Thrift Shopping & Class Appropriation: Lillian Kim

The Rise of Thrifting as a Trend

In recent years, we’ve noticed a trend away from fast fashion, toward sustainability. One alternative to the often-pricey sustainable brands that have cropped up all over the Internet is thrift shopping. A cursory search of “Thrift Shopping” and related terms on YouTube yields thousands of results, ranging from hauls to how-to videos on “upcycling,” a.k.a. “creative reuse.” Thrift shopping has been a great way for eco-conscious and fashionable people — and everyone in between — to acquire quality clothing for cheaper prices. Thrift shopping content is trending not only on YouTube, but also on other platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Tumblr, and Pinterest. This has led to an increased social interest in thrift shopping as a hobby, not just as a financial necessity. Just as eco-consciousness and sustainability have become trends, thrift shopping has become a trend.

Although there are many positives that have come with this trend — from a greater social awareness of sustainability and environmental issues to an increase in sustainable markets — it’s also given rise to a few issues. One of the biggest problems with this trend, and the one I’ll elaborate on a bit more in this article, is gentrification and everything it entails.

The Increasing Inaccessibility of Thrifted and Secondhand Clothing

What is gentrification? The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition explains both what it is and how it occurs:

“The process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”

While gentrification typically occurs in relation to neighborhoods and physical locations, it can certainly happen with cultural phenomena, which is what’s happened with thrift shopping. But how did this happen? And what does that mean for those of us who want to be ethical and sustainable?

Thrift shopping has, for the most part, followed the basic path of most trends. Public sees, public likes, public consumes. The increased demand leads to an increase in prices. It’s how the market works.

Because it is now more conventional and convenient to thrift shop, the demand for thrift shops has increased. And because of the increased demand, prices continue to rise, while only the “trendy” or higher quality items sell. Reddit users on the “r/Do you guys feel that thrift stores are being gentrified” chain share their experiences of the gradual mark-up of items at thrift stores. One user, MaterialLimit, laments “when Goodwill’s prices were a couple bucks for some jeans and a dollar or two for a shirt,” because “Now it’s closer to $6-$8 for jeans and $3-$5 for shirts.” While this price increase may not seem like much when we consider the cost of the individual item, the difference can quickly add up. Before, five pairs of jeans would have cost about ten dollars; now, with the price increase, five pairs of jeans can add up to thirty dollars or more. The Berkeley Economic Review elaborates on this dilemma:

“The rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers as an alternative to buying from sustainable and ethical fashion brands reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities when it comes to clothing…This means there are fewer quality items left on the thrift store shelves for those who truly have no other affordable options, say, for buying professional attire that could mean the difference between impressing or crashing at a job interview.”

Another issue that emerges with the rise in thrift shopping is related to reselling. I’m not talking about ThredUp or other online secondhand clothing retailers. Because of the increasing popularity of online shopping, it makes sense that thrift shopping would find a market online. But this is a completely different issue from the type of reselling we see on online platforms such as Depop and other curated shops, or “vintage shops.” On these platforms, curators buy clothing at secondhand stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army and resell them for a higher price. While there’s nothing bad with taking advantage of this new market, this can further contribute to the increasing inaccessibility of thrifted clothing. The result is that populations which rely heavily on the cheaper prices of secondhand clothing find it more and more difficult to afford them.

A Changing Social Perception of Poverty

Okay, so we understand the economic effects of gentrification. So what? We can just stop buying from resellers, or we can donate to impoverished populations, can’t we? Did I really need to write another article about this issue?

The answer is YES!

I’m sure you’ve heard about gentrification and all its negative financial impacts. But have you stopped to consider the social implications of gentrification? Especially as it relates to thrifting?

