycling is a wonderful way to make sustainable fashion choices. Especially as we find ourselves in quarantine, it can be a great time to dig up some old articles and turn them into something fresh and exciting. Kat is very passionate about ethical fashion, and she’s helped me a lot personally in getting started with my sustainability journey. Be sure to follow her on Instagram @katsthread. I hope y’all find this video insightful and enjoyable, and as always, many blessings.

Style, Without Clothing: Ryan Aghamohammadi

Most of my clothes are currently sitting in a University storage facility approximately five hours from my home in Connecticut. When we had to leave campus back in the spring, I couldn’t take everything I had in my room, and only returned home with one tiny suitcase full of clothing. Despite my best attempts to travel down to Baltimore and retrieve my belongings, I have been thwarted everytime (in new and creative ways at that). After about five major attempts to return to Baltimore, I stopped trying. I’ve decided to wait until the universe allows me to, and then I’ll go down to get my stuff. Quite honestly, it all feels very divine interference to me; I would have to be a fool to ignore the signs. 

What I really mean to say is: I’ve been wearing probably the same four or five outfits since the spring, and it’s been driving me up the walls. Before I moved away to college, I donated most of my childhood clothing that no longer fit and very, very slowly built up my closet again. Even now, I don’t own a lot of clothes, and yet, probably 90% of what I do own is sitting in a box somewhere. In essence, I’ve had to improvise. A lot. 

Ever since my options have dwindled, I’ve been focusing instead on the art of each piece. A black shirt that says “BAD WITCH”? That’s just how I feel several times a week now. A pastel neapolitan knit sweater? I wear that when I want to add a little bit of brightness and break up my quotidian gothic. An oversized green blazer I found in the back of my closest? Well, that might as well be en vogue. Why? Because I decided it is. Trends are dead, style is forever. 

Turns out if you take away someone’s entire closet, they end up spending less time thinking about what they’re wearing. I appreciate each and every single piece of clothing I own a lot more than I did. Every sweater, each pair of jeans, each silly graphic tee — all of these things have stories attached to them now. I’m also wearing each piece a lot more often, and I feel a lot better that what I do have I actually wear, instead of it hidden away to be worn only on occasion. Well, the occasion is always now, and everything I can wear gets worn. 

There is an artfulness in simplicity, and a clarity in entropy. Part of me is ashamed about how much of my happiness revolved around a series of articles of clothing. I’m not saying that I was knee-deep in materialism, but I did spend a large amount of time carefully curating my outfit in the morning. And, like any other human, I was influenced by larger fashion trends, whether or not I intended to incorporate those aesthetics into my presentation. Now, quite literally living in the woods, I am removed from all of that. The only people who see what I’m wearing are my family members and my classmates on Zoom (and they only see from my shoulders up!). The only fashion influences I have are myself, what I watch, and …. the trees?

One of those rare influences has been the show Schitt’s Creek. While ostensibly an endearing show about family and cultivating love, it also has been a major source of fashion inspiration. The characters of Moira, and especially David, wear extremely extravagant clothing that is somehow rather simple at the same time. On top of that, all of their outfits are monochrome or duochrome (black and white). And, as the resident goth at Marque Magazine, how could I not be inspired? It’s not that the clothing they’re wearing is the most out-there, bizarre thing ever, but it comes off that way. Their style radiates the essence of opulence and the avant-garde, without being obvious. Really, it’s the commitment to a singular aesthetic vision that accomplishes the feeling of the avant-garde. 

I’ve taken notes, and I’m more focused on how confident I am in what I wear now, and not exactly whether it looks good — what a troublesome word, one dictated by larger societal norms. I say wear whatever you want, and to hell with everything else. What is style, really, but one’s own vision? And no one, absolutely no one, has the right to tell you that your vision is wrong. Perhaps it’s not exactly what they would wear, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to wear it. One time when a random classmate asked me why I dress the way I do, what I affectionately call goth prep, I replied, “Well, what other way would I dress?” Style is at its best when we listen to ourselves. Sometimes that does mean following larger trends and that’s completely okay! But most of the time, it means wearing our own aesthetic and feeling infinitely better in that. 

This time with a limited closet has been as liberating as it has been difficult. Everything I wear feels somehow less and more intentional at the same time. Because I’m less focused on composing an outfit, I can focus more on the presentation and how I feel in it. Improving my comfort level, while still looking how I want to look, has been a big part of this process. While I can’t say that I feel quite as confident as I would in some of my more intricate outfits, I will say that my general confidence in what I do wear has increased. And, bit by bit, I am gaining clarity as to what I want my singular aesthetic vision to be. My life is avant-garde, it is goth, it is experimental so ultimately anything I wear will reflect that. Why box myself in with how I expect I should look, when I can instead wear whatever the hell I want? And so, one day, when I am reunited with that elusive cardboard box containing the rest of my clothing, I will appreciate it all a great deal more. Not simply because I have it, but because I will be able to wear it exactly how I want: unabashed and unashamed.