Hurtful or Harmless?

Is it an event manager’s moral duty to make sure people are not offended by the actions and behaviours of attendees at festivals? Wearing adaptions of Native American headdresses and Hindu Bindis has been identified as offensive to some groups of people. Festival attendees may be unaware of their broader cultural significance therefore, they may be wearing these items without any intent to offend. Considering both of these possibilities, should event managers introduce new restrictions on traders stall’s which are selling misappropriated items? Is this a hurtful or harmless issue that needs to be addressed by event managers and attendees?

So why should you spend the next five minutes reading this blog?

Cultural appropriation is occurring regularly within the media…

How would you feel if you saw this headline about your event?

Negative media attention can be pivotal; it may have the potential to influence consumer behaviour in numerous ways. Media can be easily accessed through global platforms, where individuals can voice their opinions and beliefs freely on social networking sites. Should event managers be aware of the latest festival fashion trends, in order to avoid negative media through causing offence to the cultures in question?

However, media can be extremely beneficial to an event manager by using social media networks. Could this be a way of influencing and increasing awareness of festival attendees on misappropriated culture?

Cultural appropriation has grown to be an issue with recent fashion trends at festivals. Many UK festival attendees may not be aware of the cultural significance of Native American headdresses, and by wearing this accessory they may consider it harmless therefore, should it be an event manager’s responsibility to increase the awareness?

The photo on the left shows an example of a Native American male wearing his traditional headdress. These war bonnets can symbolize many achievements within the different tribes. The photo on the right shows one festival goer who has adapted the traditional head piece into what could be believed is a beautiful colourful accessory at last year’s Glastonbury Festival.

Is it hurtful or just a harmless trend?

How does the above display of cultural appropriation make YOU feel?

Historically, Native American headdresses were worn as symbols of honour and respect, and were earned through significant moments in their lives. War bonnets, especially, are reserved for respected figures of power. When other cultures adopt these aspects it can be regarded as “offensive”, although it can also be seen as “sharing”. Glastonbury Festival have restricted sales, and Bass Coast Festival have banned the headdresses from being on the festival site, this decision could avoid controversy against conflicting opinions.

Another trend arising at music festivals is the Hindu decorative spot known as the ‘Bindi’, historically meaning an auspicious sign of marriage and guarantees the social status and sanctity of the institution of marriage. However, people who aren’t part of the culture use Bindis as a decoration or accessory at festivals, these are being bought in all different colours, shapes and sizes. Isha Aran is a female journalist from an Indian-Hindu background, she recently stated, “… the Bindi is merely a physical symbol and that its appearance at Coachella (American Festival) doesn’t make it any less degrading”.

Native American headdresses and Hindu Bindis can be seen as beautiful works of art that have been incorporated into summer fashion trends. Will these trends eventually fade out causing no harm, or is there a deeper hurtful meaning?

The photo to the left displays a woman wearing a traditional Bindi whereas, the ladies to the right are an example of individuals who have incorporated this possible hurtful or harmless fashion ‘trend’ at a festival.

How does this display of cultural appropriation make YOU feel?

As cultural appropriation has become a wider subject of discussion, should new measures be taken into account, regarding organiser’s and traders? Posing the question: Is it vital to make a profit at music festivals? By restricting the sale of a popular item it may repel vendors from trading at a festival due to the content of their stand. If these items are genuinely being sold in an innocent manner, is it morally right to restrict sales and for the traders to lose potential business? As previously mentioned the founder of Glastonbury festival, Michael Eavis, has demonstrated this by restricting the sale of Native American headdresses at this year’s upcoming festival. Should all festivals follow in his footsteps or is it one fashion trend gone too far?

Positive Media in the Guardian

Is being a moral guardian a responsibility for an event manager? Academics indicate that “A well-developed sense of ethics and professional reasonability should be based on a solid foundation that includes philosophy and comparative culture studies”. Could this result in event managers being responsible for regulating ‘Hurtful or Harmless’ fashion trends?

