The other day I came upon this fashion spread in a magazine:

I’m not sure which magazine–I want to say Lucky, but I’m not certain. I just scanned in part of it–I cut out a few things that weren’t that interesting so I could get it in a single scan.

Anyway, I noticed it’s called “Ethnic,” and I started thinking about that label, what makes these “ethnic,” and the choice of that word to describe fashion. The most common element to the collection is animal prints–zebra, leopard, snakeskin, croc, peacock feathers. There were a couple of things that I believe were supposed to be recognizable as “African” prints. I guess those brown shorts are “ethnic” because of the material they’re made from.

But why do we call these fashions “ethnic”? Why not “global”? Or “nature,” since the main themes seem to be animal prints and natural fibers? Or “international”? Why do animal prints, feathers, and grass fibers = ethnic?

It made me think about the way that the things that certain groups do or have go unmarked–so here, there is a category of fashion that is “ethnic,” while apparently all other clothing is ethnicity-less. When I carry a woven bag or wear a shirt with tropical-looking leaves on it, I’m being ethnic, but if I put that purse down and pick up a blue leather one, or change into a shirt with a maple leaf on it, I’d stop being ethnic and go back to being…well, presumably plain-old white, the non-ethnic, non-marked category.

I just thought this might be interesting for a discussion about race and which groups are marked as having a race or ethnicity and which ones (in the U.S., primarily whites) are treated as though they do not have a race/ethnicity and thus aren’t relevant to discussions about racial issues. Or maybe when talking about race/ethnicity as a marketing tool, as something you can put on and take off at will.