Urban Outfitters: Spice Merchant

Our class discussions on Tuesday and Thursday about androgyny in fashion and the way fashion was constructed post-9/11 as a symbol of American freedom (in contrast to the image of the silent, veiled, “oppressed” Muslim woman) sent me back to our discussion of bell hooks and ethnicity as “the spice” that livens up “the otherwise bland dish” of whiteness.  In search of a way to tie these three concepts together more neatly, I combed through my Tumblr archive in search of these posters, which made the rounds on social justice blogs just before last Halloween:


I wanted to include these posters in my blog post because I think they’re highly effective at summarizing a complex discourse on appropriating cultures as Halloween costumes and also because the looks on the models’ faces are just so perfect.  However, before I found them, I actually stumbled upon an example which is even better at tying together the concepts of androgyny and racial appropriation:  Urban Outfitters.

Urban Outfitters hires models who are almost stereotypically androgynous:


(Yeah, I don’t really know what s/he’s supposed to be selling, either.)

Their clothing almost requires such a wearer, as it is frequently shapeless, industrial, and tattered-looking, making the average wearer resemble a bulky, figureless homeless stereotype:

They also seem to make a significant portion of their profits from cultural appropriation, particularly Native American-inspired headdresses, feathered hairclips, and underwear:

Urban Outfitters, it seems, is the current spice merchant of choice for “livening up” the bodies of cisgendered white folks with the fragrances of androgyny and ethnicity.

I can’t help but add, as a final note, that this is all in addition to a slew of other unsavory business tactics.  My criticisms of the company range from the sale of shirts promoting eating disorders to large fiscal  donations to Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign.  But that’s another post entirely.

– Jazzi Kelley


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