Search results for tribal fashion

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

A couple of days ago I posted a video about stereotypes of Native Americans in video games, including the Hot Indian Princess. Though the video discussed video games specifically, these tropes are common in other area of pop culture as well. Dolores R. sent in a great example. Over at Beyond Buckskin, Jessica Metcalfe posted about the 2011 Caribana Parade in Toronto. This year the parade theme was Native America, including various sections such as Amazon Warriors, Lost City of the Aztecs, Brazilian Amerindians…and Tribal Princesses. Here’s a Tribal Princess costume provided by one band, Callaloo (it’s now sold out).

A commenter on Metcalfe’s post takes exception with criticisms of these costumes and the parade theme, saying,

[This is a] celebration of historic alliances between African Diaspora peoples and Native peoples. In New Orleans, the tradition was a specific response to racist laws that placed Native and other POC communities in a common frame of reference. This tradition is almost 200 years old among Caribbean/Diaspora people in North America…you are making a tremendous mistake by attacking a part of Afro-Caribbean culture as if this was the same as an expression of White/Euro privilege.

So the argument is that this can’t be problematic cultural appropriation or propagation of the sexualized Indian Princess trope because it is part of an event meant to celebrate and recognize the histories and cultures of groups that have themselves been the target of discrimination and political/cultural exclusion. Certainly there is an important cultural and historical context there that, the commenter argues, distinguishes these costumes from, say, the current fad of “tribal” clothing in fashion.

And yet, that argument seems to discursively claim a right to represent Native Americans in any way without being subject to criticisms of stereotyping or cultural appropriation. For instance, the Apache were not a Caribbean tribe (though the Lipan Apache moved far into southeastern Texas by the late 1700s, coming into regular contact with Texas Gulf tribes). Does this sexualized “Apache” costume, as imagined by non-Apaches and sold to the general public, differ greatly from other appropriations and representations of Native American culture and identity as fashion statement?

This feels a little like a different version of the “But we’re honoring you!” argument used in efforts to defend Native American sports mascots — that any concern the viewer has is only due to their lack of understanding of the reason for the depiction of Native Americans, not because that depiction might be, in fact, problematic.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

One of my former students, Janel B., sent me to this post called “Don’t Sleep on Africa” on the fashionable Livejournal community called black cigarette, and thereby introducing me to the South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko and her amazing portraits of Johannesburg stylish street denizens.


The entire post at black cigarette begins with this brief intervention into the problematically differential distribution of “style:”

Stockholm. Paris. London. New York. Helsinki. Milan. Tokyo.

These seem to be to go-to places when it comes to “street-style” and what’s hot in general on most fashion blogs, but I just wanted to share some of the street-style you’ll find on the African continent…. South African street style is rarely sleek and chic – it’s irreverent, vibrant and daring. It mixes patterns and textures, with echoes of mid 70s style (and just a splash of “geek chic”).

(Consider too the fact that Feedshion, which collects “the best street fashion photos from all the greatest street style blogs for your viewing pleasure,” happens to feature only street style blogs from the usual suspects and none from South America or Africa.)

The photo-heavy post is a wonderful contrast to those editorials in American and European fashion magazines whose visual vocabularies for “Africa” are unbelievably narrow and alienating (Galliano, I’m looking at you and your “tribal” fetish figure shoes). The continued refusal to see the African other as coeval (that is, contemporaneous) with the so-called modern observer, most obviously manifested in the classification of “tribal chic,” betrays the still-haunting presence of colonial aesthetics in Western art and design.

I wish I could repost all the photographs, but I will settle for a handful from Veleko.





Edited to add additional links supplied by Sociological Images and Racialicious, by way of the LJ community Debunking White.

Gorgeous photos from South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko.