Should you become a moral guardian at your event?


William Finnerty says:

I think its harmless, just the same as every irish bar selling Guinness hats to none irish people on St Patricks day.


Dear William, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on our blog. This could be seen as harmless but, where do we draw the line, with appropriating items from culture groups, before it becomes hurtful?

Theresa murphy says:

i feel that the people that wear this attire is wholly for fashion not to cause offence and to ban it could I feel stir up problems that arnt actually there

Theresa, thank you for your comment. This is a very valid point however, as seen in present media for example with Glastonbury, there does seem to be current problems with this issue. Do you have any recommendation’s for event managers which could make this less of an issue?

angelatomkins says:

You raise some very interesting issues here and it is complex. My response is, “it all depends” on the context in which these activities are taking place and why they are taking place. Clearly, if one is ‘laughing at’ others at their expense in any context it is hurtful. However, if this is a way of helping others to understand each other better it could be seen as harmless, even helpul. You could argue that it could be educational if the attitude of everyone involved was to get people to understand the meanings of such symbols with a view to getting along better. Maybe you need a box that says “it all depends”!

Thank you for your balanced response Angela, very much appreciated. Do you think that festival goers, who buy these ‘fashion’ items, need to be briefly educated on the history of these garments before buying them if so, how could this be done?

This would educate them and hopefully encourage them to be more sensitive with their actions when wearing them. However, it may be challenging to engage festival attendees, during festivals.

Kelly gallagher says:

This could be done through images on the stall of the particular garment worn from a religious perspective or honour. Simple bullet points on the wall detailing what they mean to certain cultures. This might go totally unnoticed by some buyers, they may bypass reading this, have drunk too much to notice or simply don’t see the relevance. However the event manager has put a step in place to try and educate people. Surely this is a step in the right direction, and for those people you are offending, you can show measures have been put in place.

Charlee-Ann Matthews says:

I personally think that English people are wearing these purely as a fashion statement and it is being misconsued by the different cultures, why would we as a country go out of our way to wear small face decorative and head pieces just to offend a certain culture? Surely in a way it shows us celebrating their traditions.

Dear Charlee-Ann,
Thank you for taking time to read and comment on our blog. Great point, but how do we show these cultures we are wearing these as a fashion statement to celebrate WITH them, and not to offend them?

Charlee-Ann Matthews says:

By wearing these items to events which people attend to enjoy themselves and have a good time I think shows in itself that this is never meant to be offensive. Maybe there is a lack of education to our generation about the history of these head pieces as I know personally I would only be thinking about whether I felt good in it or not.

Jim says:

It could be argued that festival goers are embracing other cultures by wearing these item. William makes a great point above comparing to st patricks day.

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your time and response. It would be lovely if the world could unite, share and celebrate together! However, when do we draw the line when it becomes offensive to wear some cultural clothing / items?

jim says:

Offense cannot be given, it can only be taken.

Unless there is an undertone of belittling or making fun of other cultures I see no problem with people wearing whatever they wish.

Debbie says:

I think it’s harmless if the person organising the event has done their research and understands the culture they are representing.


Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. You point could assist with some issues which has arisen. How would you recommend making festival attendees aware of the research the organiser has found?

Debbie says:

My point was more about educating the events manager rather than the attendees. As i doubt many festival attendees are there to learn. I think it depends entirely on the type of event you are planning and the audience you are targeting. There is not a one size fits all approach.
Making the theme as authentic as possible I suppose would be the key rather than using a culture with no appreciation of what it means.

Damien Teague says:

Very interesting subject.

Although harmless in my opinion, I can see how some may find it it be hurtful/disrespectful.

However I don’t believe they would cause a scene as such in relation to the sale of similar styled items for fashion purposes.

Suspect the way society has changed that people tend to take the “moral high ground” far too frequently instead of letting common sense prevail.

