Glastonbury Festival Takes Action Against Cultural Appropriation by Banning Headdresses

Kayleen Schaefer

Music festival style — think crochet dresses, crop tops, and glitter makeup — has never been praised as being particularly tasteful. But one staple, the Native American headdress, is seen by some as an especially tacky choice — and now some organizers are banning it. The U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival decided this week that the sale of headdresses would be restricted on the grounds of the fest, and Canada’s Bass Coast Festival has forbid them entirely.

The Glastonbury ruling was a result of an online Change.org petition started by Daniel W. Round that got 65 signatures. “It is an offensive and disrespectful form of cultural appropriation,” Round wrote. “It homogenizes diverse indigenous peoples and it perpetuates damaging, archaic and racist stereotypes.”

Experts agree with Round’s assessment. “The festivals are attempting to provide a space that’s welcoming for all,” David Delgado Shorter, a professor at UCLA who specializes in natives in Hollywood films, shamanism and new age issues, myths, rituals, symbols, tells Yahoo Style. “They want to limit the exhibition of privilege. There’s a historical context that a lot of these festival goers are missing. There are people whose grandparents and great grandparents were alive at the time they were rounding up Native Americans and killing them. It’s not ancient history.”

The fashion and entertainment industry in particular has long been besotted with the look of the feathered topper, which signifies a Native American chief or warrior, and has appropriated it in various ways that have sometimes resulted in public outcry. Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio posted a picture of herself wearing plumes in preparation for this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, angering many of her fans. On Ambrosio’s Facebook page, Jan Medor posted, “Why, oh why, are you wearing a headdress??? You are vulgar and disrespectful to ALL Native Americans. You have no right to wear it. The headdress is earned by Warriors, NOT worn by women or those who have not earned it. I am sooo tired of others thinking they can just take what is not theirs for a ‘fashion’ statement.” 

When producer Pharrell Williams posed in a Native American headdress on the cover of Elle UK’s July issue, fans voiced their displeasure with the Twitter hashtag #NotHappy, a reference to Pharrell’s recent solo hit. Williams issued an apology for wearing the accessory. “I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry,” he wrote in a statement. And in 2012, No Doubt pulled a video for a single called “Looking Hot,” which had a Wild West theme and featured tee-pees, headdresses and smoke signals. In addition, Lana Del Rey, Khloe Kardashian, Ke$ha, and Urban Outfitters have all appropriated the look and been scolded for their actions. 

"I understand that we want to live in a post-modern world where we can wear a dot on our head or a sari, but the headdress isn’t a fashion item," Shorter says. "We have to resist turning the Indian into something silly or surface level." 

On social media, however, many people reacted to the Glastonbury decision by saying it was too strict and that people should be able to wear what they want to. “I am torn,” @LoveUrMonster tweeted. “I feel headdresses are very beautiful and I always love to see them.” Tim Smith, a student at City University London, tweeted, “#Glastonbury banning headdress sales sends out all the wrong messages. Cultures don’t own their traditional dress and should share.”

Jessica Metcalfe, Ph.D., author and owner of Beyond Buckskin, a website and online retailer dedicated to Native American artists and designers, agrees that headdresses shouldn’t be worn as a fashion statement. She tells Yahoo Style that Native Americans themselves have been asking festival goers to stop wearing them for years and is glad that the festival organizers are finally stepping in. 

"The festival organizers are starting to understand the sacred and important cultural aspects of the headdress and want to respect that however they can," she says. "However, on the other hand, we still have concert goers who think that wearing a headdress is not only acceptable, but is cool. Several Native American people have asked festival participants to not wear headdresses merely as a fashion statement, but our requests fall on deaf ears — which is unfortunate — but it is also great to have festival organizers align themselves with Native people on this issue."