Commentary: Marc Jacobs gives 'dread-ful' response to fashion week controversy

Social media filled with responses to Marc Jacobs' use of dreadlocks in his New York Fashion Week runway show.

This past week, Marc Jacobs closed spring 2017 New York Fashion Week. The designs were beautiful, the staging was gorgeous and the hair was...pretty controversial.

When the cast of supermodels (including Kendall Jenner, the Hadid sisters, Karlie Kloss, Adrianna Lima and more) stepped out with heads full of pastel-colored dreadlocks, the debate began as whether or not this was cultural appropriation.

So let's break it down: Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.

With that being said, a Refinery29 article that explores the history of dreadlocks states the hairstyle most likely originated in India or ancient Egypt. Dreadlocks later emerged out of Jamaica, and then were largely adapted by African Americans in the 1970s.

So, yes, technically speaking, putting dreadlocks on white models is cultural appropriation.

The next thing to consider is how wrong it is. As someone who has a degree in apparel and textile merchandising and has studied the fashion industry from various viewpoints, I do not think he was necessarily wrong in using pink and purple dreadlocks in his show. Fashion has no boundaries and the point of expressing oneself through dress is to take (yes, take) from things that are inspiring.

If we do want to say he is wrong, then we must also acknowledge the appropriation of Native American culture in "Navajo" or "southwestern" garments, and the blanket scarves that everyone loves so much. And what about the fact that winged eyeliner can be considered appropriation of Asian culture?

However, I do need to make clear that even if it is not viewed as wrong to appropriate cultures in the fashion industry, I do think it is important to give credit where credit is due. Jacobs could have casted more black models. He also could have named AT LEAST one black person as inspiration for the show.

Instead, he cast almost all white models, he used a white hairstylist, and he named all white people as his inspirations for the show: Lana Wachowski, Boy George, Marilyn Manson, rave culture and Harajuku girls, according to

But the real problem began when Jacobs responded to the controversy.

After many people called attention to his use of colorful dreadlocks on mainly white supermodels, he decided to respond on Instagram by saying, "All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race — I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow-minded... Love is the answer. Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it."

First of all, he contradicted himself by making a remark about “women of color” and then later saying, “I don’t see color or race.” Second, he is wrong to brush off cultural appropriation like it does not exist because it is clearly a reoccurring topic in the media (take a look at Iggy Azalea and the Kardashian’s cornrows). Lastly, and most importantly, he did not have the right to compare black women straightening their hair.

As a biracial woman with very curly hair, I can say from first-hand experience that black women are forced into straightening their hair due to societal standards and the pressure of looking acceptable to the public eye. It was only three years ago that a young girl in Florida was threatened with expulsion over not cutting her natural hair after she was bullied for not wearing it straight. It has also been a huge factor in the workplace.

If I have a job interview or a professional event, I wear my hair straight. Not because I don’t love my curly hair, but because I am worried that I will not look “professional.” The difference between black women wearing straight hair and white women wearing dreads is not a matter of cultural appropriation, it’s a matter of oppression and superiority of one race over another. 

The issue is not so much that Jacobs used dreadlocks in his fashion show, it is that he did it so irresponsibly.

Great read, good points

After watching the show I feel mesmerized by the styling and clothes. Those platform heels look like a real nightmare to walk in. People complain about Marc Jacobs all the time like his shows starting late was in WWD and his ADs of Victoria Beckham in a shopping bag caused an uproar. People need to remember he got to where he is now by taking risks. I think he could've been more apologetic for not listening to the audience that buys his clothes because without them he has no success. It's important to pay attention to what people are saying to you about things that are distasteful in their eyes and if there are thousands of people telling you the same thing most likely you're the one in the wrong. To dismiss people as being overly sensitive of the topic is wrong. He should care about what his customers are saying. Especially when the same consumers are investing their hard earned money on clothing from him. I've never worn dreads but I know of some caucasian females and males who do and get bullied for it by african americans. I'm not sure to what point are people getting offended because thats part of their culture or is it because it makes them uncomfortable to see someone doing something different. America is a melting pot and to me no one owns a hairstyle. I personally wouldn't wear my hair that way because I don't spend much time on it regardless but to say no one can express their individuality the way they want to is wrong. Bullying is wrong. We have to find a way to accept each other on another level that isn't superficial. If we only look at whats on the outside; what does that say about us? What kind of future can we hope to have? How I've always felt is there is more to me then what you see. Talent and heart isn't something you can see from split second judgements. We all need to learn to dig deeper. Make our own judgements of others not based on what someone told you. Love more and show more compassion.

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