Can Foreigners Wear Indian Accessories?


I saw this post on FB today by a second generation Indian blogger on the meaning of different Indian accessories and why foreigners should NOT wear them. Some of the statements in the post really irritated me. 

Here are some of the offensive statements screenshots:Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.28.50 pm

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.31.28 pm Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.32.10 pm Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.32.18 pm

And when I pointed out why  I disagreed with this article, she deleted my comment and blocked me from commenting.  I am really disappointed that some bloggers are so shallow and narrow minded. 

Firstly, who is she to tell people what they can wear and when they can wear it? 

Secondly, most Indians don’t know the reasons including all the aunties and grandmas. When asked why, they simply tell you to do it because ‘we must do it.’ Everybody just blindly follows. So, one need not take up this holier than thou attitude on why so many Indian traditions and accessories have such a deep meaning and it is offensive when people wear it without understanding  its significance because by that token, 90% of Indians themselves cannot wear it!

Thirdly, many Indians themselves do not follow the narrow usage and definitions she indicates. I know unmarried girls who wear toe rings. So, I do not qualify wearing a toe ring because I am not married to a south Asian and I am an Indian ha ha. That really was enlightening.

Fourthly, culture is never rigid. It is constantly changing and evolving. Many Indians settled abroad seem to be stuck in some time capsule from the time they left India while India has moved on.

Fifthly, really who finds it offensive when foreigners wear Indian stuff? None of my friends do.

Lastly, we have borrowed and Indianised (yes, there is such a term and I will use it though she finds it offensive) so many things, why should we be offended if people borrow our stuff as long as they give the original author/culture the credit? I mean imagine a life without gobi manchuria because it is cultural appropriation and offensive to some Asians! 

Dear western ladies – Meanwhile wear whatever you please.

I have had enough of Asians making one feel that one is wrong for not being from their cultures. Offended? No problem, just hide behind the complex “you do not understand my culture and you crossed some invisible unsaid line and  I will harass you for it using culture because you are a foreigner and you do not know my culture” argument. People do it to me and I see people do it to foreigners.

Fume in your righteous Indian indignation all you want while I go eat my manchuria 😀

Edited to add:

  1. Blocking and deleting every single disagreement on FB and posting only status updates without the whole argument is not cool. I have learnt not to trust FB pages and their updates because it is so convenient to delete anybody who disagrees with you and state that people are ‘misunderstanding’ you.
  2. I do not buy the argument that NRIs have experienced racism while 1st generation Indians just don’t get it. Well, technically I am a NRI for a full 6 years and I have written several times about racism. I definitely do not want to be patronized like I do not know what racism is and how south Asians are treated abroad.
  3. “But when you jump the gun and think I am being antagonistic, remember who you are speaking with. You know me….Do you really think that’s where I am coming from?” –  Somebody who deletes the other side of argument. How can people get the complete picture when all dissent is silenced?
  4. The article does not state “What not to wear for Halloween”. It mentions a specific incident  and goes on to preach what foreigners can and cannot wear. If someone dresses like the devil and wears bindis and says “Hey! I wore the bindi because I think Indians are devils” I would call that racist. Other than that, not like we own Indian culture just like the west does not own dresses and shirts.
  5. “if it is a part of your culture, who am I to tell you not to wear it?” – Who says you can wear stuff only from your culture. So, basically I am supposed to give up naans, kebabs and manchuria because it is not a part of my culture but what we borrowed and adapted from others?

FB comment

31 thoughts on “Can Foreigners Wear Indian Accessories?

  1. I’ve had people ask me if I would be offended if they wore bindis/bangles etc and I couldn’t understand why they would think so. Now, I know; it’s because they’ve heard others spew such bilge! 😀
    Honestly, if you’re not wearing something just to be offensive, there’s no reason why Indians should be offended!!

  2. Great post Boiling! You can just imagine how some of us Firangi Bahu’s feel, being a rare minority in this cultural appropriation hot topic. Seriously, we have our Indian family pressuring us to adapt/accept their culture, being encouraged to wear Indian attire. Then we have these random white people, and second generation Indians who many have never stepped foot in India, telling us that we are evil cultural appropriators. At first glance, I am a white girl wearing a bindi and a saree, but I wish people would bother to look deeper. I am married to an Indian, have lived in India, given birth to an Indian girl, and am a bahu just like any other. The problem with this cultural appropriation debate is that nobody delves deeper. I agree people have too much time on their hands!

