The NYT’s fashion director decries cultural appropriation

February 15, 2023 • 10:15 am

Vanessa Friedman is the fashion director and chief fashion critic of the New York Times, and she also will answer your “burning style questions” at

In today’s paper, she answers a question about whether it’s bad to culturally appropriate clothing, with a special focus on Asian clothing. All I can say is that I’m in trouble if that appropriation is bad, because when I’m in India, and sometimes in the U.S., I wear Indian clothing. In India it’s simply far more comfortable than “Western” clothing like heavy blue jeans, and it’s also a lot easier to get light cotton kurtas (shirts) and drawstring pants washed by the local dhobi (washer); they are cheap to clean and they dry fast. And I like the look of kurtas, too, and have several silk ones—including some given to me by Indian friends.

I have never been called out or criticized for wearing Indian clothes. Indeed, in India I think the locals appreciate my “appropriation.”

That said, I’m clearly DOING IT RONG, at least according to Vanessa Friedman, because I haven’t deeply educated myself on the clothes. I wear them because I like them and they’re comfortable. (I also have two New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirts in case a Kiwi wants to go after me.)

But I think Vanessa is deeply misguided, and sets herself up as a Pecksniffian arbiter of what’s proper.

Let me say first that yes, in some circumstances I wouldn’t wear clothes from other cultures. I wouldn’t dress up as a Mexican bandit at Halloween (though it shouldn’t be banned), nor as a Japanese samurai. This is mainly because there is no circumstance in which that would be necessary. The only time when I think it would be actually offensive to wear clothes of another culture is when you’re doing it to mock other cultures.  Dressing up as a samurai would be deeply weird, and hardly “appropriate” in any circumstance, but it’s not a mockery of Japanese culture. And I have no problem with Western women wearing Indian clothes like saris—which I consider the world’s most beautiful women’s apparel—or the two-piece salwar kameez. It’s nearly always done out of respect and admiration for the garment, so why is that wrong?

According to Pecksniff Vanessa, it’s wrong unless you wear it exactly as it’s meant to be worn (hard with a sari) and if you have educated yourself on the “specific meaning” of the item.

Click the headline to read her misguided advice, and I see the article is archived here as well:

Here’s the question from an Inquisitive Reader:

I lived in Bangkok for a few years and traveled the region extensively. I love Asian-inspired fashion, but I now feel self-conscious wearing some of my Asian pieces as I am not Asian and don’t want to be disrespectful in any way. What do I do with my ao dai, Chinese jacket, Shanghai Tang items and more? — Mary, La Jolla, Calif.

My answer would be, “You go, Mary”, but Ms. Friedman finds this “problematic”:

The question of cultural appropriation is a highly complicated, fraught issue with no simple answers. You may remember that a few years ago a white high school senior wore a cheongsam to her prom, and it set off a firestorm of criticism in the United States — though in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, many social media users saw it as a cultural victory.

Note that the Chinese weren’t offended: it was Americans (including Chinese-Americans) who wailed. That tells you already that it’s the local Pecksniffs, people looking to be offended, that make people who wear clothes from other cultures feel bad.

And remember when, in 2015, the Met Gala celebrated the exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and though some guests understood the theme, others got their traditions and countries mixed up in a pretty egregious way?

There is a difference between wearing a garment as a homage and sign of cultural appreciation and wearing it as a costume or because you think it looks cute. And when it comes to Asian sartorial tradition, the stakes have only increased since the pandemic began, with its wave of despicable anti-Asian violence.

This can be especially tricky when it comes to fashion, which has long loved to dabble in what used to be termed the “exotic,” often without any regard for point of origin or meaning. See, for example, Gucci’s use of turbans that evoked Sikh dress as a runway accessory in 2019, not to mention the continued widespread use of the generic and derogatory term “Oriental” in reference to style and prints.

“Cute” is deliberately demeaning: people wear foreign clothes because they think they look good. I don’t wear kurtas because I think they’re “cute.”

People do not wear foreign clothes as a deliberate sign of homage or cultural appreciation unless they’re going to a special cultural event. They wear them because they like the way they look. If Ms. Friedman thinks that wearing Asian clothes somehow buys into anti-Asian violence or bigotry, she has no idea what she’s talking about. As for turbans, well, they’ve been worn by women for decades, and don’t especially conjure up Sikhs. But even if they did, so what? Gucci is not making fun of Sikhs, but adopting a garment out of admiration.