Dear Damien, great to hear your opinion thank you. If Glastonbury have restricted sales for Native American headdress, why is it appropriate for other symbols to potentially be seen as exploited? Your raise a valid point about the moral high ground, it would be great if we merge this with common sense in the future!

Damien says:

Other symbols will be exploited as people will always use such to suit their own agenda.
However if done in a tasteful manor, which is not disrespectful to others beliefs. Then so be it.

The worlds moving forward, and with such so are people’s attitudes to what was once such sensitive issues.

Steph Clarke says:

I believe everyone is too sensitive about everything now a days.
When religion and beliefs are involved there’s never a right answer. Some harmless fashion that is actually formed from looking at religions and liking what they see to create a global trend, I think people should feel honored that people find it that amazing and beautiful that they want to copy it.
Imitation is the best form of flattery after all.

Kerrie Thomas says:

This is so ridiculous. What if witches & wizards get offended when its Halloween. Or gypsies get offended for wearing bandanas or going on holiday in a trailer. If you don’t bloody like it don’t go to the festivals. Rant over. X

Dear Kerrie, thank you for reading and commenting our blog. How can we, as individuals, judge what will offend group cultures, if we are not part of them? As you say, it could be a case of just staying away from such scenarios.

John says:

I’m amongst the least likely to fall into the ‘political correctness’ camp, but this fascinating issue does bring up the event managers’ moral obligation to consider and respect the views of others who may be affected by their festivals and what goes on there. This doesn’t necessarily mean an all-out ban is called for though – as Angela points out the context is important. Children regularly dress up as a form of play and this can lead to greater understanding and interest in another culture. What are festivals if they are not a form of play, albeit amongst different age groups and potentially very different cultures? So managed sensitively, this could indeed be harmless and indeed positive, but culturally ignorant managers could risk alienating those who may be affected or offended. That’s neither sound business sense nor morally right.

Thank you for you time John. Angela and yourself have a great point of view that these items can be educational. However, at music festivals the way that headdresses are being worn, could be seen as disrespectful as individuals may be under the influence of alcohol, behaving in an inappropriate and uncaring manner whilst wearing an adapted symbol of the culture group. Could all UK music festivals follow in the footsteps of Glastonbury, in order to avoid these possible conflicts in behaviours?

Kelly gallagher says:

I don’t think it is at all possible to eradicate the use of headdresses from all festivals. If people refuse to remove them what next? Will they be turned away? Would money be refunded? Would people then choose to attend other festivals where the rules are not defined? It would be impossible for every festival to adhere to a policy of not allowing headdresses, due to the simple fact organisers will not all feel this is hurtful, but harmless.

Keith says:

Hi, the issue as you say is one of educating people about how their behaviour may affect others. It is then up to them to decide on what behaviour to enact, based on their own individual morals and wider societal ethics. We can’t choose what happens to us in life, we can only choose how we react. Similarly, we can choose to act in a particular way but cannot choose how others will react to our behaviour. We can only anticipate that, deciding whether to act and whether to care or not care, accepting any consequences. The recent Charlie Hebdo incident is an extreme example; either the magazine editor did not really understand how some people would react, or did not care, or it was a combination of both, but he faced fatal consequences. Some people may choose to feel hurt by the sale of these festival products, others may choose to see it as harmles, so I can’t really vote either way.

Thank you Keith, you have shown a great insight into this issue from both perspectives. Are you saying that people either ‘choose’ to feel hurt or, they ‘choose’ to bypass it, with no application to the thought that being ‘hurt’ could be a natural feeling to a situation?

When can you tell when individuals ‘choose’ to feel ‘hurt’ and when they are genuinely negatively affected by the issue?

dc says:

It’s called fancy dress and yes you can also buy it outside of a festival! Why does it feel like every damn thing in society is now borderline racist or demeaning. I believe topics like this just illustrate the pettiness of political correctness and reinforce negative connotations that wouldn’t even exist otherwise. This brings me to the quote of one sociologist who stated: society is the walls of our imprisonment that we are forever rebuilding! Open your mind people!

