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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Outfit: Marie Laveau Wants Your Bones

It's a relief that all the work on my blog is beginning to pay off; organising my own domain name is still a work in progress, but it makes such a difference, reorganising and redesigning - more than you would expect. This, combined with the spring weather, is making me feel more and more upbeat, which is a boon for my upcoming exams.

Style wise I've been inspired recently by Mexican (specifically Frieda Kahlo) and South American cultures, as well as the Creole dress of Voudon Priestess Marie Laveau. I can't understand people dressing up 'Voodoo' for Halloween; it's tacky and offensive, but I feel that's it's okay to take inspiration from the most famous practitioner herself.

I want to find more ways of incorporating this into my normal macabre inspired wear, but that shouldn't be hard; Dia de los Muertos art and some of the darker imagery in Haitian voudon would be interesting to borrow from. I've been losing interest in gothic fashion proper recently, though I'll probably return again at some point; nu goth, mainstream fashion, minimalism and even pastel goth and vintage have been lingering in my head more recently, though I can't do anything without a dark twist.

Eye make up.
What are your opinions on cultural appropriation and taking inspiration from other cultures? Do let me know!
(P.S. Blogger is seriously beginning to irritate me, as posts keep scheduling and appearing before/after they were supposed to be up. This one wasn't supposed to appear until the 11th - derp. I'll leave it up, but I'm not sure what to do about blogger.)


  1. I love this outfit wholeheartedly. Ethnic motifs were always close to my heart and I love them even more when incorporated into gothic fashion. I wouldn't call it 'losing interest in gothic fashion' like you did, because I believe one of the advantages of this fashion is its flexibility. You can borrow elements from everywhere, merge them with some black base and still look undoubtely gothic. Say what you want, but I still can easily see trad-goth undertones in this outfit of yours (did you wore winklepickers at this moment? Because I can't see them not.) despite colourful jewellery and headscarf, because overall effect is sort of... uncanny, just like any proper goth should look like >D And it's not like goths in 80s avoided colours and elements taken from other cultures. To put it short - you simply rock >D

    As for the question you asked... to be honest, I wanted to read your opinion on this matter. I have read just yesterday on your profile page you consider yourself a social justice activist and it brought to my mind all that blind anti-white racism which floods Tumblr.
    (First of all, as a person whose native language is not English, I have a problem with understanding the word 'appropriation'. You know, I have always been teached 'appropriate' means suitable, fitting, proper and so on - something good. And now I see 'appropriation' as something evil and denoting exclusiveness... I can't see any link between meaning of these two words, really >_>)
    Looking back to the history of gothic movement, it's deeply rooted in 19th century, when also such trend as orientalism was gaining popularity (wait, 'orientalism' is also bad nowadays...). Those two intertwined often, because dark was interesting and exotic was interesting, so why not merge these two for double interesting >D So if there's any subculture or fashion movement where taking inspirations from other cultures flows in its veins, I'd say it would be gothic fashion.
    Moreover, I, just like you, am European. You probably know about old history of this continent, it was in close contact with Arabian, with Persian, with Indian ones, our ancestors were happy to share goods and knowledge with other cultures (through peaceful way or by invasions or migrations) and no one would ever call it 'appropriation'. No, it was rather viewed as cultural assimilation and enrichment of one's culture. So, for a person like me, who feels connected to European history and understands it, there's nothing bad in borrowing elements from other cultures just because they're pretty, because that's what people did for centuries and it was normal back then. And they were not doing it for laughs, like social justice warriors accuse people of - no, they were doing it, because they appreciated the beauty. And since just when appreciating beauty became something bad?

    1. Thank you so much! I'm so flattered by your praise, as I really love how you manage to mix trad goth and other influences. I've not truly fallen out of love with goth, given blue jeans bring me out in hives, but I'm looking for other influences to combine with my darker inclinations.

      I feel so sympathetic to those people who have to learn English as a second language, as it's strange features such as this that makes English a nightmare language. Appropriate as an adjective does mean 'good', but in contrast as a noun or verb it's bad. Urgh.

      Hmm - maybe a post on this is in order? Cultural appropriation is a very tricky subject; there's nothing necessarily wrong with taking inspiration from other cultures, but it's when this is done insensitively that there's problems. It's usually a combination of taking something that has cultural/religious links from a group which has a history of being oppressed by white folks (or just on the receiving end of racism) and getting praised for being so fashion forward, whilst the original group still gets mocked and discriminated against for wearing the same item. In the case of orientalism, there's an awful lot of labelling stuff as 'japanese' or 'geisha' when it's actually Korean/Chinese/not associated with geisha (which counts as appropriation via inaccuracy).