As for “Oriental,” well, yes, I wouldn’t use that term, but we’re talking about clothing here, not words.

Further, according to Friedman, you have to think deeply and do some sartorial study before you don your garment. Just to be sure, she asked an Asian American

I asked Jodie Chan, a fashion professional and the producer of the short film “Invisible Seams,” which tells the stories of New York’s Asian garment workers, what she would advise. First, she said, intention and understanding matters, so educate yourself as to the meaning and history of a garment to ensure you are wearing it as it is meant to be worn.

“While clothing is universal, some pieces can carry specific meaning and should be researched and treated as such,” Ms. Chan said in an email. “If you want to wear a kimono/yukata or robe piece suggestive of a kimono, for example, it is very important to consider how you wear it — always the left side over the right side, as the other way is for the deceased in Japanese culture.”

Well, yes, if you want to be accurate, but really, if it’s on the wrong side, are you mocking or making fun of Asians?  Jodie Chan, by the way, is a Vice President of Marketing at Carolina Herrera, which purveys Western clothes, and if you want to see lots of photos of Ms. Chan appropriating Western dress, go here. Apparently she has the right to culturally appropriate clothes (more on that below):

Another expert finds some stuff problematic:

Susie Lau, a fashion editor and influencer better known as Susie Bubble, said that context was also important, noting that if she saw a qipao dress worn as a sort of sexy waitress look with exaggerated cat-eye makeup, “that is immediately problematic.”

But, she added, “I believe culture should be shared, exchanged and disseminated with the most positive of intentions,” and sometimes that is done through clothing.

Does she not know that wearing foreign clothes is almost invariably done with positive intentions? Does she not know how the world works?

I have to say that qipao dresses, form-fitting and often slit way up the side, are intentionally sexy, and what’s the issue with pairing them with “cat-eye makeup”? I don’t know what Lau is talking about with the “sexy waitress look”, but quipao dresses aren’t exactly modest clothing.

Oh, and there’s one more thing that’s problematic:

Finally, consider who made the piece, and thus who is benefiting. Is it an Asian designer or a Western name profiting from another country’s culture?

Can we ditch the idea of “who’s profiting from another country’s culture”? For crying out loud, all over Asia, including Japan, people wear Western clothing, usually made locally, not in America. Japanese salarymen wear suits and ties, many women get their fashion from the West, and blue jeans (Levis), invented in America, are worldwide.  Do Friedman, Chan, and Lau decry the widespread cultural appropriation of Western clothes by Asians: indeed, by people throughout the world? No, of course not, because it’s okay when they do the appropriation.

It cannot be wrong for an American to wear a qipao if it’s not wrong for a Japanese woman to wear blue jeans, or a Japanese businessman a suit.  That’s all ye need to know.

What we have here are cowed Americans worried sick about whether they’re offending people from other cultures, and they’re made to feel that way as a power play by people who are pretending to “protect” their culture. But this is not offensive because in the case of “cultural appropriation,” as with language, intent does matter.  And I’ve never seen a case (except perhaps at Halloween, and I can’t think of an example) where the intent was mocking or malicious.

Every country is involved in cultural appropriation—of food, of dress, of hairstyles, or machinery—and so on. This is, I think, all to the good. But there are those Pecksniffs who want to put a barrier around their culture and check the Purity Passport of every person who wants entry. Frankly, I’m sick to death of those people who, in their fervent desire—indeed, sometimes a vocation—to be offended, call out things that are good or well meant. If you want to see the apogee of the Deliberately Offended, read about “Kimono Wednesdays” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts a few years back.

67 thoughts on “The NYT’s fashion director decries cultural appropriation

  1. [Just reporting back]: My wife at breakfast this morning: “What’s that Jerry Coyne on about today?”

    1. On about 600 milligrams of lithium is what I’d be if I had to put up with as much mishegoss as our host sometimes does. 🙂

    2. When it comes to the casual wear attire there seems no misappropriation calling going on, it amplifies only when we get to formal attire.
      Locals know best for their climate and it makes sense to follow with every day wear.
      Formal is more of a deliberate act and this is were IMO peekinsniffs get their appropriation mojo on. It’s not the only reason, as in this case, “I’m an authority” seems appropriate.
      Respect for what formal clothing you wear creates an impression and get it right is all you need to do.
      NYT should try guiding not telling people what you can and should not wear.
      It would probably be a far more interesting article.

