sartorial risks and white guilt






80s Navajo blanket/suede fringed jacket: thrifted for $5
90s dark brown velvet babydoll dress: thrifted for $4
vintage Dooney and Bourke purse: thrifted for $10
my grandmother’s rosary worn as a necklace
2 rings: one pearl ring by Laurel’s Bench, the other from a booth at Renegade Craft Fair a couple years ago
tights: Macy’s
vintage Salvatore Ferragamo flats: ebay

When I saw this jacket at the thrift store I grabbed it and bought it without even trying it on.  It was like I knew from just a glimpse that it would be awesome.  At the time I don’t think I was aware of how many associations and thoughts would come from this one item of clothing.  Let me unpack some of those here.

When I wear this jacket I think of my grandparents.  My grandfather was an expert horseman and the blanket of the jacket is not unlike the saddle blanket he would use on his horse.  I’m also wearing a rosary that was my grandmother’s.  The beads are a beautiful iridescent gemstone of some kind.  I added a clasp on it so I could wear it, which is, of course, so rebellious of me as a girl who was raised Catholic.  We were always told to never wear a rosary.  It’s sacrilegious to the max!

When I wear this jacket I feel like I’m a bad-ass New Mexico biker chick.

When I wear this jacket I feel bold and confident because it is so unlike much of what I wear normally.  It’s a bit of a sartorial risk for me and I like the way that makes me feel.

When I wear this jacket I feel white guilt.  Seriously.  You don’t think I’m aware of the socio-political/historical-racial implications of wearing this especially on a day like Columbus Day?  YIKES!  It’s a real dilemma.  I genuinely love the look and feel of this jacket, but is that because of the appropriation of Native American culture that has been packaged and commodified and sold to me through the online fashion landscape as a current trend?  Am I by wearing this influencing and/or aiding that kind of culture where white girls wear Native American headdresses?  Am I justified by saying this is vintage, second-hand and not some modern store-bought appropriation of indigenous culture (echoing the argument of wearing vintage fur)?  How can I wear this jacket and not think of the tragic history of Native Americans?  I’m wearing a Navajo blanket jacket.  Smallpox blankets were given to Native Americans by white men.  Genocide.  History.  Fashion.  It’s definitely a lot to think about.  Can an item of clothing be racist?  We saw it just recently in Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring 2013 collection (see coverage on Jezebel, Huffington Post).

It’s a lot to think about.  And sure, you could say it’s good that I’m at least aware and thinking of what it means to wear a jacket like this, but I’m still wearing it, and I guess as I long as I wear it I’ll be truly conflicted.



  1. Hannah

    The jacket is beautiful, I think that because you are aware of the connotations that the jacket could have for people obviously means you’re a empathetic/sympathetic woman. It’s a difficult one though, odd to think that clothes can spark such deep feelings! xxx

  2. Mary Van Note

    Thanks Hannah. I was surprised by how much came up for me with this piece of clothing. I’ve never had an item of clothing spark so much thought!

  3. Jessica Cangiano

    Dear Mary, I fully understand where you’re coming from and admire you for being so socially conscious when it comes to your clothing choices (if only more people were!). Ultimately, in the case of this jacket, I feel it pays homage to the beauty and artistry of the Native culture, and is something that you should be able to wear guilt-free.

    ♥ Jessica


    That jacket is a dream come true, Mary, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh

  5. Mary Van Note

    Thank you Sacramento!
    @Jessica Thank you for the kind comment. That’s a great way to think of it, as well. It is ultimately a South West Americana look (a mix of various cultures and histories) and therefore an homage to that.

  6. Vanessa Labi

    Such an amazing jacket! I can’t believe you got it for $5. Great find.

  7. wardrobe experience

    cute, fun, lovely! love this outfit. 🙂

  8. Lizzie

    I’ve come to the conclusion that if we tried to eliminate all the cultural influences in our clothing, we’d be going around naked. In your jacket alone there must be half a dozen influences, some of them filtered through certain Native cultures. In my eyes, that’s a huge difference from wearing a Sioux headdress and “playing Indian.”

  9. Mary Van Note

    Thanks Lizzie, that’s a really good point and true.

  10. kelly-Marie

    Such a refreshing post!
    It’s something I have been thinking about a lot recently too, especially after all the Dolce & Gabanna back lash and the slating of Lana Del Rey and her headdress in ‘Ride’. I chose not to wear real fur, not even Vintage but i do have to sell it at the shop i work in. That’s hard for me as I do believe that wearing vintage will encourage others to buy new fur but at the same time I would much prefer people recycle and buy vintage if they must wear fur at all. It’s very tricky and I find it very hard to help customers when it comes to fur.
    I think the most important thing is that you aware of all the issues when you wearing a piece and as long as you feel it’s right to wear it and have your opinions and beliefs clear in your head, that is all that matters. A designers arguement would be that they are ‘inspired’ by a culture and that is not a negative thing, but perhaps in D&G’s case it was taken too far. If someone tells you they are offended by it then at least you are not ignorant and understand why. I think ignorance is what offends the most. xx

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