    2. I'd be glad if you'd write a post about your thoughts on this matter, because whenever I see this topic on Tumblr it drives me nuts. I can understand feeling of being mocked by white people, because we Polish also have some sort of Russia/Germany complex - but majority of these posts is just blatant, white-phobic racism. For example, when I see something like 'I used to like Tolkien, but now I can't enjoy his works, because he uses word "black" for something evil and that's SO racist' I really want to throw something heavy and sharp at the author of such rubbish. Colour black is culturally (hello!) associated in Europe with evilness and death and has nothing in common with skin colour, dammit. Posts like these always make me think of double standards - 'we people of colour can hate white folks for everything, because even the smallest things they do are obvious mockery, but they are not allowed to hate us for anything'.

      I can see double standards also in generalisation of white people. I can't help but feel people of colour see a one big, homogeneous white culture which corresponds to American culture. But that's not true, right? British culture is not the same as American; I' would probably offend you if I'd say you're English, because you're probably proud of Scotland being a distinct part of UK. There's nothing like one culture, each 'white' nation is different and has its own history - majority of them didn't partake in oppression of people of colour, many of them were oppressed by another white folks, yet social justice warriors seem to think they are the only ones that suffered and close their eyes on diversity of others. Can this really not be called double standards and xenophobia? I like this post, its ending is exactly what I think. You wrote there's nothing necessarily wrong with borrowing this or that, but the cultural appropriation is slowly becoming a paranoia, because noone cares if you wear this pretty necklace and headscarf out of your interest in Middle American cultures, or just because you thought it's cool and edgy - you are white, so the only option in your case is the second one. The only exception from this rule is being oriented on mockery. And this is exactly why seeing words 'social justice' and 'cultural appropriation' gets so much on my nerves.

    3. I agree that not all white people are the same, in the same way not all black cultures are the same; however, western culture is an entity outside of countries and cultural identities, being related to a certain lifestyle. It just so happens than the US and British voices are the loudest voices in the west, and also most guilty of cultural appropriation.

      I do think there's a lot of paranoia around cultural appropriation because it's complex, but it's actually not too bad to understand if you break it down. Are you doing it accurately (i.e. inspiration from the actual culture, not what you *think* the culture is)? Are you crediting the original culture? Does the item have strong religious or cultural connotations (e.g. the native American headdress is only given to those who have achieved certain things, like a medal of honour)? Would people from the culture get mocked by others for wearing it, whilst you would get praised for being fashionable? I think the best way to learn is by looking at examples, but whatever you do it's a nebulous issue and people are going to have different opinions.

      With regards to the Tolkien example, that's a weird one - on one hand, though that's a stupid example of it there is a trend in culture to associate dark skin with evil/uncouth/other racist connotations. On the other, though Tolkien features questionable portrayals of darker skinned races (and also contributes to the 'all fantasy is white' thing, though that's more of a systemic problem in the genre), his work isn't necessary an example of the hard and fast rule of 'dark = evil' (or indeed being in reference to skin tone; as you pointed out, it has a much different route), given Sauron's portrayals in the events of the Silmarillion. Plus, it's such a strange thing to be put off a book by.

    4. Still, no matter how the British and Americans would be evil in the eyes of people of colour, they (POC) wouldn't be able to spread their opinions to the world without English language. If they would use their native one, much less people would care, if anybody outside the borders of their country. But if someone doesn't like western culture that much, why care to use western language? Not using it would make more sense, even for the price of not sharing one's thoughts with anybody. But knowing languages probably shows best, that isolating from other cultures and keeping your own just to yourself will benefit you nothing.

