By Myra Khan
A sari with a corset blouse, a tulle hanbok, a kente-patterned suit, Amazigh facial tattoos with a jumpsuit and heels—seemingly incompatible styles come together to make the vivid style that is fusion fashion.
Fusion fashion, simply put, is a fashion movement born from combining two or more different cultures’ clothing and accessory styles to create unique looks representative of each individual’s cultural background(s).
Outfits can experiment with color palettes, patterns, fabrics, accessory schemes, shapes, fitting, and anything beyond. Whether it comes in the form of a dashiki with jeans and trainers, a kimono-inspired duster and dress, or a black and white business formal fit with jhumke, fusion fashion is all about the personal details. The key lies in creativity.
The fusion-style is increasingly popular among non-Western communities, especially East/South Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans, both at home and within diaspora communities.
For wearers in the motherland, fusion fashion is a way to reinvent traditional clothes and keep them relevant. For the diaspora, the style is a way to stay connected to their roots, no matter how large the physical distance may be (just think of how sensational Afropunk Fest and its associated fashion is).
For many, fusion fashion is not simply an aesthetic preference, but also a form of resistance against the erasure of their native culture through colonization and Western cultural hegemony. When Western fashion is seen as the professional norm, incorporating small pieces of native accessory (like a piece of jewelry or a makeup style) is a way for many to honor their heritage in their daily lives.
By incorporating aspects of their native and adopted cultures into their garb, proponents of fusion fashion make the hyphen in Asian-American or African-American into a bold and beautiful visual statement.
Despite its ingenuity and versatility, fusion fashion so often goes ignored as a movement for a handful of reasons. First, it occurs organically and randomly among different communities, often without very conscious or collective intent. Especially among older generations, dressing in a mixture of Western fashion and their native fashion is more of a matter of practicality than of rebellion. After all, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt is far easier to move around in than a bulky shalwar kameez or hanfu, as stunning as it may be.
Second, while some more high-profile designers like Guo Pei and Papa Don’t Preach by Shubhika have recently gained popularity for their inventive and eye-catching fusion designs, most fusion fashion happens on the streets, often away from the eyes of the fashion world. Individuals within these communities recognize the styles in their peers and borrow ideas from one another, keeping the movement fresh.
In many ways, fusion fashion is the perfect response to the fashion world’s cultural appropriation problem. Where cultural appropriation is defined by the distortion of cultural elements from another, minority culture by a dominant culture, fusion fashion refocuses global interactions by giving power to the marginalized. The latter takes unique socio-cultural identities into consideration and celebrates authenticity, something that is missing from the former. The beauty in fusion fashion is that its roots are in its wearer’s own lived experiences, not just their aesthetic preferences.
In our increasingly globalized world, the mixing of cultural aesthetic styles is inevitable. Fusion fashion shows us the right way forward through both style and empowerment.
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