Thank you for your view. Do you think that we are hearing about peoples reactions more due to increased communication channels on the internet nowadays, which is why society is now changing?

jlannon2014 says:

Whilst any action has a “reaction”, as a festival manager you ought to be aware of the actions that your business has on the wider stakeholder population. I don’t think that you can stop people from wearing what they want (afterall, they are paying customers), however, you do have control over what is sold on site, so if a culture objects to something that you are selling on site, you then have a moral dilema, which as professionals you must address. Does this mean discontinuing sales immediately, or putting plans in place for future years?

Dear John, thank you for taking time to read our blog and writing a response. Your view on the festival manager being aware of the wider stakeholder population is very relevant. Discontinuing sales immediately could be put into place, which may deter attendees bringing the items into the festival. If the festival manager feels as if not enough has been done, they could place a ban for future events. What are your opinions on briefly educating the buyers about the historical importance of these items? As outlined by Angela below.

Sophie says:

Great blog post &I think this is a really interesting topic, and overall my opinion is that these items are worn as a fashion statement or bit of fun, there is no malicious intention when purchasing them. Although it does raise a wider topic of cultural awareness which I think is down to education and not Event Managers. It’s a freedom that we enjoy to choose whatever you want to wherever you want to wear it. A ban would be very difficult to police and a case of a step too far in my opinion. Especially if purchased off site, where would you draw the line?

Kelly gallagher says:

Great point. Who would be responsible for asking festival goers to remove the ‘hurtful’ attire they have bought off site. This is a debate in itself. It’s all well and good event managers asking stall owners not to sell certain attire but then this opens up the need to prevent people purchasing elsewhere. The stall owners are then being punished for selling on site, and surely they will then move their business to maybe outside the premises etc

Hi Sophie, great to hear your feedback. Who would you chose to educate and how do you think this could be achieved?

Kelly gallagher says:

No matter what you do. Someone will always be offended, keep selling them and you offend some cultures. Remove them, and those people selling the items and their customers will be offended by not having the right to buy and sell. I believe it is harmless however, I can see why some cultures may be offended. My question back is that in today’s society it is not really apparent which people belong to which cultures. You may have a white woman who has taken on the Hindu religion, would you know if she was wearing a bindi spot for her religion? Probably not, if these were banned, how would an event manager feel if they asked her to remove this but it was her religion? Could she then actually prove she was Hindu? It’s a very fine line and could cause more harm from that perspective. We see more and more people converting to other religions and also marrying into different religions, you cannot label these people through sight.

Hi Kelly, your question back holds a very valid point, do you think that in today’s society you should have to prove your culture?

Louise says:

I think the issue is harmless, but can definitely see how it can offend some people! I think as managers, glastonbury have took a good approach but I don’t think all festivals will follow suit. Surely there will always be an ‘issue’ as such which offends people? I guess as an event manager for a festival they need to be as politically correct as possible to avoid any unwanted press or opinions!

Hi Louise, thankyou for your comment, is there a reason why you don’t believe other festivals will follow suit?

Louise says:

I’m not sure that they wont follow suit, but I think it may just be a trend that is going through a phase, not necessarily something long term. I think Glastonbury did the morally right thing and it shows good awareness of issues in the industry from the festival organisers

Hannah says:

I would say the vast majority of those wearing any headdress or bindi are doing it without malicious intent and it has now become a festival tradition to wear these. It would be impossible for festival organisers to ban the use of these due to the amount of people attending who choose to wear them. From experience I have never found anyone to have a problem with it, there are far worse things that need to be dealt with relating to festivals rather than the choice of accessories a person may or may not wear.

Dear Hannah, thank you for your reply. We are glad your experience has been a positive one, however please be aware that there could be individuals from group cultures who will be offended by these accessories being worn out of context.

Emily Chennell says:

I fully agree that this issue is hurtful. This blog is a fantastic read and raises lots of issues that people wouldn’t even consider before wearing such clothing / accessories. A very important issue to consider in the future and further research would be interesting

Hi Emily, thankyou for your comment. What are your feelings on wearing an accessory or item of clothing from another culture at a festival?

