The difference between race and ethnicity in fashion
Clothing differs greatly across the globe, and society may believe that various styles of clothing have to do with the race and ethnicity of specific areas around the world. It is first important to understand how race and ethnicity are two entirely separate subjects in general and in fashion. Simply defined, race is a biological trait that cannot be changed about a person. Race is not something that can be hidden and includes skin colour, eye colour, types of hair, heights and sizes, facial structures etc. Race is not something that can be defined by clothing choice. Whereas ethnicity is a choice which can be displayed through clothing, body modifications and accessories. Ethnicity has many categories and can be hidden, if chosen. You cannot possibly know the ethnicity of someone by the colour of their skin, hair or eyes. This is where ethnicity in fashion can really be identified.
Ethnicity expressed through fashion
Ethnic identity is a concept based around how a person dresses from their country of origin. It could derive from religion, cultures or trends. Your ethnic identity can be presented through clothing, jewelry, tattoos, hair pieces, shoes, etc. Contrary to what some may believe, your race and ethnicity have very different roles in the means of fashion. Ethnicity and your ethnic identity is not limited to clothing. For example, in many cultures tattoos serve as a right of passage, a status symbol, spiritual devotion, symbols of spirituality. An example of varying ethnic identities could be Japanese fashion culture versus Western world fashion culture. Japanese ethnic identity in the 1930’s was presented through fashion with kimonos whereas the Western world presented ethnicity in fashion through shoulder paddings, sun hats, and faux fur. Although kimonos and other cultural clothing is still worn for certain occasions in the Japanese culture, in western society on special occasions clothing choices may include formal gowns, dress suits, etc.
It is not uncommon for people to associate certain types of clothing to specific ethnic groups. In the article Do Clothes Define Your Ethnicity? the author Arielle Hixson uses the American example of “back in the 90s, the baggy pants, long chains and Sean Jean clothing were automatically associated with hip hop music, which was mostly marketed to black individuals”. The association between clothing and ethnic identity is still relevant today, although it is not necessarily as common. The article goes into greater detail exploring the misconceptions surrounding ethnic identity and stereotypes. For example “just because a white individual may enjoy listening to punk rock doesn’t necessarily mean that he will frequent Hot Topic for his choice clothes” (Hixson paragraph 1). Society, by default, associates certain styles of clothing with specific ethnicity.
The modernization of traditionally ethnic fashion
To pull it all together of how this topic and blog is relevant, is that ethnicity in fashion bleeds into all cultures around the world. While it is not necessarily considerate and can be cultural appropriation in instances, it still happens despite society’s disregard. An example of traditionally ethnic practices in fashion modernizing could be people receiving henna tattoos which is and was part of Egyptian ethnicity. Although it is no longer related to Egyptian culture in the Western world, it is considered a temporary expression of art on the skin. Another example could be large chains being related to hip hop music, although today large chains are common in trending fashion.
Ethnicity in fashion is all around us, despite how watered down it may be today.