A person should treat their clothing as a visual presentation of themselves BUT if you wear pieces that are too loud and outspoken people will cease seeing them as an enriching footnote to your personality. You will only be the Ukrainian girl with the wreath and giant sunflower boob.
People will often have older articles of clothing that are examples of previous homelands. So what do you do with these amazing show pieces of cultural history? How do you wear your cultural history on your sleeve while still paying it proper respect?
This debate has raged on fashion runways for ages. One of the most controversial examples is Jean Paul Gauthier’s 1993 “Rabbi Chic” collection. Using traditional clothing as inspiration is difficult enough, but when it comes from a religious tradition it becomes even more controversial. Gaultier went so far as to use menorahs for his runway decor and serve manichevits wine to the viewers. At the end of the show he sported a striped yarmulke that matched his signature blue striped shirt.
Even when religion is removed from the equation and it’s purely a cultural representation, there are still rules. Respect is all about how the article of clothing or cultural symbol is used and how it’s worn. A primary rule is considering the purpose of your outfit.
Being Ukrainian I will use my own culture as an example.
Traditional pieces are often used in Ukrainian pop culture. BUT people are doing it in very different ways. First there’s the 2004 Ukrainian winner of Eurovision, Ruslana (saying this kind of eliminates the shock value of her over the top outfit).
Yes that is a combination of leather pants, gold lamé, and traditional Ukrainian embroidery — making it look like a hideous mutated baby created from Michael Jackson’s Thriller outfit and Ukrainian folk decor. Trying to modernise a traditional piece? Start with a good outfit to begin with and go from there.
Case in point–Gogol Bordello.
Their look is blatantly Gypsy Punk. They choose traditional articles of clothing, patterns, and other accessories that drive home both styles. Punks have always used some types of military paraphernalia, like army boots and army jackets. Eugene Hutz and the gang do the same thing, but incorporate soviet elements.
The skirt, shawl, and blouse designs were taken from Parismatch. The clothing was sewn by our Italian seamstress. And the embroidery was done by my grandmother. Embroidery is a tradition that is very often passed on. It’s something that every Ukrainian kid comes across and is taught at a very early age. My mother didn’t actively seek out her Ukrainian roots until later. And this piece is a perfect blend of her personality. The modern style of the pieces and the tradition of the craft of hand embroidery. I’ve since inherited the shirt and it is the staple piece in what I wear to Ukrainian cultural events. Since then my mother has learned to embroider and has made a shirt for herself and for my father.
Recently I tried to figure out how to use some of these beautiful pieces and showcase them in the right way. What came of it was a photo shoot conceived by myself and the photographer Gilda Furgiuele. The pieces were blended perfectly into the atmosphere of the shoot. The shoot itself doesn’t scream “Hey look at me I’m Ukrainian in Ukrainian clothes! HEY HEY!!!!” Instead we used the pieces to create a really earthy, colourful and cozy feel. So the pieces have been re-invented yet again.
So with traditional pieces, as with any more complicated piece, try it on with options. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to tie different elements of who you are into your outfit. But remember with vintage pieces and pieces reflecting your culture –- you still need to be seen through the clothes. They shouldn’t overshadow you, but rather be a conversation piece, and a visual gateway for people to start looking to see the individual.