Amy says:

This is a very current and important issue, however I believe it is harmless. People at festivals are wearing garments as a fashion acessory and are not intending to hurt others. However Glastonbury is the largest festival and I believe what they did was morally right, however I do not feel the need for all festivals to follow this approach. I’ve been to festivals and never heard of anyone being hurt from people wearing the garments! Great issue for furtber research

Hi Amy, thank you for your comment. If you believe Glastonbury’s approach is morally right, why do you think that other festivals should not follow this approach?

Emily says:

As a festival attendee I have worn bindis and indian headdresses in the past, without any thought what so ever of the harm this could cause to other cultures. This blog is very insightful and I feel that I would look at the consequences before wearing cultural items for fun in the future.

Thank you Emily, we are glad that you found this blog insightful and that it has made you become more aware. It is great to know that we’ve made an impact!

Jo smith says:

I never thought to think about certain trends meanings. Me and my friends wear these trends to festivals and also holidays. When purchasing these items from brands like topshop I never knew they could be seen as hurtful but after an interesting read of your blog I understand how this can be seen as hurtful issue of fashion trends! I believe event managers need to be more aware of cultural appropriation so there event isn’t seen in the media which then causes huge debate. I now will be more aware when purchasing such items.

Hi Jo, thank you for your comment. Do you think retailers such as Topshop should stop the sale of these items if it is a hurtful fashion trend?

Jo says:

Your welcome, was a very interesting read. I do believe they should stop the sales of hurtful trends and i also believe items that have had such active media should be restricted.

Hi Jo, thank you for replying so quickly. Do you think managers will be able to control the restriction of these items at festivals?

Jo smith says:

I think it would be hard to control the restriction of these trends but they can control what they tell the festivals goers and how much they can advertise these restrictions

Stacey says:

In my opinion wearing headdresses and accessories at festivals is probably not done to cause any offence, but rather to be creative and colourful. I expect that many people do not realise that offence may be caused by wearing this type of item, and do so just for fun and getting into the light hearted free spirit of attending a festival. I think it is important for event managers to address such issues which may cause offence, however in this case I do think it is quite a harmless issue and intentions when choosing to wear such items are likely to be for fun, or perhaps to embrace other cultures.

Hi Stacey, thank you for your comment. We also think it is important for event managers to address issues that could cause offence during their events. If wearing the items discussed causes offence, how do you think this can be controlled?

Nigel Harvey says:

Glastonbury needs to man up. Exactly how many people could be offended by this ! About as many as back in time were offended by Andy Pandy and Teddy ( If you can remember)

Hello Nigel, thank you for sharing your opinion. Glastonbury must feel that these actions have negatively effected some individuals.

Jade says:

This is another example of simple fashion trends being blown out of proportion. People attend festivals for the experience of listening to world class music and socialising with friends, so why has a fashion trend been turned into something its not. I don’t think anyone would think ‘oh i want to offend someone by wearing a bindi?!’. So if regular people decide to where cowboy hat’s on holiday because they like how they look it will offend cowboys? same can be said for cowboy boots? Trends come and go, in a seasons time there will be another fashion trend in and other allegations most likely made. I don’t believe these fashion trends at festivals have any hurtful hidden meanings.

Hi Jade, thank you for your comment. Do you not think that with Glastonbury Festival banning the sale of head dresses there could be some interpretation that wearing such items could be offensive?

dswords01 says:

I believe this is harmless, I have worn bindi’s at festivals and many of my friends do. It is not done intentionally to offend anyone but can be seen as celebrating cultures coming together, similar to holidays such as St Patricks Day where people will wear hats, face paint etc. It is an important issue that event managers need to address if there is negativity around the situation.

