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Celeb Coachella fashion borders on offensive

By Ellie Hudd
On April 20, 2014

The start of the Coachella music festival this past weekend has brought an onslaught of celebrity sightings and pictures. Aside from the lineup of musicians performing, many actors, models and other famous faces frequent the Indio, Calif. festival each year. Though the festival itself promotes a laid-back atmosphere, the general sartorial vibe is actually somewhat strict; there is a certain way to dress for Coachella, and many individual styles, good and bad, happens within that spectrum. To many, Coachella is a fashion writer's dream, with enough unique variations on the desert-chic and flower child looks that readers will never get bored. In the festival's recent past, however, several celebrities' ensembles have veered into controversial and potentially offensive territory.
Perhaps most controversial this year is Vanessa Hudgens. Hudgens is known for embracing a bohemian, flower-child look year-round, so if she wants to really dress up for Coachella, she usually feels the need to up her game. This year, however, many people of the Islamic faith were offended by one of her Coachella looks, which was posted online and quickly circulated the web. Hudgens wore a Burqa like headscarf, which covered her entire face except her eyes. The garment is worn by many Muslim women to display modesty in the public sphere. Hudgens paired the headdress with octagonal sunglasses, appearing to attempt a fashion statement with the garment. What's more, while the hijab is meant as a cultural display of modesty (and one often maligned and misunderstood, at that), Hudgens wore the hijab only on her head, pairing it with a crop top and Daisy Dukes.
Another celebrity courting controversy is Selena Gomez. Gomez, along with reality TV stars Kendall and Kylie Jenner, was seen at Coachella sporting clothes similar to Hudgens' along with a bindi. The bindi, a jewel worn on the foreheads of Indian women, is an important part of Hindu culture as well as Indian culture in general. The bindi is traditionally worn on the sixth chakra, which represents the "third eye" and has connotations of wisdom. Hudgens also wore a bindi at another point during the festival, later taking to Instagram to show off what she called her "bindi tan line."
One other culturally appropriative element worth addressing is the co-opting of the Romani style and heritage. The Romani people are commonly referred to as "gypsies," though this is now widely known to be an ethnic slur. Though much of the sartorial and cultural influence at Coachella is taken from musical festivals like Woodstock and bohemian culture, modern music festival culture can be appropriative of Romani heritage as well, particularly in their styles of dress and in the mistaken idea that the freedom of movement in play at a music festival is comparable to the often forced nomadic lifestyle of the Romani people. The Romani ethnic group is already very maligned, misunderstood and misrepresented, and co-opting their culture for the sake of festival fashion or the "festival mindset" can contribute to this phenomenon.
As social media allows stars and their behavior to reach a wider audience, many members of this audience are beginning to call out their favorite celebrities for this behavior. Hopefully, this unfortunate celebrity trend can lead to a larger awareness of the offensive aspects of cultural appropriation as a whole.

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