Over the past five years, wearing a turban in New York was almost guaranteed to cause you problems. Even if you weren't beaten or ridiculed, you might find yourself forced to brand your sacred headwear with your employer's company logo. But as this runway photo illustrates, things are beginning to look up . . . perhaps.
Prada, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, H & M--turban chic is everywhere this season, even, thanks to Prince, at the ultimate icon of Americana, the Superbowl. From one angle, the mainstreaming of the turban would seem to be a sign of progress, and yet it is not without its costs.
As Susan Scafidi examines in Who Owns Culture?, cultural appropriation such as the Prada turban above raises intriguing questions about creation and community. Is it fair for Western companies to get rich from copying cultural designs with no corresponding economic benefit for the original source community? Should a religious community be able to protect its sacred symbols from copying for materialistic ends, particularly if commercial copying threatens to dilute the object's spiritual significance?
In addition, does ubiquitous imitation make the original more accepted, or could the proliferation of more lavish imitations cause the original to seem more alien, thereby widening the cultural divide?
None of these questions will be resolved this week, of course. However, as the industry seeks to raise awareness of an array of charitable causes, perhaps the time has come to find ways to give something back to the communities that inspire what we wear.
HISTORICAL ROUND-UP EXTRA: The wikipedia entry on the history of the turban actually does a nice of job of outlining to the ebb and flow of Eastern influence of Western headwear style.