Emergent nations often have a unique sense of culture and a rich history of food, fashion, and customs. Burma, or Myanmar, is widely considered the poorest nation in the world but they have a deep universal sense of history and culture that isn’t seen in more western, wealthier countries such as the US. Nepal, another country that has a low Gross Domestic Product per capita, is deeply connected to their cultural heritage and this is evident in their modern fashion trends. Southern Asia is full of developing countries that are largely untouched by Western culture and society compared to the rest of the world. The beauty of this is a remarkable preservation of culture and history that can be expressed through fashion.

The Burmese Longyi is one of the most common articles of clothing worn by both men and women today, and date back to centuries ago. The longyi looks similar to a long wrap skirt but is gender-neutral. The native population wearing this traditional garment daily is one of the most noticeable things about Burma, unlike most other Asian countries that only wear ceremonial or traditional clothing for special occasions. The citizens of Burma have been quoted in the Myanmar Times as saying that they are most comfortable in their Longyi. In the schools, where uniforms are mandated, women are expected to wear longyi, and men are expected to wear Paso or trousers. Paso is another word for a longyi that is worn by a male. The primary reason this traditional clothing has survived and even thrived is because of the deep connection to a common heritage that it provides for the citizens of a country that has had a highly tumultuous history.

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Nepalese fashion is very similar today to what it was 300 years ago at the country’s formation. Practical for the climate and modest, traditional national male fashion (called  “Daura Suruwal” or “Labeda Suruwal”) is comprised of a light airy shirt called a Daura and loose pants referred to as a Suruwal or Salwar, accompanied by a headpiece. The shirt is fastened not by buttons or clasps, but by ties and the pants are flowy until reaching the ankles where they are fitted. Traditional female fashion (called  “Kurta Suruwal”) consists of loose pants, a long colorful shirt, and a thick, long scarf that is worn draped around the body, almost cape-like. Modern fashion hasn’t strayed much from this traditional loose silhouette. The only noticeable change is the addition of a vest to the Daura Suruwal, popularized by former Prime Minister Bir Shamsher Rana. It is worth noting that this clothing is not common across all of Nepal as Nepal is a hybrid nation that houses hundreds of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. The clothing detailed here however is what is considered the national costume. Nepal is slightly more westernized than Burma and this can be seen in the steady creep of European fashion trends into their society. As more Westernized people move to or visit Nepal they bring their fashion trends and culture with them.

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Southeastern Asia is a unique bubble of preservation. With the rise of globalization, which has been largely positive, one of the downsides is the loss of the individual and unique cultures that enriches our world. These cultural staples don’t belong in museums or stuffed in the backs of closets only to be brought out once a year. We should celebrate our individual cultures in an inclusive way instead of ostracizing fashion or looks that are different than our own. As I recount working with Burmese citizens for five years and spending a decent amount of time in Malaysia two years ago (Malaysia is another country that experiences a constant cultural revival of traditional fashion), I can say as a first-hand witness that their cultural fashion trends are not only practical and comfortable, they are beautiful and very different from anything we can really see here in the US. 

Metrosexual, a term coined by journalist Mark Simpson in 1994, examines the hybridity between the words heterosexual and metropolitan. It describes a sense of style typically worn by heterosexual male-identifying individuals who aren’t afraid to express themselves beyond fashion’s feminine and masculine aspects and style confinements. It may include makeup, jewelry, and more androgynous accessories paired with male-coded outfits such as suits. Its used to describe men who enjoy shopping and style without feeling their masculinity is compromised. Some have hailed it as the death of toxic gender norms in fashion and society.

In 2002 it began with David Beckham reference as the world’s first and most public metrosexual man, and ever since, the term was the go-to description for men with good attention to style, from Giorgio Armani to Brad Pitt. Male Icons like Pitt or Hugh Jackman have embraced this term and encouraged men’s normalization of skin care regimens and keeping up their physical appearance.

