Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fashion: Boutique Multiculturalism

The other day I looked at my outfit and realized it was not particularly PC: I was wearing my vintage cowboy boots, a Navajo print shirt and a necklace I bought off a Bedouin on Mt. Sinai. As people would comment on my outfit, I would respond by explaining my weariness of being a walking contradiction. By walking contradiction, I was referring to the fact that I was wearing a symbol of American westward expansion - boots - and a pattern from a people exploited by Manifest Destiny - shirt. But then I realized something even worse, people could interpret my "eclectic" outfit as me being a Boutique Multiculturalist.

Oh dear, I can see it now: people on my college campus spotting my outfit and smugly thinking to themselves, "what a boutique multiculturalist."

It is one of my goals in life to avoid being associated with Stanley Fish. Fish's argument boldly asserts that multiculturalism is an impossibility; a statement that just pisses liberals off. Oh Stanley, you just love pushing those liberal's buttons, don't you? In his words, this term refers to the "multiculturalism of ethnic restaurants, weekend festivals, and high profile flirtations with the other" (1). The superficiality of this brand of multiculturalism becomes apparent as "the boutique multiculturalist will accord a superficial respect to cultures other than his own, a respect he will withdraw when he finds the practices of a culture irrational or inhumane" (3).

Does my outfit - fashion - apply to this culturally flirtatious group?

At a certain level it appears to be incompatible, because it seems that the importance of aesthetics in fashion attempts to divorce any deep cultural meaning behind a particular look. For example, for many the Boho-chic refers to a look that has little to do with the pretentious pretending of tolerance for bohemian and hippie lifestyles. So those who wears these styles do not profess to advocate different cultures. Then again, wearing the outfit inherently suggests that you are well traveled, and in tune with other cultures. So maybe fashionistas are the lowest of the low in the boutique mutliculturalist group.

For many fashion is blindly following a trend. It is those 13 year old girls who wear a Kufiya and have no idea what region of the world it originates from. However, I feel that within the fashion industry are people who understand the aesthetic beauty of different cultures and incorporate it into their creations. Perhaps it is a bond with a culture at a very basic level, appreciating craftsmanship, innovation and beauty.

I could be being an idealistic liberal - I'm sure Fish would see it that way. Even if i am being idealistic, it is a healthy beginning to be aware that the incorporation of different cultures into fashion is problematic. I like to think that my outfit is a symbolic healing of an old wound. Okay, that is perhaps taking it a little too far. Honestly, this blog post is just a way for me to feel better about a culturally insensitive outfit, because I like that outfit and I want to wear it again guilt free. I also wrote this to justify the fact that for over two years I've wanted
a handbag made out of a Native American blanket.

I'm such a boutique multiculturalist.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure I don't know anybody on campus who would be like, "Aha! [Points fingers] A boutique multiculturalist! Judgment! Judgment!"
    Also there's pretty much no such thing as PC these days so I wouldn't worry about it :)