About ten years back, before thrift shopping was a trend, it was associated with poverty and uncleanliness. It was all the rage to try and look like all your clothes were brand new. Obviously, with the rising social awareness of environmental issues and the popularity of sustainable fashion options, thrift shopping has become a trend. And, as a result, how we as a society view thrift shopping has changed drastically. It’s no longer a taboo associated with poverty and uncleanliness.

Of course, it’s a good thing that we’ve stopped shaming people for wearing secondhand clothes. However, this is not because we as a society are becoming nicer. It’s because we’re participating in class appropriation. That is, we are adopting elements of lower-class culture into our middle- and upper-class culture, while ignoring the social and political implications of that appropriation.

Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, our actions have direct social implications. Rika from Couturesque discusses the class appropriation associated with fashion in general:

“In other words, elitism, with a few drops of creativity, and the right kind of popularity, means that a wealthy and successful person wearing a DHL t-shirt is considered more fashionable than the DHL employee wearing his or her regular work attire. In many cases, the only thing creative about pieces like this is the price tag and the high-fashion apparatus that supports it; if it weren’t for these two things, the trend would still belong to those who had it first. Instead, those who can afford these ‘new’ pieces don their badge of “authenticity,” which ironically is anything but authentic, considering that those who wear the same t-shirt for a living probably couldn’t afford to buy the trendy version.”

This, along with the “deconstruct and reconstruct” concepts of haute couture, relates to the rise of thrift shopping as a trend.

What happens when the DHL t-shirt worn by the wealthy person is considered more fashionable than the DHL t-shirt worn by an employee? In this act of class appropriation, we see the beginnings of the erasure of poverty. Of course, I’m not saying that we want to be able to easily identify someone’s socio-economic standing, but this trend almost implicitly makes poverty fashionable. While we might think that thrift shopping signals a shift away from poverty shaming, what actually happens is that poverty shaming still exists, just in a less overt — and, as a result, more difficult to identify — sense.

What We Can Do

So what does this mean for us as middle-class consumers? Does this mean we should stop thrift shopping altogether? Is there a way to be ethical and eco-conscious and sustainable and shop secondhand? In my search for the right answer, I looked high and low, digging through online articles the way most of us dig through clearance bins at our local thrift store. Unfortunately, most articles don’t offer a practical solution, or, if they do, the conversation is always focused on the individual practices we can adopt.

What these articles often forget is that we are operating within a broken system. Sure, we can effect minor change by showing companies that we prefer sustainable and ethically-produced products, but that’s kind of about it. It’s capitalism we’re talking about.

So, is there anything we can do? Yes! While classism is interconnected with the contemporary discourse surrounding sustainability and ethics — and while this web of issues can seem monolithic and impossible to tackle — there are things we can do.

What we can do is be conscious of our classist privilege when it comes to sustainability and secondhand clothing. Most of us can afford to buy from more expensive brands, and we need to recognize that our behavior as consumers directly influences vulnerable populations.

What we can do is remember that this is not just an individual issue. What I mean is that solving our personal consumer habits will not effect change on a large enough scale. The oil industry has been telling us to pay attention to our carbon footprints, as if it hasn’t been up to them to push for change on a greater scale.

What we can do is take political action. Aside from taking responsibility for the things that are up to us — supporting local businesses, repurposing our old clothes, not buying from unsustainable brands, etc. — we can also vote for environmentally-friendly policies and for politicians who will put our planet first. Hopefully, one day, we won’t even have to question the impact of buying a single t-shirt, because the system will be one that is inevitably ethical and sustainable, one that has sustainability woven into its very fabric.


Quarantine Creations: Liana Savarirayan

2020 has been a whirlwind; along with Covid-19 came a general wave of uncertainty and unrest. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, especially in quarantine. All of a sudden our busy lives had to be put on pause even if we didn’t want them to be. While quarantine was an intense and difficult time for most of us, it also provided us with the opportunity to do things we never thought we would have time for. Our search histories were overtaken with intricate DIY projects and the newest twists on basic recipes. We had time to spend on activities that we previously would have felt were not important enough or unnecessary. Most of us especially spent our time in one place: a place where we found solidarity in having the most niche characteristics –TikTok. 