Based outside of Chicago, Mimi Thi Nguyen scours thrift and vintage stores with reckless abandon. She writes about neoliberalism and humanitarianism from a transnational feminist analytic, which includes the “management” of refugee crises but also beauty as a civilizing project.  She blogs at Threadbared.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Soon after reading my post on “ethnic” fashion, Robin noticed an article in the New York Times about “tribal” elements in fashion. According to the article, “The tribal trend, seen on spring runways awash with ikat, batik, and African wax prints, is hot this summer.” We helpfully learn, “The specimens are rarely authentic, mind you. Rather, designers have appropriated ethnic elements and given them a modern spin.” According to one designer,

“It’s a dialogue between what’s traditional and new, and between East and West,” she said. “Our weavers in Uzbekistan find it really surprising and a real struggle to begin with. At first they don’t like the reworked designs, but over time they acquire appreciation.”

A quote from another designer:

“The enticement of ethnic dress in modern culture is like going on a guided safari,” he said. “We can enjoy the element we are familiar with and attracted to, while not giving up our daily comforts. We can wave to the lion from the safety of our S.U.V.”

So wearing “ethnic” clothing is like going on a sightseeing trip where you can look at savage animals but in a safe way that doesn’t actually bring you in contact with them…interesting. “We” (non-ethnic) people can pick and choose a few things from other cultures but without giving up “daily comforts,” or, like, knowing anything about other people or thinking through thorny issues like who that “we” encompasses and who is doing the defining of “we” and the ethnic “them.” I have to say, the “We can enjoy the element we are…attracted to…” made me think of sex tourism.

Notice here that, first, “ethnic” or “tribal” is applied to an enormous range of cultures spanning the globe that have little in common except not being from Western Europe or the U.S. Also, we see that “ethnic” fashion = traditional = non-modern = wild/animalistic = Eastern, whereas “modern” fashion = Western = non-ethnic. Because there is no ethnicity in the “West.” Except when designers use “traditional” Aztec or Mayan or Mexican or Laplander or etc. etc. prints in their “ethnic” designs.

Here are some pictures from the accompanying slide show:

This purse is $565. The weaving is what the quote from the first designer above was saying she struggled with Uzbeki producers about, since they didn’t like her reworked versions of their “traditional” patterns. I wonder how much of that $565 goes to those weavers?

The caption to the photo of these boots is “cultural gumbo.” They are $350.

These bangles come in cashmere, tweed, and cotton and are $45-125. The article does not tell me if I am being “ethnic” and going on a fashion safari every time I wear my black cashmere cardigan. Maybe it has to be brightly-colored cashmere to be “tribal.”

These shoes are $715. They are ethnic because they are silk and I guess maybe that’s supposed to be a vaguely Asian-y print on the black ones. My years of training in a rigorous sociology Ph.D. program also give me the critical thinking and analytical skills to tell you with certainty that they are hideously ugly.

These clutches are $450. They are ethnic because they use a style of dying called ikat, and also probably because they have a vaguely animal-print design.

Great find, Robin!

NEW: Katie J. sent in a link to Pepperlime (part of the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy empire), which features shoes that let the wearer “go tribal”:


Birdseed sent in this photo he took at a grocery store in Stockholm (which he posted at his blog as well):


The product is a new beverage, Fanta World Pineapple: Inspired by Jamaica. The two guys in the photo were hired to promote it at the little tiki-style counter. Johan says,

A couple of things leap out at me straight away:

* The continued (post-)colonial association of Jamaica with its plantation produce. The “inspiration” seems limited to the fact that pineapples are grown there for the consumption of the global North. (Canned goods like pineapples still have the charming moniker “kolonialvaror” (colonial merchandise) in Swedish retail jargon.)

* The ridiculous (verging on blackface) stereotypical representation of “Jamaicans” that the kids are suppsed to portray. It seems to have been done with extreme sloppiness – for instance, the Polynesian lava lava (a type of sarong) that they wear has absolutely nothing to do with Jamaica at all, but rather acts to represent an identity-less generalised tropics, dehumanised exotica.

The music was, of course, bad reggae.