  2. I wore a kimono once in Japan. My wife being Japanese, and the occasion being one of those special celebrations for kids when they reach a certain age, I guess that does not really qualify as cultural appropriation. We went to a special rental shop, and two ladies dressed me up, because a real kimono is a complicated piece of equipment! They were actually super happy that a Geijin enjoyed their culture so much. Anyway… Ridiculous indeed!

    1. Because the woke have their heads so far up their collective asses that they don’t realize the implicit message is that we western folk are the grown-ups in the room, and we must indulge the children, now mustn’t we. This kind of idiocy has not gone unnoticed. Just ask president DeSantis.

    2. Power. The West has power, the rest of the world doesn’t. At least that’s what these people say. That’s why it’s OK to say that white people are devils, but not OK to say that black people are. It’s a handy distinction that obviates complaints of a double-standard.

    3. Woke logic dictates that culture is truly appropriated only from oppressed people. Since whites aren’t oppressed, there’s nothing to be upset about in their case. But Asian Americans are “oppressed,” so a non-Asian wearing Asian clothing is a no-no and deeply triggering.

      This fear of “profiting from another country’s culture” is a sign of how deeply modern capitalism has muddled people’s brains. Culture has been reduced to intellectual property, which oppressed/marginalized groups can use to gain reparations.

      1. Asian Americans are oppressed depending on the circumstances. In this case, they are “oppressed”. But in education, where they excel, they are not oppressed and new terms, such as “white-adjacent”, have to be invented to describe them…

        In other words, whether Asians are oppressed or not depends on how they fit into the particular Woke narrative on an issue…

        1. Exactly! The NYT invokes the “wave of despicable anti-Asian violence” to give Asians oppressed status for the sake of its article. Utterly despicable as that violence was, it was almost certainly overstated by the press, and much of the supposed wave consisted of African Americans robbing elderly Asian Americans. Despicable to be sure, but not a novelty when considering crime statistics in large, diverse cities.

  3. I read the first dozen or so comments on the times site. Nobody agreed with the author, and pretty much all take a position compatible with yours. The word “ridiculous” came up a lot.
    However, if someone could do something about the love affair some American men seem to have with kilts it might do everyone a favor 😉

    1. I subscribe to the Times and I do not see any comments at all in the article. Have the powers that be taken them down?

      1. The comments are there (I have a subscription too, not sure if that makes a difference though). If you click the link about there is a comments icon below the title and above the first photo (next to the bookmark icon). If you click it the comments open in a sidebar. As of a couple of mins ago there were 215 comments.

    2. Hey, wearing a kilt offers up the perfect response to the flailing, failing Friedman; hike up the pleated backside so she can kiss my hairy Scottish arse!

      Not that I own one, being American of Scottish descent (among many other cultures), I like them but I’m too shy to wear one. But I say share and share alike. We shouldn’t be policing what anyone wears, but instead looking at the conditions that exist in garment factories around the world. But, it seems to me that the wokees spend their time railing against the fabricated non-issues while ignoring the real problems.

      1. “Tell me, Mr McTavish, is anything worn under the kilt?”
        “Och no, ma’am, it’s all in pairfect condition”.

    3. I haven’t seen any Americans wearing kilts. The old legend is that Scotsmen go commando under their kilts, and there’s a joke that two American ladies saw a Scotsman in a kilt and wanted to check this legend. One of them goes up to the Scotsman and says, “Excuse me, sir, but what’s worn under your kilt?” He replies, in a thick Glaswegian accent. “Madam, everrrything’s in perrrfect working orrder!”
      I’ll be here all year, folks.

      1. The old joke that, had she lifted his kilt and found two quarter pounders and a bigmac she would have known that he was a MacDonald is….probably not suitable here…

      2. Another popular story has 2 young ladies coming upon a Scottish bloke passed out drunk along a roadside. They use the opportunity to check out the rumor that the kilt is worn sans undies. Finding that’s the case, they tie a blue ribbon around it before leaving. Next morning, he awakens and goes to relieve himself. When he sees the ribbon he says, “ah dun know where ye been, me lad, but ah see yeh wun firs’ place.”

  4. It is sadly true that “wokesters” are “people looking to be offended”. On the topic of the Met, Heather Mac Donald has recently posted (at CityJournal) a report (“Barometer of Hate”) on the capture of our finest museum of art (now increasingly “racialized” in its ideology) by fanatical “woke” zealots.