TikTok has gained immense popularity over the past few months, specifically because of quarantine. It provides a platform where people can post short videos ranging from 15 seconds to 1 minute to showcase anything they want: food videos, fashion videos, dances, singing, etc. In addition, anyone who has the app has a personalized “for you page” that compiles videos that the algorithm thinks the user would enjoy. TikTok currently has 500 million users, with a huge spike in this total users starting from March.

Trends are constantly changing, and TikTok has consistently presented  its users with updated trends throughout quarantine. One of the most popular trends that flooded TikTok and other social media apps was tie dyeing and bleaching sweatsuits. This was especially popular because people were spending so much time at home in more comfortable outfits. By adding character to basic sweatsuits, it allowed people to feel less mundane about staying at home all day everyday. I even decided to bleach tie dye and crop one of my sweatshirts because I saw an easy tutorial on TikTok and I loved the result! It was great to spice  up a basic black hoodie and now I wear it all the time, not to mention that the process itself was fun and gave me something to do on one of the more boring days of quarantine.

 Bleaching and tie-dying is just one example of the recent upcycling trend. These hacks took over a lot of people’s “for you page” because it showed people how simple it is to recreate old clothes. One such technique was embroidering jeans. This became a way to add more personality to jeans with an easy and versatile technique. Many embroidered fun designs on the back pocket of their jeans or even wrote a personally important message. This is just one other example of how people can use clothing in order to express themselves, especially when most of us have the time to personalize our clothing to be meaningful to us. 

Making reusable masks has been another Tik Tok trend that has allowed people to personalize what otherwise would be simply a common necessity. This was especially relevant in the beginning of quarantine at the time of the disposable mask shortage. People took this opportunity to make masks to represent their beliefs, whether that was a “Black Lives Matter” mask or a mask requesting people to vote. Reusable masks are also good for the environment, so the trend of making your own mask is a great way to demonstrate and put into practice your beliefs, while still looking cute and being safe!

Being stuck at home is one of the hardest things for most people. The lack of a familiar routine is scary and uncertain. It may sound silly or superficial to say that an app like TikTok helped form communities and gave people a creative outlet, but this holds true for my own life as well as for the lives of people I’ve witnessed. Tiktok has given so many people the opportunity to grow their creative talents or even find a new one; Tiktok has a place for everyone.  In these uncertain times, it’s important to have a respite from all the craziness, regardless of if it is just an app on your phone. So, even if you might feel like you’re too old or cool to join this “Gen-Z” app, I would encourage you to get it — I guarantee that you will learn something.  

The Way Fashion Has Always Been a “Good” Selfish: Before, After, and During a Pandemic World: Katalina de Leon

2020. The Roaring Twenties. Turn of the decade. 

Right from New Year’s Eve into the New Year, everyone was filled with excitement and anticipation of what was to come. It was a new beginning, a time where people could start over, filled with endless possibilities. Little could anyone predict what was to come. 

When COVID-19 rocked the world, everyone was shocked into quarantine. Life was stopped for a short moment. People had a lot more time to reflect on things they wouldn’t normally think about. People used the extra time at home to maybe pick up a new hobby or catch up with family and friends. Basically, everyone was given a chance to do things that they wouldn’t normally have had time to do or said that they were too busy for, and in some ways that was comforting. Not only that, but also helped in making people more appreciative of the world and things that may have been taken for granted at a certain point, but that by itself is a whole other story.

Talking now with people about their days in quarantine, I find that sometimes they find themselves reminiscing back to that time or even “missing their quarantine selves.” Some even say that they came out more grounded in their individuality more than they were before.  Now what does that really mean and how could that possibly tie into fashion?

