Elle Calls The Dashiki The "Newest It-Item"; West Africans Everywhere Roll Their Eyes

Yet another cringe-y moment of cultural appropriation in fashion: ELLE Canada is getting grilled on Twitter and beyond for publishing a piece yesterday touting the dashiki, the vibrant West African garment, as “the new caftan,” with a slideshow of celebs like Rihanna, Zendaya, Beyoncé, Shay Mitchell, and Jhené Aiko “rocking their dashikis.” A couple of the celebs, including Rihanna and Beyoncé, were wearing designs by Dimepiece, which overlays the traditional patterns with the brand’s name.
Photo: Via @badgirlriri.
The magazine’s tweet about the story, billing the garment as “the newest it-item,” has since been taken down, but the Twitter orbit’s responses were fairly irate. “This is so irritating. NOTHING about a dashiki is new. It's been the 'it-item' in African countries since forever,” @LOVEugonma wrote on Twitter. “1) it's been around forever the dashiki isn't new 2) let's not encourage cultural appropriation,” @nashwakay tweeted, while another user pointed out, “my culture is not a trend.” On Elle.com the writer notes that the dashiki originated "from West Africa," but adds, "this tribal printed shirt is on our style radar," which assumes that West African perspectives aren't already represented at Elle (not to mention how "tribal" is used here).

On the beauty front, Kylie Jenner’s recent hair experiments, including dreadlocks and cornrows, struck a nerve, while Allure made a massive misstep earlier this month with a story entitled “You (Yes, You) Can Have An Afro,” shot on a white model. Thom Browne raised eyebrows in February at Paris Fashion Week for a runway resembling a rice paddy and for outfitting his male models in conically shaped hats. Around the same time, Junya Watanabe’s Africa-themed collection was shown with dreadlocks and heavily-beaded Masai-inspired necklaces (and no Black models). In June, Isabel Marant got blasted for cribbing a traditional design from the Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec community in Oaxaca, Mexico, on one of her dresses, although that was viewed as a plagiarism issue as well as an example of cultural appropriation.

In this case, it’s not so much about a traditional garment itself being tweaked for North American tastes and/or being worn (and Instagrammed). It’s about a fashion publication anointing a piece that’s been around for many years a “new trend” that triggers some pretty strong emotions. After all — if it's in fashion now, that means that it can fall out of fashion later...and what does that mean if the garment in question is part of an entire culture's tradition?

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