Cultural appropriation in a globalized world: from fashion to others




Globalization has promoted the flows of cultures worldwide. Culture exchange aside, cultural appropriation is often taken into spotlights in discussions of globalization’s impacts. There have been numerous debates about it but hardly has been done to solve the problem. This really questions me, if we’re approaching appropriately?

The case of Vietnam: traditional, national to international?

Trust me, this isn’t “oh clothes again” if you think you have enough with reading about clothing but not criticizing St. Patrick’s day in American style. I’m not that old-fashioned in terms of topics within cultural appropriation tag, but this incident got me to speak up.

Long story short: An online foreign clothing store featured a dress called “Vintage 90s Azuré Oriental Tunic” resembling the traditional costume of Vietnamese women – Áo dài, which ALWAYS consists of two parts: a long straight dress with narrow opening cuts and pants.

You forget something, mate….

The garment offered by this shop sparked a heated debate around whether cultural appropriation counts today and what’s right to not “steal” one’s culture. Such storm flooded mainly on Facebook and Instagram where this store sells clothes and quickly went in dust after the shop-owner deleted these images on sites.

To whom it doesn’t give a damn

Advocates claimed cultural appropriation is an ultimate fallacy due to culture’s incapability of such easy theft. In this particular case, fashion evolution requires limitless cultural explorations, which sooner or later induce “appropriation”. Besides, some think this is just “a piece of clothes”, or more specifically, “clothes means nothing much” in today’s open world. What they might question is their tastes in them, like the risk of exposure confronting “a friendly gust of wind”.


And why matters to some

It soon enraged many people, majorly Vietnamese, due to the alleged exploitation of commercially sexualizing their women’s image. Áo dài has long been known to honor and embody what a Vietnamese woman presents. Vietnamese often wear this with pride for important events in life, such as weddings or graduations.



The consensus of the battle over cultural appropriation

Endless debates over cultural appropriation mostly end up with selective appropriations. People, from both sides often subconsciously reaffirm Western culture as the set-point to see their cultures’ positions on the current global map to decide whether appropriations are good or bad, what is the fine-line between “borrowing” vs. “stealing” and deliberate/accidental acts should be punished/forgiven.

It’s understandable as cultural imperialism, an influence of globalization, causes a profound concern, of which minority groups frequently sense great suppression and discrimination towards them and their cultures from the West. Thus, many have the notion that the world’s hierarchy of culture is simply an axial rotation of “the white Western vs. the slums”.


A new approach: Challenge the status quo

The more continuous it is, the more distant we are from the centre of the controversy. The way we think of it, mentioned above, seems leading-to-nowhere. At this point, I think we should view things differently, that instead of what’s appropriate, we should start asking what’s inappropriate. This direction helps us see various subtle nuances of the globalized world cultures to value equally and respect all’s backgrounds, history and creativity. Rather than fighting for a spot in the inherent system, inappropriate discourse asks what is not appropriate-able, cannot be integrated into and continue to maintain the existing power structure of not only high fashion system, but also other aspects, and why.






Đậu, Th 2016, ‘Chiếm dụng văn hoá trong thời trang, fashionista thực thụ cần có đủ kiến thức để không mắc sai lầm’, HerWolrd Vietnam, 10 August, viewed 5 August 2017,


McWhorter, J 2014, ‘You can’t “steal” a culture: In defense of Cultural Appropriation’, The Daily Beast, 15 July, viewed 3 August 2017,


O’Shaughnessy, M 2012, ‘Globalization’, in Media and society, 5th ed, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Vic, pp. 458-471.

Pham, H 2014, ‘Fashion’s Cultural-Appropriation Debate: Pointless’, The Alantic, 15 May, viewed 4 August 2017,





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Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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