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Dupatta Is Not 'European Aesthetic'; Tiktokers Slammed Our Cultural Appropriation

A US-based fashion rental company posted a TikTok video offering fashion tips for a "European and elegant" summer look. This was met with widespread criticism from internet users who accused the video of appropriating South Asian culture.

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Ishika Thanvi
New Update
Scandinavian European Aesthetic

Image: pushpeksidhu_ on Instagram

The dupatta, a quintessential piece of traditional South Asian clothing, has recently been at the center of a cultural appropriation controversy. This unfolded when an employee of Bipty, a US-based fashion rental company, posted a TikTok video offering fashion tips for a "European and elegant" summer look. The suggestions, however, have been met with widespread criticism from internet users who accused the video of appropriating South Asian culture.

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The Dupatta as a European Fashion Statement?

In the video, the Bipty employee showcased white women in midi and full-length floral dresses, accessorised with sheer and semi-sheer scarves draped over their chests. She described the look as “very European, very classy,” sparking immediate backlash online.

Meghana, an Indian American TikTok user, was one of the first to voice her dissent, stating, “The vibe is Desi, the aura is South Asian. That’s a dupatta, that’s a chunni.” This comment highlighted the deep cultural roots of the accessory, contrasting sharply with the European label being applied to it.

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South Asian TikTok Users Respond with Humor and Critique

The Bipty video quickly became the subject of a new trend on TikTok. South Asian women began posting their own "very European OOTDs" (Outfits of the Day) and "Scandinavian shawl girl aesthetics," humorously reclaiming the dupatta. They paired the traditional garment with an Indian salwar kameez, captioning their posts with phrases like "Just a girl making sure her Scandinavian shawl is perfect for Euro summer" and "In my 'effortlessly European' wedding guest outfit with my Scandinavian shawl."

Bipty's Apology and the Broader Issue of Cultural Appropriation

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Facing mounting criticism, Bipty founder Natalia Ohanesian issued a public apology. She clarified that the employee in question was genuinely curious about the origins of the fashion aesthetic and had asked about it multiple times in the video. Ohanesian acknowledged the mistake, saying, “The fashion aesthetic my teammate was fawning over in that video is clearly not European. We are very sorry to the South Asian communities that were offended.”

The Bigger Picture: Mainstream Fashion &  the Cycle of Appropriation

This incident highlights a recurring issue where elements of marginalized cultures are appropriated by dominant cultures for profit and trendiness. South Asian influencers have pointed out that cultural practices and items often deemed "backward" or "uncool" are suddenly celebrated when adopted by white individuals. This dynamic represents the persistent exploitation and misrepresentation of minority cultures in mainstream fashion.

Individuals from dominant and historically colonial oppressive cultures often remain disconnected from the realities and nuances of 'third world' societies. This detachment perpetuates a cycle of appropriation in which the fashion discourse is overwhelmingly influenced by standards of beauty that prioritise white, skinny, and able-bodied ideals. These narrow beauty norms not only marginalize diverse body types and ethnic aesthetics but also commodify and strip cultural symbols of their significance.

This dynamic reinforces a power imbalance where elements of marginalized cultures are cherry-picked and rebranded as trendy or exotic, while the people to whom these cultures belong continue to face discrimination and invisibility. The result is a superficial appreciation of cultural artefacts devoid of context or respect, maintaining a fashion industry that thrives on cultural exploitation rather than genuine inclusion.

How Can We Move Forward with Cultural Sensitivity

The controversy over the Bipty TikTok video serves as a reminder of the importance of cultural sensitivity and respect. As fashion continues to globalize, it is crucial to acknowledge and honour the origins and significance of cultural garments like the dupatta. By doing so, we can foster a more inclusive and respectful fashion industry that celebrates diversity rather than appropriates it.

Views expressed by the author are their own

cultural appropriation South Asian influencers Scandinavian European Aesthetic Scandinavian shawl
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