The trend this year is blandness, because, thanks to the Left’s war against “cultural appropriation,” political correctness is ruining fashion. Hardly a day goes by without some artist or model “crossing the line.” Just last week, multiple writers chided hair bloggers for releasing a tutorial on Marc Jacobs models’ “twisted mini-buns”—because it’s a “cultural appropriation” of African American “Bantu knots.”
Native American designer Bethany Yellowtail gained breathless reviews of her new collection of “native designed” clothes, even as she condemned non-Native Americans—most infamously, Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss—for wearing Native American-inspired clothing. “I saw runway shows with headdresses and [asked] ‘Why is this happening?’”
The Met’s No-Costume Costume Party
But perhaps no single event better crystallizes the chilling effect all this has had on the fashion industry than last month’s Met Gala. Every year, the Met Gala puts on a wonderfully garish display of ridiculous fashion, all designed around some costumey theme like “The Glory of Russian Costume” or “Costumes of Royal India” or “Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century.” The proceeds of the lavish evening go to the museum’s Costume Institute.
As you might have guessed, this is not the type of evening where you rely on a trusty little black dress. In the 1980s, Cher wore this absurd Indian-inspired ensemble that looks like she ripped it off an ice dancer. In 2004, Amber Valletta wore this eighteenth-century headdress and corset. Leighton Meester once actually left the house in whatever the heck this is. And in 2001, Hillary Clinton thought this leopard-print extravaganza was a good idea.
But in 2015, fashion can’t just be frivolous, ridiculous, and fun. We must be diligently on the lookout for every swipe of eyeliner that might be secretly racist. So when the Institute declared this year’s theme “China: Through the Looking Glass,” it was only a matter of time before someone was accused of the Left’s new favorite sin.
Sure enough, Sarah Jessica Parker’s headdress was, according to one write-up, “setting Asian women back 75 years.” Models who wore cat-eye makeup (you know, like millions of women wear to work every single day) were racist. (In one hilariously un-self-aware article, the writer asks, “Um, are cat eyes racist?” The answer: “Not on a normal day, but today YES. Does no one get it?”)
Even Kris Jenner’s relatively tame outfit—a red dress with long, dangly earrings in some sort of Asian pattern—was compared to Mickey Rooney’s infamous “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” performance as “Mr. Yunioshi,” (a role now deemed so offensive that screenings of the iconic film get boycotted.) “She might as well have gone Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with buck teeth, or Miss Saigon in the 1990s, taping back her eyes to create a perfect yellow face.”
Emma Roberts made the mistake of Instagramming pictures of the chopsticks in her hair and the dragon clutch in her hand before the event. “The cultural appropriation has started early,” proclaimed one exasperated Twitter user. A mob of self-righteous commenters immediately set upon her. She later took the chopsticks out and deleted some of the photos.
The only thematically-dressed person who seemed to escape most criticism was Rihanna—apparently because she wore a dress from a Chinese couturier, and that magically makes everything okay.
Strange—Everything Is Now So Boring
Meanwhile, the very same commenters complaining about all this cultural insensitivity noticed a curious trend: the outfits which avoided appropriating anything were also really boring. Jezebel, for example, had warned months beforehand that “smart” gala attendees should ignore the theme altogether. “For the most part, it seems attendees took heed of these warnings,” they wrote in a review, “and many of them did so by being as boring as humanly possible.”
Another writer observed that, while the theme “seemingly dared them to misstep into cultural appropriation,” “most of the celebs played it safe with jewel tones, orange gilt details…” In other words: yawn. There could hardly be a better illustration of how political correctness neuters art and culture.
Luckily, for now, we still have a few brave Sarah Jessica Parkers to hold their gaudy headdresses high. But the cries of “appropriation” are omnipresent of late, determined to chase away every whiff of outside cultures from your wardrobe—whether it’s Native Americans insulted by the popularity of “tribal jewelry” or black women offended that white women want to emulate the way they expertly style wispy baby hairs around their face.
In a recent viral video, Amandla Stenberg (best known as “Rue” from “The Hunger Games”) demanded that you not “Cash Crop My Cornrows,” explaining that “Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in.” White people like Eminem and Iggy Azalea, for example, should not be allowed to braid their hair or rap because they don’t understand the historic black struggle.
But ultimately, few liberal obsessions are quite as silly as this, because it explicitly works against their goals of equality and inclusion. Drawing up visual lines—in winged eyeliner or otherwise—which cannot be crossed except by certain races is cultural segregation. Nothing could be more repulsive in a free society. It also makes the very idea of a fashion industry, which is all about imitating and reinterpreting others, impossible.
In every age, styles come from a mix of cultures, stolen from outside influence, and yes, sometimes born from sad histories of oppression and cruelty. Roman art borrowed from the Greeks. The Mongol invasion influenced exquisite Russian iconography. This is not “appropriation”; it’s the triumph of the human spirit in action.
Perhaps this might occasionally make someone uncomfortable—people who would prefer to wallow in past injuries and stunt art forever. But the drab alternative is foreshadowed in the boring dresses of the 2015 Met Gala.