Even before quarantine, fashion was a way that people connected. It was a way that people were able to show a part of them that was inside and communicate it with others in ways beyond words. And although how hard we try at the end of the day we are only human. How we appear to others is often the first thing that registers in a person’s mind, a powerful impression of unspoken words. Our bodies are blank canvases with endless possibilities. From the clothes we choose to wear in the morning, to the tattoos and piercings that cover our bodies, to the makeup or lack of makeup thereof, to the way we paint and treat our bodies, the color or way we choose to style are hair, all play into telling an even larger story to who we are, as a person and as an individual. Sometimes, that might not even be as clear to us and as we grow our look changes with us as we discover the person we want to be. 

Before quarantine, it was easy. Getting ready was just part of our routine and was instinct to many. For example, some didn’t even think twice about setting up an appointment at the nail salon to change their acrylics into another new funky style they saw online. Or even, all of the hair and eyelash extension appointments, what happens when everything is closed and you no longer have access to these things?

But in quarantine, especially in the beginning, some people lost inspiration to do all of this. What was the point in getting up and putting on a whole face of makeup and changing through countless garments of wardrobe just to sit at a desk in your room? Especially accompanied with all of the other eye-opening events that rippled across the globe, it was hard to find true meaning behind anything. Out were the ties, dresses, and suits, and in were the sweatpants, sweatshirts, and pajama pants. After all, if your workday started at 9 AM, who would really want to wake up before dawn just to make yourself as presentable as possible when the only physical companion you’ll be talking to is your computer. 

But as time went on, people got out of the slump and began to dress up for the day, even if they had no plans to go anywhere. According to an article written by Kalhan Rosenblatt on NBC News, Amanda Brennan said, “I felt like… I was losing this piece of myself and it was really hard to look in the mirror. I do my makeup to express my identity. If I could open up my soul to you, it would be hot pink glitter… it’s been a struggle.” People began to realize that fashion was more than just the clothes you chose to wear, but an example of how you see yourself and want others to see you. It is hard to even comprehend how individualistic fashion really is, and in some ways, it can be selfish, but not necessarily in a bad way. Especially during quarantine, through endless days with only their minds to give them comfort, some people had a lot more time to focus on themselves. Some who didn’t necessarily have time to put on a full face of makeup when trying to get a decent amount of sleep before a long day at work began to experiment. Others learned of the dangers of fast fashion and looked into new ways of upcycling or thrifting, which was even more intimate in terms of self-expression. Fashion is selfish in the way that we are who we are, and at the end of the day, nobody can tell you what to like or what to wear or how to present yourself. Ultimately that is up to you. The uniqueness in the art is a beauty in itself and is often one that goes unnoticed or unappreciated. 

Furthermore, fashion helped to ground some others during these uncertain times. Many still woke up and did their morning routines, even if they had nowhere to go, for the sake of normalcy. Moods and productivity tend to rise when you feel prepared for the day and sometimes this just starts with putting on an outfit that you love. So, in a way, even though much of what we would consider “normal” was taken, getting dressed in the morning was not one of those things. The endless possibilities of the art in ourselves was not one of those things.

The only question left is what is going to happen post-quarantine? Personally, I think people are going to just have a deeper appreciation for themselves than they had before. And that will naturally come out in how they choose to present themselves as it has always been beautiful in that way. But even pre-quarantine, many were already rocking their looks in every possible way, so I think that after all of this it can only be even more so from here. Like how we grow as people and as a society, fashion will grow with us. While some may think that fashion should be the last thing on your mind in this new world, it has always been one of the most defining and integral ways that people connect with each other, in centuries of past lifetimes and the years to come. 

Anti-Vietnam Protests and Fashion: Adam Kim

The 1960s was a period of massive cultural upheaval, social progress, and artistic growth.

Increased resentment towards the entrenched systems of segregation and patriarchy contributed to a growing anti-establishment counterculture amongst the American youth. With the Second Wave of Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement well underway, cultural protest emerged as a main outlet of self-expression. Icons like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and even Cheech & Chong ushered in a new era of art, music, and style that defined the new ideals of Free Love and Rock & Roll.