  3. as someone who would might get flagged for appropriation on a daily bases, i love your stance on her article. i always thought culture belonged to humanity, not geography. it wasn’t created to be exclusive but enjoyed. for me, my bindi, mehndi and bangles mean something, but i won’t rant on those who use the symbols for fashion. they are enjoying something that belongs to the human race, they have every right and ability. it doesn’t lose it’s meaning to mean when someone has a different meaning for it.

  4. I’m on the fence on this one because there are times when it is offensive to use another culture’s symbols. But I think Americans took the same logic which makes appropriating Native American headdresses etc. offensive and just broadly applied it to every culture. Which doesn’t make sense because Indian culture is not marginalized and endangered(?) in the way Native American cultures are. I completely understand that Native Americans do not want outsiders to use their cultural symbols at all, especially headdresses which have some status/religious significance.

    The Indian equivalent would be the mangalsutra or a turban or a kara, but other than that things like toe rings or nose rings or bangles are public property in my opinion. That blogger is giving way too much importance to trivial things like anklets and mehendi. If I saw a non-Indian wearing a decorative bindi (like Gwen Stefani) or a sherwani I would think that’s strange but whatever, I don’t care. The ‘Om’ usage is a bit tricky but in my experience Hindus are happy/neutral to see outsiders use it as its supposedly auspicious even without understanding the significance.

    I do agree that it’s offensive to wear a culture’s clothing as a Halloween costume though; if cosplaying as someone specific that’s fine. But is there an epidemic of sari-wearing trick-or-treaters in America I haven’t heard about lol?? Overall it’s a bit tedious to read articles like the bloggers but the trend to being more respectful and considerate of other cultures is a good one I think.

  5. “culture is never rigid. It is constantly changing and evolving.” EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY. I had a very strong argument (no ,fight) on FB because I said that traditions and culture are not set in stone and keep evolving with changing times, references, and contexts. They are all man-made and can be changed or done away with as you please. Of course, I had said this in a different context out of my frustration from having been subject to incessant air and noise pollution from diwali crackers. I was mad at people trying to justify pollution in the name of tradition. The comment I got was, “great writing but shallow and desperate in the need to stand out”. sigh!!

    I don’t get all these stupid rules. I am married but don’t own a mangalsutra, I wear toe ring (just 1) since I was 15 and not married, I wear saree when I please. And what’s offensive about dressing in a saree for Halloween? Halloween to me is like a fancy dress competition from my school days where you can and should wear whatever pleases you.

    1. I used to follow her too. What was more disappointing was the way she quickly deleted comments that disagreed with her claiming she will delete any comments that racist/body shaming/minor aggression or stuff like that without even considering the other side.

  6. And isnt it being a bit racist calling something an indian accessory ;)… then shouldnt we be labeling lipstick, eyeliner and whatever the likes of it European or american accessory and again controversial “Kohl” by maybeline.. how dare they steal Indian Kajal 😛

  7. if you see some of her other posts its hilarious how she keeps going in the sine wave of contradicting herself. she talks cultural appropriateness in this blog and the tatoo blog while for karva chauth we are suddenly feminists and dont care about what “the culture dictates”. While stitched clothing was not an indian invention she sports tailored dresses in her blog post. Iam confused what her views really are.

  8. Great post! Why so much obsession with one’s culture (flawed in so many ways, I tell you, but I am from Nepal) and make a fuss about something as personal as people’s fashion choice, I will never understand. Hindu culture and traditions are not very easy to understand even for the Hindus, like you said.

    The least the author could have done was to engage in a healthy, open-minded conversation with you. Most people just cannot accept any form of criticism or disagreement with their opinions.. At least Facebook revealed that for you

  9. Raises hand as Indian who wore toe rings, bangles and bindi inappropriately according to this article (while in India having grown up there). Guess I really am a foreigner.

