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Artist: Christin Bongiorni. Twitter. Tumblr. Instagram

A friend of mine recently made a work of art that showcased a pair of "fashion lips", with names of drugs dripping from them. It's beautiful, but at first glance, everyone thought that she listed all the drugs she's done, wanted to do, or any she could think of. It turns out that was not the case at all. She told me that she was horrified that drug culture has made its way into popular culture as a way to seem cool. She was already uncomfortable with religious symbolism on clothing, but this epidemic was so bad that she had to paint about it. 

Drug culture, she says, should not be popularized and promoted the way it is. I completely understand her point of view. It's probably not cool to run around with a shirt that says "acid" or "bath salts" with no context whatsoever. What does it mean? Is that a part of the wearer's culture, or personal life? Nowadays, the answer is most likely no. And if not, should it be worn by those who are not a part of that culture?

That raises a whole slew of questions. If it's not a part of your own culture, do you have a right to it? How much research and thought goes into each piece that a consumer purchases? Is fashion limited by social and cultural constraints? I'm going to start with the last question, and say, of course not. Originality in art (and fashion) is very difficult to achieve,  so we instead strive for original presentation. Now, whether or not you agree with what fashion presents to you is your choice, and no one else's decision to make for you, though everyone's to judge. That being said, we're all aware that trends are a glorious representation of why there isn't much thought happening on the consuming end of fashion. Here's some peplum! Here's some galaxy print! There's a clear heel! etc. And it's not a sin to want these things as they are presented, and to buy them. But when it comes to controversial things, like fashion bindis and feather headdresses and religious symbols and drug use, where do you draw the line? 

In my opinion, if something is presented to me in such a way that I'd be willing to overlook a potential flaw, then I'm all for it. Take, for example, UNIF. I'm totally on board with some of their stuff, such as the Acid sweater, or the Go To Hell For Heaven's Sake sweater. Other things, however, such as, well, most everything else, while I find immensely funny and chuckle to myself over, I will not buy. I respect everyone's opinions, especially on something like someone's religion, but if I don't endorse it, then I don't endorse it. I'm not in the mindset that I have to boycott the whole company just because I don't like some things. I mean, their opinions are very blatant in the design of their clothing, and I daresay, clever. 

Why? I hear you ask.

Well, because I honestly don't care. I'm not riled up by anything they write, but I don't necessarily subscribe to that belief either. I appreciate that they're questioning Christianity, which I'm on board with, but it reads more as a form of rebellion and ridicule of the religion, which tends to fly nowadays especially in parts of the youth culture. But seeing as I'm neither rebellious nor extensively ridiculing Christianity or any other religion, it makes no sense for me to wear something that offends people that I have no intention of offending. The "Go To Hell For Heaven's Sake" sweater I do wear, simply because both parts are, in fact very common figures of speech. Putting them together is a great way to get people to leave me the f--- alone when I'm having a particularly low day. And then I get compliments on it, which invariably makes my day better. I don't think Christians should fume over that particular design, simply because it's a clever play on words that are used in nonreligious contexts, and invites you to put it in a religious context so you can offend yourself. Some people realize that you don't have to put it in any context at all, and it still offers you something: humor. The Acid Sweater I wear not because I do drugs, which I don't in the least, but because even if there is no context for wearing it, the way it is designed is how I imagine the world would appear if I were to be on acid. I'm probably wrong, but hey. I still get something out of it when not in context. And what one gets out of it is entirely dependent on a person and their experiences, which means that a lot of the time, it leaves the shelves as a fashion statement, and is donned as a personal statement, regardless of whether or not you (or they) know what that statement is.  

I'm going to focus on bindis in terms of cultural appropriation. I don't believe in wearing a bindi if one does not understand what it means. Chances are that many people (Indians included) may not have a clue about its meaning. But I personally don't wear it, because I don't have a strong conviction about what it stands for. The bindi's significance is that of the "third eye", or the spiritual eye. It offers a path to enlightenment. The fact that many Indians continue to blindly follow this ritual without consciously thinking about its significance begs the question as to whether or not it's appropriate to give a cultural and religious symbol a new meaning if it seems to have lost its old one. Is "being pretty" a good reason to wear it? Many in the fashion world say, Yes! Fashion is art, and art means whatever you want it to mean! I don't know the answer for myself, and until I do, I abstain. While I think that a physical, decorative representation of a spiritual eye is a cool idea, I have no need for it, and will most likely never attempt to see the world from a more spiritual perspective because of a thing on my forehead. Let's be honest, I'd probably forget it was there. At least we can still attribute its origins to India (unlike the [in]famous "tribal prints").

Maybe drug culture shouldn't be promoted, just because it's harmful to one's body to do drugs. Bindis, crosses, and feather headdresses are probably not physically harmful. But from the perspective of an individual, any significance that drugs, cultural/religious symbols, or most anything else hold for any group of people might be lost in the fleeting nature of trends and the desire to be ahead of the style pack. 

Should you be aware of what personal statement you're making when it comes to fashion?
Yes.  As a self-aware being, you're generally allowed to wear whatever you want, but it helps to understand its original meaning in a specific context and what culture it's coming from. Knowledge is power.