A sari is a traditional Indian dress. There is no religious background of this dress, and if somebody not from India wears a sari skirt, it doesn’t signify cultural appropriation. This means that the people of all backgrounds can wear sari skirts.
Wearing a sari skirt is not cultural appropriation. Foreigners who are not from India and have no Indian background can wear a sari skirt. It is considered to be okay and mostly perceived as an appreciation of the Indian culture. That’s why anybody can wear a sari if it’s suitable for the occasion.
Cultural appropriation is when some elements of one culture are adopted by members of another culture. This term is used especially when members of a dominant culture use elements of the disadvantaged minority cultures.
Usually, wearing a saree is perceived as cultural appreciation, meaning the person from other ethnic groups shows respect to the Indian culture. The design of the saree makes it very appealing, as it doesn’t require a lot of stitching, and it’s easy to make while still, it looks festive and gorgeous on women.
Many designers have used the saree as a base for their pieces of clothes. A great example of a designer like this is English fashion and textile designer Zandra Rhodes. Her designs are usually inspired by different cultures and her travels around the world.
The topic of cultural appropriation is very complicated and highly debated, as many people have different opinions and thoughts on what is appropriation and what is not. That’s why when choosing clothes, you need to make sure your choice suits best to the occasion and doesn’t have any religious background that you don’t represent that may offend someone.
Cultural Appropriation Of Wearing A Sari Skirt
There are several occasions when wearing a sari skirt is not cultural appropriation. These occasions include:
- When a foreigner wears a sari skirt within the Indian subcontinent. If you wear a sari skirt in the place of its origin, it’s considered an appreciation of the culture and is generally accepted.
- Wearing a sari skirt during a traditional Indian event or to a location that is dominantly Indian. This can be an Indian wedding, a celebration of famous Indian festivals, etc. If a person not from an Indian background wears a sari skirt, it is considered cultural appreciation and is positively viewed.
- Wearing a sari skirt as a costume for a certain event is also not cultural appropriation. If you want to dress up as a famous person from India that has a certain distinct style and wears a sari skirt, then it’s completely fine. It shows that you’re interested in Indian culture and people.
However, there are situations where wearing a sari skirt can be considered a cultural appropriation. For example, wearing a sari skirt in places where people that wear this type of clothes are made fun of and discriminated against. This is unacceptable and considered to be a mockery of the culture.
Another example is wearing a sari skirt without acknowledging that this is a traditional Indian dress. Sari skirt can be easily identified, and when someone from non-Indian background wears it and discards the idea of it being an Indian dress, then it’s disrespectful. This is definitely a cultural appropriation.
It is also important to remember that wearing the element of a certain culture in the way it reinforces the stereotypes about this culture is highly ignorant and disrespectful. The stereotypes may lead to further mistreatment and misunderstanding of the ethnic group that sparks hate.
Stereotypes can be very offensive, and the wrong clothes can make them even more offensive. Even though there is still a lot of space for debates on the topic of cultural appropriation and if it exists or not, people need to remember that their mindless actions may lead to offending somebody.
Some people even believe that musicians, artists, or designs can get away with cultural appropriation because they are creating a certain art that is open to different interpretations. This should not be accepted. Appreciation of all cultures is very important. And nobody should be given a pass on certain actions that can be viewed as cultural appropriation.
What Qualifies As Cultural Appropriation?
As mentioned above, cultural appropriation is the use of certain elements of a non-dominant culture without respecting its original meaning, acknowledging it as a part of another culture, or in the way that it reinforces stereotypes about the culture.
This is a very complicated topic, as it has many nuances that many people struggle to understand or sometimes don’t even realize the potential problem in their actions. It seems to be normal to mix different cultures as different people come together and interact with each other. Moreover, many inventions were created through the merging of different cultures.
However, there is a certain line, and when somebody crosses it, it can be viewed as cultural appropriation. This usually happens when a dominant culture uses some elements of other cultures in the way that representatives of other cultures view as exploitative.
The situations mentioned above, such as wearing a sari skirt in the wrong place and wearing it without acknowledging its origin, qualify for cultural appropriation. It’s important to make sure you choose the right clothes for certain occasions to avoid any misinterpretation or accusations of cultural appropriation.
And you should not make sacred artifacts an accessory. There are certain elements in every culture that have a deep meaning and history behind them.
So wearing them in the wrong way on the wrong occasion is a direct showing of a huge disrespect to the culture and the people who perceive this object in a different way because of its background.
Picking certain cultural elements, like print designs or clothes, without interacting with the people who made the pieces or the cultures that value these elements is a direct way to misinterpret the culture and appropriate the elements.
Is It Disrespectful To Wear A Sari If You Are Not An Indian?
Saris are considered to be simple, everyday clothes in Indian culture. It was always like this, and there is no religious background behind wearing a sari. Other traditional elements, like bindis that have a religious meaning behind them, are significant to a certain group of people. That’s why not everybody can wear them.
There is an example of a famous American singer wearing bindis during her concerts. Selena Gomez chose to wear a traditionally worn accessory in the center of her forehead by Indian women during several concerts in 2013.
The bindi can be a symbol of the connection with the “third eye” or an accessory that helps to distinguish a married woman. Because of its religious symbolism, this action of the American singer is cultural appropriation and was considered to be disrespectful.
In the case of saris, anybody can wear them in suitable situations, as they don’t have any religious significance. Saris are not spiritually significant outfits, so it is not in any way disrespectful to wear a sari if you’re not an Indian.
Moreover, there are many online retail stores that sell saris internationally, and people from different countries have the opportunity to buy a sari if they want to and wear it to any occasion.
Of course, you still need to remember about a certain line between what is considered to be okay and what not. You need to make sure you acknowledge the origin of a sari and respect the culture. When you’re in India and want to wear a sari to an event, then you’re more than welcome to do so. It shows your appreciation.
Sometimes accusations of cultural appropriation can be absurd and baseless. That’s why before wearing a certain traditional piece of clothing, you need to do research and be sure you can wear it.
So that when somebody has falsely accused you of cultural appropriation, you can easily defend your actions and explain your choice of clothing. Before wearing anything, make sure you ask yourself: “Am I wearing a piece of ancient culture as if it’s new? Do I give credit to the source of the inspiration for my outfit? Is it a religious element that is not the element of my personal beliefs?”.
If the answers to these questions are “no”, then you’re ready to go and will avoid cultural appropriation. However, you still need to be cautious about what you’re wearing. There is no such rule that only Indian women can wear saris. You can wear anything that you feel the most comfortable in.
Also, you can be in situations when it’s required to wear a sari. For example, you’re invited to a wedding where every woman has to wear a sari. Then there is a dress code you need to follow, and an occasion where wearing a sari is the most suitable option. So even if you’re a foreigner, you will still need to wear a sari to match the dress code of the wedding.
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