Saturday, May 29, 2010

The "Tribal Trend" Trend

I'm at the beach. Well, I am in close proximity to the beach, but today was too cloudy to actually work on my tan and look confident in my bikini, so I decided to spend the day doing what every Seventeen reader, except me, does best-- shopping. The Atlantic City Outlets are about 5 miles from my grandpa's house, or a half hour bike ride. I ride to school in dresses pretty frequently, but that's less than a mile. I assume that Seventeen doesn't expect its readers to sacrifice their hobbies in the name of fashion (are Seventeen readers even expected to have hobbies?), so I didn't, and I rode the 5 miles in this outfit, which was actually not a big deal at all. I have yet to find an outfit that I can't ride in, heels not excluded.

I've been consciously avoiding trying this trend though, which Seventeen calls "Bright Prints," because to me it seems like a thinly veiled variation on the "tribal" trend. Actually, its not even veiled at all. The blurb describing the look explains, "These tribal patterns have an 'I picked this up on vacation' feel, so you can look like you traveled the world--without leaving your backyard!"

Besides the obvious absurdity of trying to use clothes as a substitute for actual travel experiences, I'm not okay with this editorial because I'm uncomfortable getting behind a trend that seems to lump all non-Western cultures together under the homogenous, inaccurate, and offensive moniker of "tribal." It takes fashion's habit of cultural appropriation one step further by saying, "Not only are we going to mark elements of your culture as passing trends, but we are going to marginalize them by packaging them together with elements from other unrelated cultures as well." Simply put, the whole thing sends a message that says, "Look how adooorable (and marketable) other cultures are!" It reeks of colonialism to me. I'm not opposed to designers taking fashion inspiration from artifacts of other cultures, but I'm opposed to this practice being insensitively marketed as tribal. It creates a distinct "us" and "them" dichotomy.

The "tribal trend" is a trend within itself. Every so often this sort of thing pops up in a magazine or in a designer's line, and the online community is quick to draw attention to it. Dodai at Jezebel touched on this issue a few years ago in her piece about American Apparel's "Afrika" print. Over at Sociological Images they have collected a huge number of examples of appropriation of Native American icons in style.

When it came down to it, though, I wore the outfit on my shopping trip, and nobody seemed to notice or care about which cultures I did or did not appropriate. In fact, plenty of stores stocked things that fit perfectly within this trend, which is at least an indicator that Seventeen is successful at highlighting current trends. I would be concerned if they weren't, though, since this is basically the only direct redeeming quality about the publication that I have been able to ascertain up until this point.
Some tanks in line with the "Bright Prints" trend at Old Navy:

To go with my "Bright Prints" look, I also got my nails done to follow the "Bright Colors" trend that Danielle, age 15, from Minneapolis speaks so highly of. She writes, "Whenever I'm feeling down, I can just look at my nails and feel peppy!" This is bleak. I wish Seventeen would suggest a hobby for Danielle so she didn't have to look to idle nail-gazing as her only source of joy.

Hopefully tomorrow will be warmer so that I can go to the beach!