  5. This chastising of “cultural appropriation” only ever seems to go in one direction. Nobody is going to chastise a “non-Westerner” for wearing “Western” clothes like jeans or a hoodie or whatever.

    So the rule seems to be: white people have to stick to their “white clothes”, and nonwhite people can wear whatever they want.

    This nonsensical inconsistency alone is enough to laugh off people like Vanessa Friedman…

    1. But remember, logical consistency itself, like “white empiricism”, accuracy, and other such evils, is a social construct of the colonialist system of oppression.

      One striking inconsistency in this area is the hysteria about the matter of “blackface”, as
      the University of Michigan demonstrated in connection with Olivier’s classic film of Othello. Nobody ever said boo about the “redface” that white movie actors, starting with Victor Mature, donned to play native Americans in innumerable Western films.

      1. When Xhosa boys ‘gaan in die bos’ (litterally ‘go to the woods’ for initiation and circumcision) aka. Ulwaluko, they wear
        ‘whiteface’. I’ve never heard anyone complaining about the ‘whiteface’, only about unhygienic conditions of circumcision (not trivial in a country rife with AIDS) and leaving these basically naked boys starved and cold.

      2. Give them time! I’m sure professors will soon have to give “redface” Trigger Warnings before they show a classic western in film classes.

    2. It’s also a woke doctrine that white America is utterly bereft of any cultural value, that the height of our cuisine is an American cheese sandwich on Wonder bread, our only music is country schlock, Leave it to Beaver our fictional zenith, and we can’t dance at all, good god, don’t try to dance, it’s just embarrassing. Anything creative value originating within these borders is the exclusive province of the marginalized and oppressed. Thus, appropriation is a one-way street because white Americans create nothing anyone could want.

  6. Needless to say, I would never dare to retrieve a little Chinese restaurant take-out box from my refrigerator, without first educating myself deeply on the history and meaning of black bean sauce. And as for dishes involving noodles—well, their history in Asia and the Mediterranean is so long and complex that one would need three PhD degrees before eating even one noodle..

    1. I can picture a thesis now….

      Epigastric Epistemologies:
      Black bean sauce, dyspepsia and their influence on cisnormative knowledges of young white men who consume Chinese-adjacent cuisines.

  7. I don’t have NYT access, so it’s not clear whether the author defined “cultural appropriation.” I assume she didn’t. They never explain their terms, just wield them with the implication that it is a Bad Thing (and the perpetrator a Bad Person).

    With regard to Oriental, I’ve never been clear why that is Bad and Asian is Good. Both are Euro-centric appellations. I suppose it’s because Oriental is associated with the Bad Old Days, but as we’ve seen, eventually even the replacement words become associated with Bad People and have to be changed. (Bum -> homeless -> people without housing.)

    1. Yes, as I understood it had to do with orient, relating to the sunrise, and the opposite of occident, relating to the sunset. Considering Japan’s own national name refers to the rising sun, it’s hard to understand why it’s anymore offensive than “Asian”. I guess that’s just related to how it’s been used, historically.

    2. As a pecuniarily challenged unhoused off-white AMAB on the spectrum, I can assure you that in the circles in which I’ve spent my life running NOBODY CARES what you wear or eat or read or listen to — such neuroses can only be the product of monstrous wealth and privilege, i.e., Occidental wokeists with way too much time to burn.

      As for kilts, there’s an entire subculture (west coast USA) favoring that excellent garment, which is essentially a more comfortable, better-ventilated version of cargo shorts. Lots of overlap with tatus, piercings, anarcho-punkrockism, customized bicycles, freeganism, etc in said subculture.

