Katherine George 

Silhouette Staff


Tribal fashion is an emerging trend within the fashion industry, consisting of an exotic mix of elements taken from different cultures around the globe. Cultures providing the inspiration for tribal fashion initially designed their clothing according to their environment, culture, belief and tradition. This particular style of fashion can vary from the standard articles of clothing worn on an everyday basis to the decorative ornaments covering their bodies.

Today, the practicality of tribal wear has changed, but the attractive appeal towards this exotic trend has continuously increased within Western society. As a result, tribal fashion has made the tremendous leap from being unique hand-made personal creations to becoming a trendy fashion statement intriguing not only public consumers, but also high-fashion designers.

The attention of many fashion designers is focused on women’s tribal wear and the intricate designs which it entails. Popular designs for tribal fashion include geometric shapes, along with bright colours and sometimes even vibrant dyes. These geometric designs are often stimulated from the personalized tattoos used by tribal people in order to differentiate their individuality.

Today, they have become the inspiration for design patterns to create mass-produced consumer culture. For example, Tahiti is a region from which the first tattoo of tribal people originated. Samoa tribal people used to wear traditional clothes and costumes to show their belief in good qualities. So these clothes represent the environment, culture, and style of a particular tribal group. In addition, stacking bracelets, big hoops, and feather necklaces are among some of the popular trends within tribal fashion jewellery.

One of the most commonly observed forms of tribal wear within the fashion industry, as well as everyday consumerism, is ethnically inspired elements of Native American culture. This is among one of the many controversial forms of tribal fashion within Western culture. It furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are a singular monolithic culture, when in reality there are 500+ uniquely separate tribes within the broad Native American culture.

The wearing of feathers and war bonnets in Native communities is not a fashion choice, but rather symbols of honour and respect which are earned.

On October 2011, Urban Outfitters introduced several new items which resembled this particular style of tribal fashion. For example, the “Navajo Flask” and the “Navajo Hipster Panty” are among Urban Outfitter’s tribal inspired fashion trends.

The dilemma with advertising these products as an object of Native American fashion stems from the fact that the Navajo tribe owns a variety of trademarks under the term “Navajo,” including one covering clothing.

As a result, the Navajo Nation pursued legal action against Urban Outfitters for advertising these products. The liability within this situation was not the fact that the items were influenced by a Native American tribe, but more the unauthorized use of a registered trademark. However, it still raises the question surrounding culturally inspired tribal fashion. What are the moral ethics against consumerizing the culture of a minority group within North America for the profit of Western culture?

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