41 years ago, 'Seventeen' ran a cover story on 'Today's Young Navajos.' Things have changed.

Appropriation Fight! Vogue vs. Elle and Pharrell; Seventeen vs. Itself


Imagine the fashion rack of your local newsstand turned into a battleground over cultural appropriation, with the biggest of ladies' style-bibles sparring over how best to be respectful. No magazine is innocent, after all -- they've all turned Native culture into this year's hot look or must-have accessory.

But Elle UK really screwed up good with its Pharrell Williams cover last week. It's mystifying that a magazine about fashion and (apparently sometimes) music could be so unaware of appropriation issues surrounding feather headdresses; seems nobody was paying attention to the foulups of Victoria's Secret, Paul Frank Industries, Germany's Next Top Model, and Alessandra Ambrosio; and the music-aficionado editors who wrangled Pharrell hadn't ever noticed the backlash against No Doubt, Outkast, Emerson Windy and the rest.

Today, Vogue wrote about the issue, and specifically brought up Elle UK's Pharrell cover. The piece on Vogue's website is titled "What Not to Wear to Bonnaroo: Your Native American Headdress."

Is Vogue going to take a stand against appropriation? Too early to say. One article on a magazine's website doesn't guarantee that this won't happen again:

From Vogue, 2002: Maggie Rizer in Jean Paul Gaultier Paris Couture Bride Photographed by Craig McDean. Image source: costume2couture.com

For now, though, Vogue seems to have more of a clue than Elle UK. Over to you, Glamour and Cosmo, unless -- unless... wait, Seventeen, do you have something constructive to say on the issue of cultural appropriation in the fashion world?

No, Seventeen does not; not in the 21st century anyway. Those two images above were posted to Tumblr at shorttermwhat.tumblr.com and fuckyourracism.tumblr.com and assembled by Bitch Media. Yes, in 1973 Seventeen had a cover story on Today's Young Navajos. Yes, in 2010 the same magazine touted "Navajo" as a trend -- two years before the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for similarly misusing the Tribe's name. The images went uber-viral on Tumblr, racking up thousands of likes and reblogs.

We're talking about two different but obviously related types of appropriation here. The "Hipster Headdress" kind involves taking a sacred item of regalia out of context and using it as a fashion statement, because it "looks cool." What you might call the Urban Outfitters kind is about using the identity of a people to sell products that they didn't create or endorse. Pick your poison -- whether it's abusing someone's sacred symbols or cheapening someone's cultural identity, all in the name of fashion and commerce, both practices ought to stop.

We'll give the last word to a reader who left the following comment on an article at PolicyMic:

"I have to agree this is just inappropriate. The good news is more and more girls and women of all cultural backgrounds are starting to recognize how stupid fashion magazines are."

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This just proves that popular culture is shallow, insignificant and fickle. Only people who've never really experienced a survival-level existence hold fashion important. Keeping up with current fashions is the Creator's way of telling you that you make too much money!