Dear Denise, thank you for sharing your balanced view with us.

ashosullivan says:

I think it’s mostly accidentally harmful. I’m not for people wearing Native American Headdresses, or Bindi, or anything of the like at festivals (Unless you’re Native American, Hindu, etc), but I doubt that the majority of people wearing these items at festivals are doing it to purposefully insult other cultures and rub the salt into the wounds opened by hundreds of years of colonial atrocities, I think it’s more just people being dumb.

Most people who wear these to festivals are just your typical festival-goer with a magpie like attitude who thinks that shiny things and things with feathers will make them stand out amongst the crowd, looking no further into it than that. Nobody goes there and says “awh yeah, I’m gonna insult their cultures and traditions whilst doing MKat at Burning Man,” they just don’t know what they’re doing is hurtful. Unless they do know that it’s hurtful and in which case, need a good slap.

Thank you for sharing your insight with us. Do you think it will help if traders gave an insight into where the accessories originated from? It could make the buyers more sensitive towards the cultures.

Sami says:

I think the issue is harmless, however can see how some people may be offended. I can see why Glastonbury would restrict the headdress, but it could also potentially lead to people feeling they don’t have the freedom of choice in what to wear. Either way people could get offended. I don’t think other festivals will follow suit, they may show that they are aware of the situation.

Thank you for your view Sami.

Sarah says:

People should be more considerate when it comes to fashion at festivals… Especially when it comes to something that is so deeply embedded in someone’s culture. I think it’s the responsibility of both the consumer and the organiser to take this into account!

Thank you for sharing a great balanced view with us Sarah!

Jess says:

I believe that the head dresses and bindi’s are worn with innocence at festivals and events. After running events myself It’s not that this wouldn’t raise culteral awareness, I think it is important that cultural beliefs and the reasoning behind certain cultural dress is recognised however people attending light hearted, fun festivals I don’t think are out to offend any culture. People are wearing their dress decoration because they look good, they are colourful and pretty I don’t think any hurtful intention is behind them! This suggests and leads to traders who sell such products, should they opt out of their lively hood, no I don’t believe so. What they are selling I believe is harmelss however those with strong cultural beliefs may think differently which is understandable.

Dear Jess, thank you for your comment. How do you suggest not offending those who could be negatively effected?

Charlotte says:

Nobody wearing these fashion items are doing it to offend, I think in this multicultural world we live in, we should be free to wear whatever we desire. Festivals are a place where people can express our style and wear whatever we desire, no matter how strange or unacceptable. People go to festivals dressed in all sorts of cultural stereotypes and I have never heard anyone get upset. People have worn Kilts, Nun costumes and all sorts. I think that people should learn to accept each other and appreciate different cultures and not be concerned about what others are doing. Cultures should take it as a compliment that people want to copy their style.

Dear Charlotte, you have shared a great insight. It would be great if the world could unite and share together!

Harry says:

I would say that’s it harmless, but also the people that dress with this sort of attire are probably ignorant of what the social or religious context behind their ‘fashion’ choices are. But at the same time if its causing offence then perhaps it is something that needs to be thought about more; if Glastonbury has taken steps to stop this sort of thing, then it must be a growing concern.

Dear Harry, thank you for sharing your view which reflects our blog! Let’s see what comes of future festivals!

Jessie101 says:

I think a lot of people are missing the point here. Wearing costumes for halloween or dressing up isn’t the issue at hand. The issue is that some of these people aren’t aware of the cultural significance of these items, and to those who do it can seem very offensive to adapt them as fashion accessories. More people need to be educated on the issues raised in this blog, and the fact that someone can compare a witches or wizard costume to an important culturally symbolic item like a bindi or Native american head dress, is a prime example of the lack of consideration and awareness on this topic. Event managers can’t be expected to police the wear of these items at their music festivals, the same way they can’t 100% control drug or alcohol abuse. But making the attendees aware of the issues and having an active interest in the matter would contribute towards the preservation of these cultural items.

Dear Jessie, thank you for shairng your opinion. We do think that by creating awareness that this issue can be dealt with more sensitively by festival goers.

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