Debate: After Victoria's Secret apologised for causing offence, is wearing a Native American headdress off limits?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Lingerie-makers Victoria's Secret have apologised to the Native American community for the decision to outfit a model in a floor-length headdress at their annual fashion show.

Model Karlie Kloss took to the catwalk wearing high heels and leopard print underwear topped off with a towering headdress, a garment in the style of those traditionally worn by Native American war chiefs and warriors as a symbol of respect.

Erny Zah, a spokesman for the Navaho Nation, said: "We have gone through the atrocities to survive and ensure our way of life continues… Any mockery, whether it's Halloween, Victoria's Secret - they are spitting on us. They are spitting on our culture, and it's upsetting."

Victoria's Secret apologised and promised that footage of Kloss' controversial outfit would not be broadcast or put in any marketing materials.

Earlier this year No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani was also reprimanded for "going native" in a raunchy Cowboys-and-Indians style video. But is this crass cultural appropriation or harmless fun?

Case for: Not your decision

Are you Native American? Have you any idea what their culture is like beyond The Last of the Mohicans? If that's a double "no", then you're already on dangerous ground here. The final say on how offensive this fashion show was must be given to the community whose heritage it unthinkingly sexed-up. Even if you don't agree, what's the point in upsetting an entire people just to sell a few skimpies? Some will call it excessive post-colonial guilt or (sigh) "PC gone mad", but they're wrong. The Native American culture was decimated by white people - it only makes it worse to parade around like everything's all dandy on that score.

Case against: Just an image

Whatever I say, someone's going to call me an imperialist pig. But that's just a sign of how over-sensitized this whole debate has become. Yes, minorities have every right to defend the treasured artifacts of their culture. But the headdress? Come on. I bet all the leftie commentators getting into a huff over this show have one in their dress-up drawer. It's not like Karlie Kloss or Gwen Stefani were wearing Geronimo's own prize possession - what they put on is simply an aesthetic image, one that all cultures should be allowed to share in. If we allow ourselves to think otherwise, there'll be an awful lot of fancy dress shops put out of business.