Fashion events like the Paris or London Fashion Week have been pushing the boundaries of gender norms since their advent in the 1940s. Previous to this, stores had put on private shows, but in 1943 New York put on the first week-long series of shows. The year 1943 was the height of the second world war, and women were beginning to wear more typically male clothing, such as pants and overalls, as they had to wear practical clothing for work. The fashion shows that year showed women in button-ups and blazers, a far cry from just ten years before women wore form-fitting clingy dresses and furs. Fashion week made its debut by being on the cutting edge of fashion trends and has continued to strive for this ever since.

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Today, such an example of this is Men’s Fashion Week, which started in 2012. This alone shows the evolution of a male attitude about fashion. The presence of a fashion show explicitly directed towards Men and male trends is revolutionary as it recognizes that the male population can actively enjoy style. This is one step of many we are taking to break down outdated and rigid gender norms. Men’s Fashion Week is not the only example of this fluidity of male stylistic trends either; take the show Queer Eye. Called initially Queer Eye For The Straight Guy at its debut in 2003, the name accurately describes its target audience and general motif- typically homosexual fashion trends being worn (and rocked!) by straight men under people’s guidance that are any sexual orientation.

Photo credit: lifestylebyps.com Androgenous fashion and metrosexuality overlap a good deal. Hats, jewelry, and dyed hair are an example of this. It is no longer uncommon to see men, especially in cities such as LA and New York, wearing form-fitted clothing, embellished scarves or hats, and jewelry or piercings that were, until recently, considered feminine. Jewelry companies have begun to target advertisements towards men on Instagram, TikTok, and other social media sites. While studies have shown that men aren’t likely to look at a fashion magazine, seeing Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, or Jaden Smith in a ring or a gold necklace makes them far more likely to purchase one themselves. Between 2012 and 2017, men’s fine jewelry sales went up 22%, according to Euromonitor International, as stated in a NY Times article. Rings and Necklaces lead sales, and gemstones are increasingly included in men’s high fashion trends.

Celebrities have embraced these trends, mainly because their appearance is a core aspect of their celebrity persona for many. Heartthrobs such as Johnny Depp and Ashton Kutcher spend hours on their hair, makeup, and other stylistic choices. As mentioned above, Jaden Smith has become notorious for wearing metrosexual fashion trends, from jewelry to hairstyles to shoes.

In a world as hectic as the present day, it is often challenging to obtain perspective and nuance when discussing society’s greatest ills. Moreover, in times where words cannot satisfy our understanding of these issues, art’s importance amplifies and sheds light on our concerns. Continuing this sense of artistic responsibility, Texan artist and 2018 Joyce Alexander Wein artist prize recipient Diedrick Brackens aims to explore and analyze the social cleavages of race and LGBT+ individuals. Using a unique form of visual narration, Bracken’s usage of textiles and weaving form seemingly simple yet enticing pieces that compel the viewer to contemplate the story shaped by the artwork facing them. By doing so, Brackens creates a dimension where individuals of various backgrounds can begin to understand what it’s like to be othered in society. 

From his studio in Los Angeles, Brackens reminiscents what it was like growing up as being both black and queer, Bracken’s experience and intuition as an artist is largely shaped by struggles that he has faced growing up Texas in times where there was even less acceptance towards the queer community and non-whites. He states that “I don’t know what the world is like now for young queer people in the South, but I think that there was so much encoding in navigating space and trying to communicate with other queer folks and being a person already marginalized through race.” While it was not the most natural upbringing, Brackens has been able to transform those haunting experiences into art that is both beautiful yet thought-provoking. In that regard, the approach from which he intends to tell stories may seem simple, but they facilitate introspection for the spectator. In his art piece “Nuclear Lovers,” Brackens wove a six by six cotton square out of cotton and acrylic yarn. The square is slightly uneven in lengths and depicts two magenta-colored figures lying on the floor together, with checkered patterns filling the backdrop. There is a fusion of West African art and European textile making in the presentation of the colors and formatting, yet is the usage of cotton that binds the art into greater personal depths. 

