It looks like multicultural chic is one of the overarching fashion trends of the decade. For the last year, the Far East has been "in". Trendy stores and fashion magazines have been filled with Asian-inspired items like T-shirts covered in Chinese or Japanese script, mehndi body-art kits, and bindis. Borrowing elements from other cultures is nothing new; designers have always imported fabrics, motifs and styles from far and wide. But what I find troubling is that even while it's chic to borrow the symbols of another culture, there seems to be an underlying indifference about what those symbols mean. Fashion may be promoting the multicultural look, but real understanding and respect seem to have been left behind. For example, bindis (the small felt or jeweled dots that Hindu women wear on their foreheads in India) have popped up in trendy stores everywhere as a fashion accessory. Even The Bay now carries them. As far as the fashion magazines are concerned, the fact that Gwen Stefani of No Doubt sometimes wears them is far more important than their origin or meaning. Jane magazine, at least, went into some depth by explaining that one "represents marital status and intellect." Apparently, this fact is trivial enough that the exact marital status conveyed doesn't merit mention. Meanwhile, some truly bizarre pseudo-Japanese text has been popping up on magazines, T-shirts, rave flyers and album covers. Much of it consists of random Japanese characters, occasionally printed upside-down or backwards. Worse, some designers decide to simply replace Roman characters with whatever Japanese characters most resemble them, without regard for their actual pronunciation. While that may be enough for people who just want the appearance and not the substance of Japanese text, it's bound to look silly to anyone who can read Japanese (or is trying to learn, like myself). Madonna's even hopped on the bandwagon: her latest video features lots of Japanese models, and herself dancing around in a low-cut kimono. Unfortunately, she has it wrapped right over left, which to my knowledge is only considered appropriate for the deceased in Japan. Not even religion is safe from fashion. For example, Flare recently printed a month-by-month calendar of dictates for the poor, confused trendsetters, who don't know which faith to dabble in between new diets and workout routines. In January, a "Native American" smudging ceremony is the thing to do, and they conveniently list a few commercial smudging kits that are available on the market, like the Spirit Dancer Variety Pack (ceremonial abalone shell sold separately). In May you should put Celtic earth goddess statues in your garden, and in October you should align your chakras with the help of the Aurastar 2000 computer, available only in the finest spas. I'm not making any of this up. The same issue also features in and out lists of trends in spirituality: crystals and numerology are pass�, tarot and ashrams are current, and runes are cutting edge. But trendy beliefs aren't treated with the same respect as true religious beliefs, since they are abandoned whenever something else comes into style. Obviously, only faiths or cultures that are considered exotic or obscure are subject to this kind of treatment; no magazine is going to tell you to get baptized for the sake of fashion. Less obvious is a disrespect for the readers: now they have to be shallow enough to consider spirituality and tradition a form of entertainment. One thing that I have noticed is that around Vancouver, these trends don't seem to catch on as strongly as elsewhere. For instance, the Japanese-text T-shirts that were inescapable in American malls last year were much less prevalent locally, and I have yet to see any teenage fashionistas running around in bindis. I'd like to believe that it's because we Canadians are more culturally sensitive and ethnically diverse. Or, in other words, we're much more likely to know someone who will tell us how silly we look before we leave the house in this stuff.
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