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  • Writer's pictureVariant Magazine

The Origins of Street Fashion

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

By Hannah Mazanec, Blogger

We all know which makeup and fashion trends are popular these days, but do we know where they came from? There are so many common items or ideas that we think originated in the United States, when in fact, they did not. So many popular trends have come from different cultures all around the world that Americans have taken credit for. This is especially popular with street fashion.

Even though people in the U.S. have also taken on this idea of street fashion, there are many controversies that need to be discussed. These controversies mainly involve the idea of appropriation versus appreciation. But, what is the difference between these two phrases?

Graphic courtesy of INVIYA

Appropriation is taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. Appreciation, on the other hand, is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.

In 2020, we are accustomed to many trends coming to the U.S. but we forget that there is always a story behind a creation. Some of these trends have been common for years — for example, blue jeans originated within European style. England was the primary producer of denim before the U.S. gained its independence and started producing its own denim.

Another example is nose rings. Nose rings have become a popular trend in the U.S., but the history of them derives from many regions including South America and India. Even though all of these countries incorporate nose rings into their cultures, each region has a different meaning for doing so.

In fashion, appropriation has very real consequences. Mostly, these consequences hurt the artisans economically. For example, buying things like a Mexican huipil from Amazon takes a sale away from the community in which it was made. On the other hand, buying one from an artisan in Mexico emphasizes your support for their talents.

An example of a high-end brand getting hate for their fashion choices is Gucci. Recently, Gucci was criticized for putting turbans on white models. The brand experienced pushback after many consumers saw this as a sign of disrespect since the turban is a symbol of faith and not a fashion accessory.

Another example is in 2017 when Victoria’s Secret decided to put a Native American-style headdress on one of its models. This just goes to show that there are still big brands who are not appreciating different cultures’ customs regarding clothing trends, and instead are using it as a counterfeit fashion accessory for the look they are trying to achieve.

Another relevant example of appreciation and appropriation is Chinese street fashion. This phenomenon first became trendy on the app TikTok where meticulously edited slow motion clips of Chinese fashionistas are walking down the street while wearing the most objectively “out there,” yet incredibly stunning, outfits. This trend has become so known to the public that even Vogue wrote an article titled, “Chinese street style is taking over TikTok” where writer Christian Allaire says, “One could easily spend hours watching these pages and the runway-ready looks they chronicle.”

These perfectly curated outfits almost look as if they were pre-planned for the videos, but even if they were it is incredible to see people so outgoing and confident with their style. Since these videos have caused so much conversation within the TikTok community, people have started to copy this style of clothing and take more risks. Allaire explained how the trend is becoming common in the U.S. by writing, “It’s a side of fashion that a lot of us here in the U.S. are not used to seeing. I have never seen a grown woman wear a Cheez-It top and make it high fashion.”

In the U.S., social media influencers have been copying this type of style to express themselves as well. However, when it comes to clothes that are seen in other cultures, it is always a good idea to do some research on the history and origins before purchasing any of these items, to prevent any unintentional appropriation.

A few questions to ask yourself before buying clothes should be, “Is the artisan directly profiting from my purchase?” or “Do I understand the context of my outfit?” and “Am I willing to use this knowledge to bring awareness to their culture?” Being able to answer these questions allows you to know the background of certain trends. Once you’ve educated yourself on the history, you will be able to appreciate other individuals, cultures and the fashion trends around you.

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