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While an intriguing creation on its own, the plot that “Nuclear Lovers” creates calls back to Bracken’s personal experiences and speaks to the more significant issue at hand. Inspired by Assotto Saint’s poem regarding the AIDs crisis during its height. Nevertheless, Bracken’s approach to his pieces was always to be able to communicate these issues absent from people and appear relatable to the, for he explains “I want to be able to take these stories that are maybe familiar to a lot of folks and make them queer on some level, but also show how they might already have the capacity to be read in that way.” In translation, these issues both black and queer experience together, Brackens provides a glimpse to outsiders into the internal conflict of black-queer men. To put into greater context, if one can imagine being fearful about suddenly dying from illness, one can understand how black men might have felt during the AIDS crisis. More importantly, imagine having not only that fear from illness, which is temporary but also every day for being born a certain way. In effect, it is an essential reminder that people should learn to be empathetic towards each other and learn to comprehend that everyone struggles differently.

As with other work like sleep doesn’t come easy,” a denim-like curtain drop or “How to Return,” which features figures in a bathtub, Diedrick Brackens has managed to put his work in a necessary and useful role for creative expression and social responsibility. Despite being in a white-dominated space, Brackens puts obstacles into perspective in a time where it is essential to hear the voices of those being marginalized. By doing so, art proves once again to make progress where words simply cannot. 

As many call it now, Vegan Leather, AKA Plastic Masquerading or Pleather, was once just considered a cheap knock-off of the practical and long-lasting leather alternative. Now, vegan leather is a trend that many are regaling as an animal-friendly alternative to leather. This rebranding is remarkable in a marketing sense. However, there is a dark side of this material couched in all the positive (and very sellable) aspects. Pleather is made mainly of fossil fuel products. Its popularity on the rise, and it’s short shelf life (pleather is far from durable) is wasting a natural gas resource that is already waning and rapidly packing our landfills.

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Veganism and vegan culture are often made fun of in our society. Still, for the most part, the message and purpose are positive, despite the sanctimoniousness that unfortunately follows more often than not. However, with this one, a mark has been missed. Besides the landfill issue, vegan leather has also caused many farming or indigenous communities and small businesses to lose significant revenue from declining leather sales. While mass-produced leather isn’t ethical, many farming small enterprises and communities try to use every part of each animal they kill, for meat, leather, and other items, which shows that vegan leather isn’t the only community that cares. As Alden Wicker’s article, titled “Eco-fashion’s Animal Rights Delusion,” argues, it is dangerous to conflate vegan with sustainability or eco-friendliness. This perspective is because materials used in vegan fashion fall apart quickly because many companies sell products that, while technically vegan, are just plastic or petroleum products that are cheap and will degrade rapidly beyond wearability (but far from environmentally safe levels). Rayon is one such material, and it is so toxic, it is not even produced in the US, as explained on the Patagonia website. Polyurethane is the material found most commonly in pleather, and the chemical runoff created by the production of polyurethane is highly toxic. Solvents and fumes from this process can cause asthma, significant lung issues, vomiting, and severe migraines. So while vegan leather may not be sourced from livestock, it still harms the environment and the animals that live within it; they just happen to be voiceless and have less of a community advocating for them.

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Proper leather has long been a point of contention in fashion, linked to the controversial company of fur and silk; the primary complaint is that cows and other livestock have to suffer for the material’s production. Unfortunately, that complaint is valid. Leather is often inhumanely sourced. Today, most leather comes from India or China, where the cattle are often forced to walk miles upon miles in terribly hot conditions. Some animals are even skinned alive due to improper stunning processes, according to One Green Planet.

Photo credit: India Yaffe – Popsugar.comReading this article, you may feel caught between a rock and a hard place. “What are we supposed to wear?” you may ask. The answer: thrift, vintage leather, or leather verified to be ethically sourced. This has many benefits: you can support local or online small businesses, no animals were harmed in the making of this clothing, and you can save a bunch of cash! I don’t believe in buying new leather (jackets, wallets, or handbags) if I can avoid it; most of mine come from friends, relatives, or thrift stores in the area. I would buy from more indigenous farming communities, but in the city, those are far and few between.