    The wearing of cultural costumes as Halloween ones is a separate thing though. I know there has been some backlash against say appropriation of the American Indian costume, a common one for Halloween because it further marginalizes a marginalized group by singling it out as “exotic” enough to qualify as a costume. There is particular outrage about the head-dress. I agree with it but then I think nothing can be a costume, if more widely used. Confused. I guess sticking to supernatural creatures is safest?

    1. There will always be someone to take offense at that too. Maybe superhero comic books and characters can be viewed as sexist and anti feminist. You never know.

    2. I too have heard about this “appropriation” nonsense with regard to Halloween costumes. I really thing people need to get over themselves and stop taking everything so seriously. A costume is a costume is costume! It has no significance other than looks. If someone gets offended that I’m wearing a sombrero…well, that’s just too bad. It’s their problem not mine!

      God, I dislike people who can’t mind their own business.

      1. I guess I disagree. Dress usually has significance, a costume more so. Yes it is their problem, and if you don’t care that’s fine (for you) but some others might like to reflect on if they would like to be more sensitive. Like how it might feel to be from a community whose existence continues to be wiped out, and to have the oppressors wearing one’s cultural items for entertainment.

        1. I think I am somewhere in between both of your views but leaning more towards Bhagwad’s view. But then, I am not the most politically correct person around.

          First I would just ask some (American) Native Indian on how they feel about it and why. I am sure we are going to find differing views even among them. Also, as far as I know, many native Indians are already wearing mainstream clothes, so in a way they are wearing their oppressors clothes. I think this kind of a dilemma is shown in Guy De’s book about Palestine wherein he debates buying stuff from an Israeli supermarket and sees a palestinian woman come out because clearly the supermarket was better stocked than every other shops.

          On the other hand, my ancestors doing something is not = to me doing it. Why do I have to pay like forever for the sins of my predecessors and some view I do not endorse? If a British dresses up as an Indian, would that be offensive as well?

          Sometimes, people getting outraged is often blown out of proportion based on the views of 1 extreme person and we and the media keep on and on about it until we end up feeling like the entire set thinks like that.

          1. Yeah, I’m not hugely fixed on it. I see how it could become an endless thing, and yet when I examine my own approach, I find that I personally err on the side of sensitivity and it is not as onerous as one would make out.

            In the American Indian case, they are still being fenced off in reservations so it’s a raw wound.

            Most Indians don’t see the British as oppressors, strangely, but if a British person wore Indian dress as a costume, I would think it odd. If they wore it to celebrate a festival, or while in India, maybe not. I guess it depends on the context.

            Anyway, I’m not going to hate on anyone who disagrees with me on this issue because I recognize that it is an ambiguous thing. I think we actually all make draw our lines on what we can say or do in polite society and judge people who trangress those lines.

            1. Racism, being offensive are truly complicated. I tried to pen down my thoughts on that and could not really draw a common line on what could be considered offensive because it is too varied. IT can get quite complicated.

              For a Halloween or other costumes, I would stick with fictional character or animals or stuff like that and definitely not other cultures or their people. To be honest, I never thought of dressing as somebody from another culture simply because I am not. When I need to dress as somebody else, I would rather go as someone fictional because there is enough real in the real life, I would just go for some fantasy.

  10. Wow, really? It’s hilarious. People are damn well going to wear whatever they want regardless of culture, so we Asians had just better get used to it. This is what happens when you take meaningless rituals and practices too seriously.

    1. Including me who got perturbed by this dumbass article. I have to say FB really reveals what people really think and all the jerks I have on my friends lists and people I follow.

  11. The irony of that fashion blog kills me, starting with the name itself. “Wear your voice”.
    Unless the author of that post is running some awareness campaign (the idea still doesn’t make sense) for foreigners about the significance of Indian accessories, my reaction is WTF! I mean its one thing to explain what, when, how and why something is worn. Though I partially empathize with the Mangalsutra part, nobody gets to say WHO wears what.
    I suppose the author meant it in an advisory tone but it might come across to the readers (especially ones like us) as condescending.
    But one word for deleting your comments – “CHAEP”. Yeah.. No spelling mistake there!

    1. Even if it is advisory, let us be honest – most Indians themselves do not know this and it is these kind of pseudo scientific reasons that are now used by right wing extremists on why our culture is great and why women should wear this and do that blah blah.

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