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TBT: Cosmopolitan Fashions

Back in the early years of the millennium, I wrote this post about wearing clothes and accessories made by people of many different cultures. This has become a big topic lately, and I've learned a lot over the past 15 years about cultural misappropriation. I have always cared about dressing ethically, and now I am more knowledgeable about the issues. I would (or do) still wear most of the items shown below, because they are non-ceremonial items, produced and sold by people of the cultures represented in the styles, and offered to the general public (sometimes in tourist shops, specifically for outside visitors to shop). The one garment I show myself wearing in this post that I never owned is the Congolese dress I modeled while volunteering to sell Fair Trade handmade clothing, accessories, fine arts, and crafts. (Because African prints carry complex meanings in the U.S., I don't feel right about wearing something like that in my daily life.) I realize that purchasing items from culturally authentic designers who are happy to sell them to me isn't a foolproof strategy to avoid all possible harm and faux pas, but I also realize that there is no such thing as a purely good consumer choice that everyone agrees is without sin.

Instead of fixating on what someone on the internet might think of my outfit, I think about the big picture, how the whole cycle of an item from production to point of sale to existence in my wardrobe affects other people and living beings. I accept that I can't possibly know or find out all of the details, so I try to make choices that have an obvious positive impact--buying handmade, organic, Fair Trade, etc. I figure it's almost always better to support a small business owned and operated by the garment makers than to buy from a large fast-fashion company that pollutes on a huge scale and probably uses sweatshops or child labor.

Second-hand is generally an earth-friendly choice. My mother-in-law enjoys sending me beautiful garments that she finds on her thrifting adventures in Florida. Because Florida is a richly multicultural state, these garments often come from all over the world. Sometimes I can identify what they are and use common sense to determine whether it's appropriate for me to wear them. (If not, I offer them to the refugees who take English classes at my organization. They always get snatched up.) Sometimes I have no idea what they are or even what country they might have come from. But if I can style them in a way that blends naturally into my eclectic personal aesthetic, I do. I have never upset anyone or even caught a side-eye; I have often been enthusiastically complimented on my colorful ensembles by women of various races and cultures.

As a creative person and a lover of diverse influences, I appreciate cultural mixing and sharing in fashion. It's something that happens naturally among humans everywhere, whether they are aware of doing it or not, and I find that it isn't too hard to pull it off respectfully. And it's a lot of fun! It's a way to create unique, alluring looks on a mass-market, fast-fashion budget. So without further ado..

Cosmopolitan Fashions

We're taking a lot more staycations than exotic trips these days, but whenever I go to Mexico or even visit an ethnic quarter of an American city, I look for good deals on clothing and accessories with unusual shapes, colors, and details. Asian shops can have gorgeous beaded handbags for cheap, and Middle Eastern stores sell richly patterned scarves and fabric. Don't be afraid to check out cheesy tourist shops either--belly dancing skirts can be fun over a bathing suit, and loose kaftans, peasant shirts, and dresses can be belted for a sophisticated but interesting look.


I bought this white "goddess" dress at a Greektown tourist shop, and I wear it all the time.


It's shaped like a tent, so it can be belted at the ribcage for an empire style or down at the natural waist for a casual look.


Here it is at a springtime dinner party, with shoes and belt from the thrift store. (Lisa is on the right in a Target dress and knockoff designer shoes from DSW. Fierce!)


At the same Greek souvenir shop, I picked up this coral dress with voluminous sleeves. (I would also like to note that all of the furniture in my home is second-hand. I use washable slipcovers that can be changed with the seasons... and washed after the cat snuggles into the cushions.)


With a ribbon belt snagged from a cotton dress in my closet, I wore this gown to the art gallery.


Funky enough to be fabulous, yet I can't say I didn't blend in!


Fair trade shops sell striking garments made by women who benefit greatly from being paid a fair price. Clothes and jewelry such as these from Congo artisans make the soul feel richer.


This velvet gown with gold and silver thread and pearl beading (possibly Turkish?) was festive enough for a decadent holiday party. (On the right, Melissa is dressed in a fabulous frock of her own creation!)


I bought this Peruvian alpaca wool skirt (with a matching hoodie) in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Alpaca wool is one of the softest, most luxurious fabrics in the world. And it costs just a few pesos in stores south of the border!


I wore this cozy wool hoodie, also from Mexico, all winter. No matter how many times I wash it, it smells like sheep and hay... in a good way.


Mexican artisans make the most exquisite jewelry on the roadside downtown. This necklace is made of onyx and German silver, but I also purchased jewelry made of copper coils, dyed glass, and other semiprecious stones.


This flashy Mexican necklace was handmade from locally found seeds and jute fiber.


This necklace is made in the form of a peyote button. You just don't find these things at Claire's, though the prices are about the same!

All of these pieces shown, to the best of my knowledge, directly support the people who made them. Sometimes, when you're looking for unique beauty and truly good value, you need only to look for creators from smaller economies. Some people know how to create beauty from the simplest materials. Get something precious with the few dollars you have, and buy from people who will appreciate the income far more than a faceless corporation like Wal-Mart. And just think--nobody will see what you're wearing and recognize it from the Sears clearance sale. Can't afford diamonds? All the better for the world and yourself. Invest in unique and exotic handmade conversation pieces for a more interesting and socially responsible personal style. You'll trade stories with people you meet for years to come.

Live richly! Happy trading.

Comments

  1. AWWW I MISS YOU! The way your make all of your clothing so damn unique and versatile is inspiring. You also have a panache that many envy and no one can buy.

    I love all the shout outs to D Town and SLP! Sadly the hippies are getting hip to their awesomeness and are charging hefty prices on their stuff now! Bastards!

    Still, their stuff is as beautiful as always and well worth whatever they charge, esp. if they make a piece esp. for you.

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