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Keene: Forever 21 Sells Headdress, Again

Say it isn't so. Clothing retailer Forever 21 markets headdress once again. Dr. Adrienne Keene, Cherokee, responds.

Five years ago, I wrote a post entitled, “But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress?” in response to what at the time was a confusing new trend of young, mostly white, hipster-y types donning fake headdresses and warbonnets at parties and music festivals. I hoped it would be a short-lived trend, but watched with horror as it only grew.

Then, in 2013, H&M Canada faced huge backlash over selling a hipster headdress, prompting the company to remove the item from stores, and issue an apology.

A headdress by clothing retailer H&M.

So imagine my surprise when this week a reader sent me a link to Forever 21, who is now selling a “boho-inspired” headdress on their American site. Called a “braided feather headband,” you too can commodify something sacred to Native communities for the low-low price of $8.90.

The “you may also like” section along the side of the page when viewing the headdress offers three flower crowns in varying shades.

Flower crowns by clothing retailer Forever 21.

Which, to me, points to the crux of this issue. Headdresses do not equal flower crowns. They’re not a pretty adornment, they’re something that has to be earned, and are a symbol of respect and honor. I understand that this particular headdress doesn’t look like the plains-style warbonnet that we’re used to seeing, but the point is that it draws upon the same stereotypes that promote the continued oppression of Native peoples. Folks wearing this headdress to a music festival are seeking to pull on a “wild and free” aesthetic, one that conveniently ignores how cultural and spiritual markers, like the headdress, were systematically taken from Native peoples, to the point of even being prohibited by law.

If you’d like to let Forever 21 know how you feel about their “braided feather headband,” their contact information is here.

Dr. Adrienne Keene. Photo courtesy Matika Wilbur, Project562.com.

Dr. Adrienne Keene is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a postdoctoral researcher, and has a life mission to provide a critical lens on representations of Native peoples. She also blogs at nativeappropriations.com, and tweets about her breakfast and other exciting topics at @nativeapprops.