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Critical reflections on cultural appropriation, race and the role of fancy dress costume

Wild, Benjamin Linley (2020) Critical reflections on cultural appropriation, race and the role of fancy dress costume. Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, 11 (2). pp. 153-173. ISSN 2040-4417


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Cultural appropriation in fashionable dress has become an increasingly urgent subject within scholarly and generalist discussions. Few weeks now pass without a news story criticizing a fashion brand for producing and promoting culturally insensitive clothing. A form of clothing most frequently and controversially associated with cultural trespass, but generally marginalized within academic enquiries, is fancy dress costume. This article seeks, first, to promote a critical and continuous academic engagement with fancy dress costume and contribute to a growing body of scholarship that recognizes its cultural and social importance. Second, I complicate discussions about the causes of cultural appropriation within fancy dress costume by reflecting on the circumstances and motives in which people perform, dressed very differently to their conventional appearance. Addressing these points, the article makes a unique contribution to clothing studies and discussions about cultural appropriation by advocating a more nuanced understanding of people’s self-awareness when they participate in fancy dress costume, and suggests how this might be achieved.

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