the fashion race
i’ve been thinking a lot recently about identity, and in particular, race and sexuality.
when combined with fashion, i think that these two things are kind of like religion; when it’s part of your identity, it’ll often lead you to adopt a certain way of dressing (but not necessarily). but if it’s not part of your identity, it can be considered disrespectful to try and imitate it. you know exactly what i’m talking about - every few years, catholic crosses and other religious iconography feature heavily in the catwalk collections, and remember as kids when you’d get those bindi stickers in mizz magazine? just the other day i heard about an indian guy who had a tattoo of jesus on the cross on his arm, not because he was christian, but because it was fashionable. it’s not that strange when you think about all the chinese, hindi and tribal tattoos that people get emblazoned on their bodies without it being tied to their culture or identity at all.
lady gaga has often mixed fashion with religion (source: wowgaga.wordpress.com)
so what about race, and sexuality? is it socially wrong to take inspiration from other backgrounds and lifestyles? is it bigoted of us to even associate the quirkiness or individuality of someone’s fashion sense with their ethnicity or sexual orientation, rather than just their own personal style? i’m going to explore these questions, but spread out over two separate posts, focusing first on race.
i’ve spent the last two weeks in san francisco, which compared to dublin is extremely diverse in race: hispanic, white, black, asian and a handful of other faces and races form a part of san francisco’s own identity, something which dublin - the capital city of a predominantly white country - does not enjoy. when i go to london, too, i see groups of trendy black kids hanging out, their style clearly influenced by a mix of music, art and fashion: colourful accessories, bold tshirt designs, and statement jewellery (of course, these looks are seen on people of other races too, but it’s something i’ve particularly noticed in black communities in london).
or sometimes i’ll see asian women on the tube, head to toe in prada and gucci, and wonder if she would dress the same were she white, or black, or any other race. probably. or maybe not. who knows. in college, i did a paper on the growth of luxury brands in asia, and an astonishing statistic that i learnt was that 94% of women in tokyo own something by louis vuttion. it made me wonder whether this was just because it was tokyo, one of the most expensive and profitable cities in the world, where luxury is obviously very accessible, or if it could possibly have anything to do with the fact of these women being asian - something cultural perhaps?
at this point i will say that i’m not in any way trying to generalise fashion and race in saying that for example, black women all wear the same kind of thing. that’s completely not true. two of my fellow fashionista friends (one & two) happen to be black and they have very different styles, and neither is even close to some of the street/urban fashion that i’m referring to here. obviously, just because someone is of a certain ethnicity or racial background, doesn’t mean that their style is necessarily at all influenced by that fact; what i’m aiming to explore here are those subsets of fashion that are often associated to certan social groups, and figure out why that is, and if i could ever pull those looks off in my own way (and if it’s socially appropriate to do so).
for a long time i’ve had a complex about being white. actually, not just about being white, but being so white. my ethnic makeup is english and french. i’m a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-specked white chick and honestly i struggle to feel cool sometimes because of this. which is really stupid, i know. even if i were to dye my hair and wear coloured contacts, my complexion (especially my freckles) would still reveal my true whiteness. it’s interesting; the grass really is always greener on the other side. women in india will buy skin lightening products to appear whiter, while in the western world, women are submitting themselves to uv rays or covering themselves in fake tan to obtain a more golden brown complexion. why can’t we be satisfied with what we were born with? and why does it matter? just in the way that transgendered people often believe they were born as the wrong gender, is it possible for people to feel like they were born as the wrong race?
last year, i read an article on the okcupid blog called the real “stuff white people like” - they asked the following question:
what is it that makes a culture unique? how are whites, blacks, asians, or whoever different from everybody else? what tastes, interests, and concepts define an ethnic group? and is there any way to make fun of other races in public and get away with it?
that’s exactly what i’m trying to address with this blogpost. after reading the article, i was interested to see that i actually shared the most interests with asian women, then latinas, and only then with women of my actual race. maybe i’m not so white after all? but how does this relate to fashion, if at all?
yesterday, i stumbled upon a blog by geekdonswagg. he’s mixrace (black, white, chinese) and his blog was full of exactly the kind of style that i have always been too self-conscious to try out for the above reasons. here are some examples:
caps: baseball caps, trucker caps, fitted caps… i’ve never been able to wear these without looking like a soccer mom. i love this colourful geometric one. (source: kimdash.tumblr.com)
bold shapes/colours: if i were to wear something like this i’d feel like a fashion victim, like i’d just walked into topshop and bought the most on-trend thing i saw. i genuinely think this look is funky but i just think it’d look stupid on me. the trousers actually really remind me of a sundress my mum used to wear when i was a kid; if she can do it, why can’t i? (source: xprex.tumblr.com)
little girl: gingham, pigtails, playsuits, knee high socks… anything childlike and cute generally looks great on asian women, but looks tacky and borderline kinky on me. now, most asian women tend to be petite or small framed, so that probably helps, but i think that even if i were petite and i wore this, i’d just look like a milkmaid instead of just an adorable street fashionista (source: tokyofashion.com)
camouflage - i love camouflage, but i feel like when i wear it, i look like i’m trying to be lara croft or something. i love the mix with the neon colours here. (source: thrillakilla.tumblr.com)
turbans/headscarves: it’s a terrible thing to say, but whenever i attempt to wear a headscarf of any kind, i end up looking like a cancer patient. or axl rose (proof). so no turbans for me.
i briefly wrote about my ethnic apprehension in another blogpost a few months ago, but now that i’ve spent some time surrounding and familiarising myself with these looks, i think i’m ready to say “fuck that!” to my previous theories and just do what i want. i think as long as you own your style and make it you, that’s all that counts. like mj said, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, and he knew a thing or two about race (and personal style, for that matter).
having said all this, there are a few white celebrity females who pull off these styles, like gwen stefani and pink, but they generally make it very much their signature style rather than an occasional look. obviously if i were to pierce my nose, dye my hair platinum and wear cropped tops and trucker caps i could probably brush off my squeaky clean white girl look, but that wouldn’t leave much room for the versatility that i love.
now, i haven’t really covered hispanic or latina fashion here, because i actually don’t know too much about it apart from that it tends to be very glamourous. what i know of this style i really like, and i think i could pull it off easily if only i could be bothered to spend the time and money on all the beauty treatments and maintenance; i get the impression that a lot of that whole style is very much about the hair, nails, eyebrows and tan, but as i said, i don’t really know. anyway, i did some reading online and i found an article from 2005 which cited some interesting data :
latina women are also more fastidious about their appearance than women of other ethnicities. a significant 57% of hispanic females told the monitor that they preferred clothing that looked better on them, over clothing that was comfortable for an evening of dinner and dancing. this was considerably higher than caucasians (45%) and african-americans (46%).
for a night out, i’d definitely agree that i prefer to look good and feel glamourous, but for the more every day scenarios i’m definitely less bothered about that, in general. i’m planning a trip to miami in september, so i’m sure i’ll learn a lot more about hispanic style then, but for now i’m definitely going to be a lot more open to dressing outside of my comfort zone (and possibly my race).
what about you? do you feel like your racial background affects your style? do you think you dress for a different race than your own? does it matter if you do? i’d love to hear people’s thoughts!