I think Johan hits on an important issue here–how often the cultures of non-Westernized countries are mixed together into an undifferentiated image of exoticness–for instance, “tribal” fashion and “traditional” handicrafts often supposedly represent “Africa,” which is a meaningless category given the enormous diversity of cultures, languages, clothing styles, artistic motifs, and so on. But if you put some geometric designs and maybe an elephant on some cloth, it evokes “Africa.”

it’s also interesting that a certain hat shape and dreads have become such easily-identifiable shorthand symbols of Jamaica, and that Fanta is commodifying the idea of Jamaica to sell a product that has no reason to be more “inspired” by Jamaica than anywhere else pineapple is grown–Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. etc. etc.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

A while back Laura M.D. sent us this image from the March issue of Teen Vogue (found at Jezebel):


Really? This is all it takes to have a cross-cultural experience these days? It’s also interesting to me that this is defined as “African-inspired,” because I’ve seen “Asian-inspired” items that have a very similar look (though not the dark-skinned person in a hammock; maybe that’s the African element). We see this a lot in fashion–the attribution of vaguely “ethnic”-looking things to some part of the world, or specific culture, that may or may not be particularly associated with the supposed traditional fashion or artistic style.

If they wanted to talk about this outfit as a global collision, they might have discussed where all the different items (and the materials for them) were manufactured compared to where they are sold and worn.

See other posts on representing Africa, “ethnic” fashion, and more “ethnic” fashion.

UPDATE: In a comment, jfruh says,

Can I just say that one of my very least favorite adjectives is “tribal” (in the top right corner), which seems to be used indiscriminately to refer to any art with the whiff of the primitive about it? Vaguely Polynesian-looking tattoos, vaguely African-sounding drums, etc. It’s bad enough that the political organizational structures of wildly disparate cultures are lumped together under the word “tribe” just because they’re at a smaller scale than modern nation-states; now any art form that resonates at all with any culture perceived as primitive gets labelled tribal as well.


Please welcome Julianne Monday, our first Sociological Images intern! 

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Gwen was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article about the New York Post editorial cartoon scandal.  Check it out here.

Gwen would also like to say that she missed the chance to be interviewed by a reporter at the New York Times because she was at lunch when they emailed her and by the time she got back to her office they’d found someone else to be their expert commenter.   She missed a chance to be quoted in the NYT for a stupid portabello mushroom-and-poblano pepper taco plate.  She wasn’t even all that hungry. 

That said, no one called Lisa this month at all.  I’m just saying.



Our post about racist Disney characters was updated with a comparison of an image of Goofy to a traditional “Sambo” caricature and a discussion of whether Goofy is necessarily meant to be a racial archetype.

We added some of the coverage of the policing of Jessica Simpson’s weight to our post chronicling fat scandals.

We found another example of “chaperoning,” or never letting non-white people outnumber white people in ads, and added it to this post (scroll down).

To our post on “subliminal” sex in advertising, we added a vintage lipstick ad suggestive of oral sex (scroll down).

We found another ad suggesting that men use alcohol to get sex and added it to our post on the theme here (scroll down).

We added a video by Jay Smooth from Ill Doctrine [who we are totally crushing on] to this post about the use of the phrase “no homo.”

We added the hoax site Porn for Women by Women to this post about how images of men doing housework or being thoughtful is often jokingly portrayed as women’s equivalent of porn.

In the video game My World, My Way, players take on the role of a spoiled female character who uses pout points and selfishness to win.  We added a video about it to this post about several other video games (note: the post isn’t safe for work).

We added more t-shirts to this post about portrayals of American Indians.

We added another image to our extremely popular post on the objectification of men (scroll to the “bottom”).  We just can’t figure out why it attracts so much traffic.  Hmmmm.

We have an extensive post demonstrating the sexualization of food, but they keep on comin’.  Scroll all the way down for our burger boobs and Doritos undies.

Someone thought it’d be neat to fashion a female mannequin torso into an ipod stereo.  We added a picture of the product to our post featuring furniture in the shape of female bodies.

Finally, we updated a post about “ethnic” fashion with an image of “tribal” sandals.