Despite this seemingly progressive wave of cultural and social advancement, the ‘60s were marked by significant turmoil and unrest. The Cuban Missile Crisis nearly escalated to full-scale nuclear war. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. stunned an American public that was still recovering from the violent public shooting of John F. Kennedy. Amidst protests against systemic racism and rampant gender discrimination, one issue seemed to unite the American public – the anti-Vietnam War movement.

At the time, the Vietnam War was the most unpopular conflict that the United States had ever engaged in. Support for the war was undermined by national TV coverage of its violent realities — millions of Americans tuned in every night to see thousands of young men engaged in cruel, unnerving jungle warfare. 

Without a well-communicated purpose by the state for its relentless slaughter of Vietnamese and rising numbers of casualties, the American public questioned the motivation behind the conflict. The “random” draft through the Selective Service System was viewed as discriminatory towards low-income, low-education youths who could not pay their way out of the draft. The brutal reality of the conflict, in addition to its direct impact on the younger generation, resulted in heavy resistance from the counterculture movement.

Anti-war protests broke out across the nation, particularly in the stereotypically “hippie” areas of San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. The coy “Make Love, Not War” slogan quickly became the motto of the movement, and the Peace symbol became its logo. Brandishing signs and clothes adorned with both, thousands flocked to major cities to express their disgust with the conflict. Since many of the protestors were part of the hippie culture, their style and anti-mainstream fashion quickly became associated with the anti-war movement.

Centered around the rejection of contemporary social norms, the hippies were characterized by their Western adaptations of East Asian spiritual concepts, sexual freedom, and recreational drug use. The suits and skirts of the ‘50s were abandoned in favor of an unspoken dress code — bright, psychedelic colors and a loose, Bohemian style. Natural fabrics like batik were combined with paisley patterns and flowers. Bell-bottom jeans and tie-dye emerged, alongside medallion necklaces and other bold accessories. 

The tighter, shorter female silhouette of the ‘60s, defined by the new trend of the miniskirt, was rejected in favor of maxi dresses, A-line skirts, wide-leg beach pants, and thrifted modest, 20th-century dresses. Natural faces were preferred in favor of makeup, and long, unstyled hair became the norm. Men’s clothing tended towards patterned pants and vibrant colors, frequently paired with t-shirts and turtlenecks. The influence of Eastern fashion was also apparent, as evidenced by  tunic shirts, vests, sandals, and slippers. Beaded necklaces, headbands, and bracelets were popular accessories as well. More than anything else, both men and women’s fashion was predicated on the idea of “anything goes”, as long as it wasn’t the societal norm. For some, this even meant no clothes at all. As protests continued, this free, loose style of the counterculture hippies became deeply intertwined with the anti-war movement.

Another one of the many universal clothing symbols that became closely associated with the anti-war movement was the black armband, which became a national icon during the Supreme Court Tinker vs. Des Moines case. In 1965, five students decided to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War – they were ordered to remove them, which they refused, resulting in suspension. The Supreme Court ruled this to be a violation of the children’s’ First Amendment Rights, setting a permanent precedent for the freedom to express political views through clothing. 

The association of clothing with political movements is particularly applicable today, as the rise of modern print has allowed for clearer expression — Black Lives Matter clothing, MAGA hats, and the Proud Boys polo shirts stand out as contemporary examples. This modern method of expression is certainly much more direct than the associative outcome of hippie fashion becoming synonymous with the anti-war movement, but the Vietnam protests still serve as an interesting, comparable precedent. The Tinker vs. Des Moines case and the rejection of social norms by hippies set the foundation for modern political expression through clothing, which has become a pervasive enabler of individuality and free speech.

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,

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,

MTV Video Music Awards 2020, 2020,

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. 



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.