STERYOTYPES: The Culture Controversy
Stereotypical themes always make me smile somewhat and I always wonder what people think when they see their ‘culture’ made into a fashion trend. Well as much as you may sit there, scratching your head about the theme and the design elements used, because let’s be honest, I doubt anyone in Spain actually walks around in a flamenco dress while they are doing their food shopping, the ‘theme’ does refer to a stereotypical element or design details from a culture.
Being British, I can certainly tell you that I have never seen anyone walking down the centre of London in a plaid knee-length skirt with a scarf wrapped around their hair and a quilted body warmer. In fact, I doubt there is anyone under the age of 30 that actually knows what a deerstalker is! However, whenever we think of England or the British, these are the things that come to mind. Well it’s the same for any society across the world. If we say Japanese, then kimono based shapes will be there somewhere. Spanish, we think bull fighting and flamenco dresses. Brazil, it’s Carnival and bright colours.
Yes it’s stereotypical, some might push it so far as to say it’s a little racist, but let’s be fair, if I walked up to you and shouted a country at you, asking you to describe the people and their clothes, you’d have a certain image in your mind automatically. All of these, have usually come from history or a tradition, so there is a basis to the stereotype, but the part where designers or trend predictors get confused is the ‘element’ of that culture being used.
All too quickly, I’ve heard someone say ‘Spanish’ and the 2nd person is off with ruffles and red and black combinations, when actually, what the 1st meant to actually describe was ‘Bull fighting Spanish’ which is completely different with some cummerbunds, fitted trousers and jeweled cropped jackets. .
Now just in case people do find this topic a little offensive, let’s use my country, England, as an example. Now we already covered what I would call the ’country’ type of look. This is mainly because it comes from those who traditionally held land and some farmers today still use quilted body warmers, although I doubt this has anything to do with fashion. OK so the country look is quite specific. There are specific fabrics, like plaids, corduroy and tweeds. There are specific colours, usually earthy ones, spanning across greens, mustards, browns and some navy and maroon. Then there are patterns, well any kind of check or tartan is usually applicable here and lastly, there are traditional shapes. A line skirts, tabards, usually a crisp shirt and definitely some warm knits.
Now close your eyes and think of the phrase ‘’Queen and Country’’. I would hope you are thinking more along the lines of the traditional red white and blue, military details and if you went the more Queen route, fur wraps, pearls, jeweled brooches and long gloves? Dare I say a corgi?
My point is that there are many elements to a culture, stereotypical or not. The stereotype is in the theme and in the details for the products created. It’s all about the way our minds and memories work together; forming a visual picture associated with a particular word. Each part, each fabric, colour, detail or shape will evoke a different theme in people’s mind, just like the image you got when you were thinking about ‘’Queen and Country’’
When you are predicting your trends, or designing a product, based on a cultural theme, it’s really important to establish what element of the theme you are really looking at. The colour palette might change drastically depending on the theme area and there might be other influences added in just for good measure, so you have to be really clear on what it is you are trying to achieve.