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This is an emergency: Dear fashion, we have a faux pas

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Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Has a two-year pandemic made the fashion industry lose its mind? Have we evolved from banana bread-making homemakers to Little House on the Prairie crop farmers?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

A few weeks ago, a video went viral. A woman filmed herself in front of the “newly released dresses” rail in Target – a general store in the US that sells everything from clothing and bicycle tubing to lounge furniture. 

“Why would you buy clothing from a store that sells bicycle tubing?” you may ask. Well, you would.

We do, all the time. Just not at the same scale. Think of Target as similar to (albeit a miniature of) Pick n Pay Clothing, for example. You pop in, you buy your milk and sweets and berries and bananas, and then you’re like, oh yeah, while I’m here, let me pick up a few other basics, like a T-shirt, maybe a new pair of cheap chinos that your significant other can wear around the garden and, before you know it, you’re trying on a hot new fashionable fashion item at less than a third of the price – like one of those Balenciaga garbage bags that are supposed to be dresses or something. 

Because Target is so huge, people go there specifically to shop for clothing all the time. I’ve been in one; I understand why. 

Anyway, on this fine day, when the woman decided to make the video, this specific rail was filled with what looked like oversized pieces of curtain with sleeves sewn on to them. And I have to admit, her critique was spot-on. I can’t remember her words verbatim, but she basically said: “Guys, please tell me whose abuela [grandmother in Spanish] is in charge of fashion. Who is allowing this person to make these decisions? How am I supposed to wear this? Why would I wear this?”

I laughed so hard and enjoyed said laughter so much that I watched it over and over again. She was so right, and of course it was even funnier because she said it in a heavy Brooklyn/Hispanic accent. Everything sounds better in that accent. It sounds funnier, sexier, angrier. Whatever you want to sound like you will find in the Brooklyn/Hispanic tongue to perfection. Besides the fact that the words spilling out of her mouth were one hundred percent true, they also reminded me of a similarly hilarious scene in the movie Girls Trip, starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and the godsend that is Tiffany Haddish. 

In the scene, the girls are about to head out on the town in New Orleans and Pinkett Smith emerges wearing a peasant-like frock not dissimilar to the ones in the viral video. Two out of three friends are kind of civil in their silent reactions, but Haddish says what everyone is really thinking – “What the f**k is that?” – to which Pinkett Smith’s character, Lisa, responds in defence: “I mean this is hand-stitched embroidery from an indigenous tribe in Guatemala that’s almost extinct … you know what, intelligent men of academia are gonna really appreciate this outfit.” 

Naturally, this is an open invite for the other girls to jump in. Fast-forward a few lines and Latifah’s character says: “You look like somebody’s Puerto Rican grandmother. See men will f**k almost anything, but not you, in that outfit.” She finishes by handing her friend a razor … the rest is assumed. Pinkett Smith turns around with an eye-roll to go and change, and Haddish pipes up with the punchline: “Don’t be taking all day back there either makin’ tamales and s**t.” 

A few days later, when I found myself eye-scrolling my way through several stores at the mall, I realised that many, many department stores had hot-tamale-making Puerto Rican grandmothers – in mannequin form, of course – posing in their windows. I paused in both laughter and shock. Is this where we are as a people? Has a two-year pandemic made the fashion industry lose its mind? Have we evolved from banana bread-making homemakers to Little House on the Prairie crop farmers?

Hey, if this is your vibe, this is your vibe, but really, if you’re going to follow through on the 17th-century homemaker theme then please do not fork out money for something you can stitch together at home from an old tablecloth and a doily. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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