Why South Asian TikTokers are fuming, as are we…about yet another piece of co-opted cultural clothing

The latest victim of colonisation is the dupatta, and netizens are coming out about its ill-founded European identity.

Harper's Bazaar India

Yes, fashion can be contentious, often dichotomising plenty, but rarely is its review. Yet, when the US-based fashion rental community Bipty’s employee took to TikTok for what one would think is an innocuous review of ideas on how to dress more European and classy this summer season, little did she know that she’d quickly round up the wrath of netizens galore. And the reason is simple enough at first glance. 

As she admired the images of white women wearing midi and full length floral dresses with sheer and semi-sheer scarves draped across their chest, she said “The vibe, the aura, what is it? It’s very European, it’s very classy.”

It didn’t take long for the rebuttals to follow. 

“The vibe is Desi, the aura is South Asian. That’s a dupatta, that’s a chunni,” said Meghana, an Indian American TikToker. 


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There are many more who outraged and chuckled similarly. The Bipti video has since been parodied in a trend of South Asian women showcasing their own “very European OOTDs” and “Scandinavian shawl girl aesthetic” wearing a dupatta over a traditional Indian salwar kameez with captions like “Just a girl trying to make sure her Scandinavian shawl is perfect for Euro summer” and “In my ‘effortlessly European’ wedding guest outfit with my Scandinavian shawl”. While some have pointed out that the draping of the “shawl” is also historically seen in Spain and Greece, the material and proclivity for the style is South Asian, making the emotion only reasonable. 

Only a day after the original video was released, and to increasing backlash, Bipty founder Natalia Ohanesian made a public apology. “The fashion aesthetic my teammate was fawning over in that video is clearly not European. It is important to note my teammate was truly curious where this fashion aesthetic is from and repeatedly asked that question multiple times through the video, she did not intend to discredit. We are very sorry to the South Asian communities that were offended.”

What makes this seemingly innocent incident more subversive is that this is far from the first time that South Asian culture has been appropriated to make “trendy” without any credit. Talk about the continuously growing popularity of yoga in the West, even the recent trend of Y2K that saw many bringing out two-piece prom dresses that were akin to lehengas, or, well, what about Britain’s national dish chicken tikka masala! There was also Hailey Bieber’s 2022 trend of “brownie glazed lip”—the model showcased her fall favourite of lining the lip with brown, blending it in and finishing with gloss—that caught the lash for being something Black and Latina women have done since the 1990s for the lack of available colour options. And the same for the model’s clean girl aesthetic. 

The long history of cultural co-optation has often happened at the expense of the marginalised and to the profit of the white; and what has been seen as backwards has quickly become trendy when usurped by the white. While the apology is a positive step, we can’t help but think, Bipty is a fashion company, and knowing about cultural clothing should be part of their syntax, and with the many other instances of similar cycles of appropriations, apologies, and opportunities to grow, it does prove to just be tiresome more than anything else. 

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