Zing Tsjeng | Contributing Writer | 1,188 day ago

What Not To Wear To A Festival: Cultural Appropriation Edition

The Debrief: Yes, Native American headdresses are still out

I used to love everyone I met at festivals. Here we were, beautiful people coated in mud, released from the 9-to-5 grind for one glorious weekend. Bliss!

Then one year at Bestival, I encountered a man who had blacked up as Flavor Flav to watch Public Enemy. At this point, I realised festivals are just like real life. There are douchebags everywhere.

It goes without saying that wearing blackface will get you assaulted by angry Chuck D fans. However, there are some clothing decisions that won’t get you punched at a festival, but are best avoided nonetheless. There’s a fine line between ‘expressing your fun-loving self through fashion’ and ‘walking around your campsite, wondering why some people are staring hatefully at you’.

First up. The Native American headdress. Pharrell’s worn some questionable things over the years, but even he couldn’t excuse wearing one of these on the cover of Elle. The singer was bombarded by Tweets and Facebook messages from thousands of Native Americans who were #nothappy with his choice of headgear. 

Their reason? The headdress is a spiritual item reserved for revered elders. As Simon Moya-Smith, a journalist and citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, put it: ‘Wearing one, even an imitation headdress, belittles what our elders have spent a lifetime to earn.’ Remember people complaining to the BBC when a University Challenge contestant wore a jacket with military medals, the idea being that it’s kind of disrespectful to walk around in stripes you haven’t earned? Same principle.

Then we come to the bindi, which was the rage-inducing accessory of choice at Coachella. Vanessa Hudgens, Kendall Jenner, Ellie Goulding and even normals posting #bindiselfies on Instagram all received hate from those that deemed it cultural appropriation in its grossest form. 

‘The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance,’ Rajan Zedd, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, explained in a statement. ‘It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.’ Ps. You are not exempt from this because you once took a three-day yoga course on Palolem Beach. 

Plus, bindis and feather headdresses represent festival fashion at its laziest. Since when did wearing them signify how #music #ready you are? If you want to dress like a girly music festival stereotype (like I do pretty much all summer), stick to crochet tops, floral crowns and Hunter wellies.

‘But Zing!’ I hear you cry. ‘What if I like crochet, floral crowns and bindis? It’s not like there’ll be any Native Americans or Hindu spiritual leaders around to be offended when I’m gurning by the stage during Disclosure!’

These accessories aren’t just unimaginative ways to give your outfit an ‘exotic’ twist. As fashion writer Raisa Bhuiyan explains: ‘When a non-South Asian person wears the bindi, it is generally seen as edgy and cute… But when someone like me or my mum wears the bindi out in public, we are stared down with dirty looks [or] told to go back to where we came from.’ 

In other words, wearing the bindi or headdress reinforces all-too-real inequalities between those who can get away with it as a fun accessory and those who can’t wear them without being judged for their skin colour or heritage. And maybe it’s just me, but hijacking something so closely associated with somebody else’s identity, especially for fashion’s sake,  leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s weird. It’s presumptuous. Who am I to do it? 

After all, nobody’s religion or culture deserves to be reduced to mere window dressing, especially not for Glasto selfies. Maybe it’s time to take off the feathers and peel off the bindi, ladies. We have nothing to lose but our festival clichés. 

Follow Zing on Twitter @misszing

Tags: Festivals