  8. I am Indian naturalised Canadian (first generation), we never get offended when anyone else wears the sari mostly in the context that you say – wearer looks and feels beautiful in it. I doubt second & third generations in North America does too. Many Western friends have related to me their desire to attend Indian weddings besides the show & pomp of course, precisely to wear Indian attire (wearing out of occasion may feel awkward to them). And the comfort of the cotton kurta is unmatchable – very glad to know you are part of this club too.
    In academic spaces in North America in the early 2000s, I have worn the kurti & the saree (for dinner events). Although I have only received generous compliments from others, part of me felt conscious because it grabbed attention while I was simply trying to be myself. I stopped wearing it. Nowadays I will feel more empowered to wear culture on my sleeve.
    That being said, the Gucci case of the Turban does seem a tad appropriating. I regard the Sikh turban as a sacred religious piece, the turban that is worn by non Sikhs in India has a different style, tied in a different way than the Sikh turban and is fine to emulate I doubt if runway fashion suddenly appropriated the burqa out of context, it will fly smooth.
    Recently I felt the same about distressed clothing and immediately realised that appropriation is a vague term. I found myself appalled when Nordstorm was selling this My justifications being – one cannot appropriate distress without being through the kind of distress this implies. Even clothing donation bins asks for clean & non torn clothing. Who is profiting from this blatant display of insensitivity? Why is there no cry over this supposed next generation fashion trend. It is all a muddle and the confused generation is right in the middle of it.

  9. A number of years ago a dear neighbor of ours died. She was an immigrant from Japan who kept many of the customs of her native land. The other two families in our cul de sac were also Japanese immigrants, and all the families together owned and operated a wonderful Japanese restaurant in our area. Of course, we went to the funeral. But before we did, we read everything we could about Japanese funerary practices in America which, as with many cultures, are complex and unfamiliar. There’s a tradition of offering a monetary gift, for example, with the gift hidden inside a specially designed card. And the card itself is handed in a prescribed way to a person who greets the funeral attendees. I could go on with more of what we learned, but I won’t do so here.

    When we arrived at the funeral, we came with our card, the monetary gift tucked inside, and we handed it in the prescribed way to the person greeting us. In Friedman’s sad and pathetic world, we violated the rules of cultural appropriation. We should have feigned ignorance of Japanese funerary practices and should have simply shown up. We could have worn the wrong colors (yes, there are traditions around colors). We could have worn the wrong jewelry (women wore pearls). We could have sat in the wrong place. We could have ignored any number of practices. We could have done something in our ignorance to make the other mourners uncomfortable of to otherwise disrupt the ceremony. We did what we did out of respect for the deceased, her husband, her family, and her friends.

    When the ceremony began, the mourners formed a line to approach and address the deceased. Her husband stood at the open casket. When we approached the casket and her husband saw us, he broke down in tears and embraced us with open affection.

    We are glad that we violated Friedman’s pathetic rules.

    1. “In Friedman’s sad and pathetic world…”

      Indeed, that’s what it is. Imagine blundering through life with a mind that cannot distinguish between genuine respect and appreciation of other cultures, as you and your family demonstrated at the funeral, and “appropriation” of them?

    2. Thanks for the touching story, Norman. This reminds your friendly neighborhood librarian of a book, How to Be a Perfect Stranger, by Stuart Matlins, which, though written with the “person of faith” in mind, is nonetheless valuable for non-believers as well.

  10. Concern about “cultural appropriation” seem to me to be a form of anti-humanism. The values of the Enlightenment emphasized the common humanity of people on earth, what we share together. Boundaries are broken when a common love of beauty, morality, or practicality impels us to borrow something beautiful, wise, or useful from another culture.

    It was through such trades that we learned to appreciate people who seemed different from us. It was through cultural appropriation that the concept of human rights emerged. “They” were not so different than “us” that we couldn’t appreciate what they accomplished; nor were they so inferior that we couldn’t recognize that they did it better. This is the spirit of science. This is the heart of Humanism.

    The opposite of Humanism is an us-vs-them view of a fragmented world where nothing is shared or shareable. Whether this is done from contempt or an awkward excess of politeness, the result is the same.

    1. Nicely written, Sastra! IRT your last sentence, I suspect that there is stealthy contempt in this anti-Humanism, which hides under the veneer of solidarity and “allyship.”

      1. Yes indeed. It’s sad what we are losing thanks to the bright lines that progressives insist on creating to isolate us from each other.

    2. Exactly, well said.

      And so it goes for pretty much every woke prescription. They say that their intent is to eliminate racism and persecution, and to see that members of marginalized groups are afforded the same rights, dignity and respect as white people have. Yet their demands have exactly the opposite effect and are actually reversing the real and significant progress that has been made in the past several decades. They require society to be divided back into uniform groups that aren’t allowed to interact. They require everyone to reduce their “circles of inclusion” and to take care to not interact with members of other groups lest offense is given. It’s just nuts to me that they can’t see that they are exactly what they claim to hate and that they are powerfully regressive rather than progressive.

