Skip to main content

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.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

$Monday: Corona Summer Self-Care

Nobody wants to hang out in a waiting room at the height of this pandemic summer. One of my friends just dodged an outbreak by procrastinating on having her cat's claws trimmed. Now everyone who's been to that vet during the past few days is supposed to do the two-week quarantine routine. Now on top of copays and the usual discomforts of obtaining care for our furry friends and our human selves, there's the risk of catching the cooties. Definitely go and get any treatments that you need, but it's great to not need as many office visits. I'm doing what I can do at home to take care of my own health and have all of my stupid, silly summer fun in relatively safe ways--like having a redneck pool party in the lawn with my daughter and husband. Here are some other ways I'm staying healthy, safe, and sane while maintaining social distancing and a spark of faith that my kid might somehow be able to go back to school next month: keeping active with silly st

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

TBT: Full House

Remember when co-housing, roommates, and multi-generational family homes were good ideas? Those living arrangements still have their advantages, but during a pandemic, it is much safer for individuals, romantic partners, and caregiver/dependent units to have their own spaces, amenities, and entrances. I miss the days when that wasn't so. I hope that one day soon, this pandemic will end, and the Great Recession-era post below will once again be relevant... at least for some people, at some times in their lives. I'm sure it is still relevant on well-governed, geographically isolated island nations such as New Zealand and Iceland. Oh, to be in one of those nations at this time! I sure do miss hanging out with my friends and having overnight guests, but in this very particular moment, I am grateful to live in a single-family home with only my husband and daughter and to enjoy the ability to stay put in it most of the time. I sure did not see an out-of-control pandemic coming

TBT: Fast-Forward Fashion

This blast from the past is funny, because my personal style and shopping habits have evolved quite a bit since my 20s--in fact, full circle to the advice in the first paragraph I wrote, which I went on to reject at the time. In my 20s, I enjoyed extremely silly fashion. I'd look at Vogue magazines and then imitate designer looks in ridiculous ways. I tried to anticipate near-future trends, which I nailed in the first picture here, where I've "put a bird on it" before the meme was born. Yus! ...But. Now that I am a fully fledged adult with a more relaxed budget, I hardly ever shop for clothes or accessories, not even at thrift shops, where I am now more afraid of picking up bugs. I still have a lot of clothes, but I rely heavily on swaps and hand-me-downs from friends and family. Occasionally I browse garage or church sales in communities I trust to sell clean garments. The world is now drowning in excess clothing, so it's easy to rake in quantities of barely-wo

$Monday: We Can Rise Above Death Cult Capitalism

Mmm, doesn't the smell of a bonfire make you feel punkin' spicy? Growing up, I internalized the United States cultural values of hard work as its own reward, high scores, and monetizing everything. From the age of 13, I scrounged for paltry wages (childcare, tutoring, arts and crafts sales, retail and food service and office temp jobs) while earning high grades at expensive private schools. I learned to feel guilty about "wasting" time relaxing without multi-tasking or enjoying a hobby with no intention of turning it into a hustle . I didn't have enough time to eat or sleep properly, and it made me sick and tired all the time. I was curious and drawn to new experiences, but I always felt ashamed of spending any time or resources pursuing an interest that offered no clear path to a paycheck or an award that would reflect a flattering glow upon my forebears. I had a healthy rebellious streak, but I learned to justify my transgressions with proofs of respectability a

$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces. For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year , and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15% . Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who a

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As a recovering Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist, Germanic-ish family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people a