      I just remembered a photo (or it was a drawing?) of two hipster girls in native American headdresses, with a caption 'Oh, it's not like your ancestors murdered them all' or something like this. I liked that one, because I never looked at it this way. One thing is I wasn't aware of popularity of such headdress as a fashion accessory at that time, second is my living in a country with very few and very small minorities and none of them were wiped off by Polish people of olde, the third at last is my former interest in native northern American cultures. I have to say whenever there was a fancy dress party I dressed up in a way that had sort of an native American air to it... sounds like mocking, doesn't it? I never perceived myself in terms of making fun of it. As a costume I have been wearing brown trousers, which I wore as on a daily basis, a blouse with printed beads assembled in a dreamcatcher-like way, which was my favourite and wore it very often, have been braiding my hair and putting leather cord around my head. No feathers, because I was aware of their meaning, even in terms of patterning them. So, as you can see, it was not how the real native Americans dressed like, it wasn't even resembling their national dress, but other children, just like me, easily associated this look with native Americans. Adding such details as stereotypical two braids and cord around my head to my everyday clothing to change it into a costume was for me a way of showing my interests in the culture, not mocking it... It wasn't socially acceptable to dress up like this every day - because I gladly would, but my parents prevented ME from being mocked - so the only way to show what I like via my clothing were costume parties. So, is that an example of cultural appropriation? I took nothing from the actual culture, only things that could be perceived as belonging to it - but with no intent of mockery and I was proud.

      All in all, Tolkien wrote his books between 30s and 50s. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think parts of Africa still were colonies of the British Empire around that time. If there's a negative portrayal of darker-skinned people... well, it's just the sign of those times. Tolkien's women also are completely deprived of character - because they had to be like this during these decades, and while I may not like it, it's understandable. But 'why evil language of Mordor is called BLACK Speech' is just too much for me, and I'd be happy to say I just made it up, but unfortunately I didn't.

    5. I don't feel that it's simple enough to say that if you don't like western culture, don't use the language; how are you supposed to communicate to the west that they're doing something wrong otherwise? For better or worse English and western lifestyle is the dominant force in the globe, and knowing English is of massive benefit in underdeveloped countries (also, it's very difficult to not speak English if you live in an English speaking country, as many PoC people do).

      Native Americans aren't actually very supportive of people dressing up as their culture; this is really due to US treatment of Native American culture as something of the past and not a real way of life, which is obviously very offensive. Sadly not a lot of people are aware of it (particularly if you're not from the US, like you and I) They (and other cultures too) do encourage an interest in their history and culture, however, as respectfully supporting and encouraging it is what allows it to thrive. As you said, if you don't allow people to take inspiration from you you're stifling the flow of creativity and risk dying out. However, one's celebration of another culture doesn't mean squat if they're not respecting the wishes of that culture.

      Whilst I do love Tolkien and accept that he (and many other authors) were a product of time, I find it difficult to dismiss some of the prejudices in his writing when they continue to this day to have such an influence on the fantasy genre. That shouldn't mean that one isn't allowed to enjoy it, just be aware of it. But yes, accusing it of being racist for calling it 'black speech' is a little strange.

  2. interesting conversation in the comments above. I love your outfit too. I only deem a look "cultural appropriation" if it insults the culture via some kind of fetishism or mockery. Sexy geisha or a headdress as a funny hat. You wear an african bracelet with your dress because it matches? I say not appropriation.

    1. Thank you! I'd personally also include things that have been taken from the cultural and stripped of meaning or reference to the original culture (e.g. Bindis traditionally being a signifier of hindu faith/South Asian heritage, Paul Smith's sandals which were an updated peshawari sandal but made no reference to this). It's a problem within fashion at large; I don't think you can really cry appropriation for something you picked up on your holiday/something that means a lot to you/represents a love of X culture, but I hate things like the bindi trend.

    2. Taken from the culture*

    3. omg i agree with you with the bindi trend...

  3. I ilove your outfit and I personally can't see anything wrong in how you combined pieces inspired by southamerican culture into it. But of yourse I am not from South America so I cannot speak for anyone who might feel differently about this topic. In my opinion it is important to be sensible and think about if what you wear might insult or belittle someone else's culture. I personally have a big problem with this whole trend that takes native American patterns and motives and reduces them to a trend. You on the other hand took inspiration from a culture you are interested in, you are not wearing it as a costume (the worst thing one can do in my opinion) and you are thinking about it in a really reflective way. I know tumblr sometimes can make one believe that you can only do wrong but to be honest, many many people there act out of either lack of knowledge or pure anger. Feeling treated in an injust way for ages can make people angry and suspicious and while I do udnerstand where these people are coming from, it is not the way I would choose.

    1. Thank you! I don't personally feel that this outfit is appropriative (though if someone from South American/voudon culture thinks otherwise, I'm happy to listen), but it's something to be aware of. With regards to some things, it's very difficult to get a common consensus from people of that culture as to what's appropriate, but for the most part considering it properly solves most problems.


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