    3. To the extent that marginalized groups have access to government arts and culture money that is distributed according to skin colour and not to character, there is an incentive to invoke the anti-humanist argument to protect a grift. If I write a story that an indigenous person “could” have written (because it has indigenous characters), but didn’t, the money I get for selling my book is money stolen from him. Even if he had not the skill to write a captivating story that people want to read, he resents me for profiting from his culture. He seeks to intimidate my publisher into clawing back my advance and royalties, and dropping me from its stable. Additionally, he will argue that race-restricted arts money from government should have gone to him so he could have written his story on the taxpayer’s dime and school libraries would be this arm-twisted into buying it. There is only a fixed number of stories in the world. Every time a white person writes one, that is one less for minorities to write. The us-vs-them view is buttressed by money for “us” but not for “them”.

      Cultural appropriation going the other way is perfectly acceptable, of course, particularly of technological creature comforts that the traditional culture could not and does not produce itself.

  11. I notice that by wearing a kurta and string pants, you are in very good company: JBS Haldane used to be fond of wearing them in his later years.
    I think that indeed very few Indians would object to anybody wearing a kurta. We all suspect these objections come from white western woke (WWW).
    And on an even lighter note: ‘Denim’ comes from “serge de Nîmes’ from Nîmes, a beautiful ancient city in southern France. ‘Jeans’ is derived from Genoa (Genoan fustian) a city in nearby northern Italy. And yes, these cities produced that stuff.
    So I have some doubts Denim Jeans are really ‘American’, but suspect a cultural ‘appropriation’ from that small corner of the Mediterranean.

      1. You are right. While denim, the fabric, is named after the city in France where this fabric was produced, blue jeans are an American invention. They are perceived as such in other countries.

      2. You are certainly correct. Levi Strauss made them out of denim with riveted pockets for miners in the California gold rush. They are as American as, well, insert your favourite simile here.

        And cut-off blue beans on young women even more so.

        1. We learn in California history that it was the suppliers (including Levi Strauss) to the gold miners who got rich, not the gold miners themselves.

          In the second half of the video Huell Howser (1945-2013) visits the original plant of Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco and sees one of the first pairs of blue jeans.

          This was on the news late last year.

          Pulled from a sunken trunk in an 1857 shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina, work pants that auction officials describe as the oldest known pair of jeans in the world have sold for $114,000.

    1. I’m not surprised that there was pushback.

      This whole cultural appropriation ban is really just one component of a broader effort that proponents may or may not even be aware of. It’s an example of slicing and dicing the world into separate interest groups (along a range of axes including place of origin, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, everything else). It’s the very antithesis of creating a world where people can live together, understand each other, and respect each other. I wonder if the slicers and dicers realize that they are in fact slashing and burning the good that humanity has thus far accomplished.

    2. Could be the pushback, but the article was originally posted on Monday, and they usually close comments after a couple days anyway.

      They may also have a moderation threshold, where if some percentage of comments are getting nuked they pull the plug. Stories like this can draw outright racism in addition to legitimate and sensible pushback.

      As for pushback in general, in almost every “woke-adjacent” NYT article that allows comments I’ve found that the readership overwhelmingly skews towards a more moderate and sensible approach. They rarely get shut down with only a couple hundred comments. For that reason I’m inclined to think they pulled the plug because the story was already dated, or the comments were getting flooded with invective.

  12. It is only certain Americans who will be enraged if Mary wears her Asian clothes in the US. There is obviously no way to know if a person has done sufficient study about the article of clothing they wear and if their intent is pure. Liking it is enough. I looked at the reader’s responses to this column and they were over 90% dismissive of Frieman’s POV. I wore a haori mixed with western clothes to a formal event. A Japanese woman in head to toe traditional dress in kimono approached me to compliment my outfit. No need to wring your hands over appreciating the beauty and creativity- or merely practicality- of other culture’s clothing.

  13. The rest of the whole world are ‘culturally appropriating’ the USA, all the time. This rabbit hole of stupidity only leads to a cultural ‘grey goo’.

  14. One of my acquaintances has recently been to Australia, for the marriage of one of her Aussie husband’s relatives to an Indian national. Or, rather, two marriage celebrations: one according to Indian traditions, and one to Western. The guests were encouraged to wear their version of Indian dress to the first, and Western dress to the second. Everyone had a great time (indeed, two great times); and no one was remotely offended, let alone ‘hurt’. Long live cultural appropriation!

  15. A few years ago, experimenting, I turned the collar of my shirt under to see what a collar-less buttonned-up shirt looked like. (Re: the early Beatles wearing collar-less suits.) A fatuous, self-absorbed acquaintance looked me over and blessed me with his unsolicited pearl of wisdom, “That’s just weird!”

    I always look forward to the print NY Times Thursday and Sunday “Styles” section to compare my alleged weirdness with what I see there.

    I see that ripped jeans are making a comeback among the younger set. I want to see ripped trousers on Capitol Hill, and see Vanessa Friedman have a calf over it. (I say this in the context of NPR commentators covering the January 6 hearing kvetching about Jim Jordan not wearing a jacket. and some authoritarian judge somewhere ordering female lawyers to wear dresses/skirts and not pants suits. Guess he wants to catch a bit of calf if not thigh.)

  16. Many of the people who shriek about cultural appropriation are second or third generation hyphenated Americans, although the White “Karen” type seem to be taking over.
    I always assumed with the hyphenated types it was a function of being insecure about their identity. For the Karens, it is just an excuse to be a Church Lady.

    Personally, I have been wearing various sorts of Japanese clothing since I was four years old, and I am not changing now. My Mom learned to cook in Japan, so our diet has always tended that way as well.
    My wife has a bunch of Saris, because she likes them. I used to bring the material back for her, and she had an Indian tailor sew them to fit.
    The thing about Saris, Kimono, Jinbei, and other such garments is that you do not earn them through some sort of initiation. They are not presented to you after you complete some test.
    You buy them in a department store.

    Beyond the basic silliness of the whole argument, most of it is based on false assumptions about the origin of the practices referenced.

    One such kerfluffle that comes to mind was when a British chef presented his recipe for jollof rice, a Nigerian dish, and the shrieks began.
    Of course, the dish itself is an almost perfect multicultural construction. Asian rice and plantains, Tomatoes and peppers from the Americas. Indian pepper and curry.

    1. “You buy them in a department store.”

      And the Japanese really know how to do department stores! Enormous architectural masterpieces that would take days to thoroughly explore.

  17. I favor all forms of cultural appropriation in every direction. Everybody play with everybody else’s stuff. No lanes, no demographic walls, no reified boundaries between races, genders, and cultures. In the past few years, I’ve lived in Mexico (where my Mexican friends are either amused or insulted by the idea that US progressives try to block whites from owning Mexican restaurants or participating in Mexican cultural activities). Now I’m in Japan, where Gwen Stefani’s fascination with Japanese culture is loved by the Japanese, who similarly react with amusement or hostility toward US progressives trying to tear Stefani down for it. Enough already with the performative outrage for “those poor people” over there who have no need of your outrage. Friedman is an idiot.

  18. I’ve been practicing the not-so-ancient Japanese martial art of Aikido for over 3 decades (aikido, unlike arts like Karate, only goes back about 80 years). But like almost all of the Japanese martial arts, almost all practitioners wear a traditional white cotton suit (gi) and a belt, or obi. In aikido, most “black belts” wear heavy cotton trousers, called hakama, as a sign of their rank. We wear those clothes because 1) the gi and obi are practical, tried-and-tested garments that can withstand the rigours of grappling and throwing, and 2) to honour the history of the art that we are studying (aikido may be less than a 100 years old, but the roots of the techniques go back centuries).

    To suggest to anyone involved in the study of Japanese martial arts that they are somehow appropriating something that they haven’t earned, or “punching down”, would be met with amusement at best; projectile ejection from the dojo couldn’t be ruled out.

    1. My sons and I studied Kendo, which employs similar clothing. It is always funny when appropriation comes up in connection to Japanese clothing and food. The Japanese are untroubled by such uses at all.
      I have even seen an American young person, of distant Chinese heritage, screaming about the appropriation of Japanese culture. And they were screaming at a couple of kimono-clad Japanese ladies.

  19. Ridiculous. I’m Professor Emeritus of Art History. “Appropriation” of cultural forms is unavoidable in arts and creative expression. Fashion is creative expression. I’m also Palestinian-American. Do people realize that eye liner (kohl) is Middle Eastern in origin? If we can’t “appropriate” culture then get rid of eyeliner! There goes the makeup industry!

  20. I just checked a picture of Xi Jinping and sure enough he still doing that cultural appropriation of my culture, so I am formulating a stern letter of rebuke.

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