Just as SXSW is now all about brands and tech, for years now, Coachella hasn’t really been about music, but about the (terrible) outfits people like Paris Hilton pass off as “festival fashion.” It’s even got its own special diet! So, at the kickoff of this year’s festival, a friendly reminder: if one of your meticulously planned outfits is racist, maybe don’t wear it?
Granted, there are a lot of day-to-day ways to present yourself to the world as an insensitive fool, but in particular, Coachella seems to be to Native American-“inspired” headdresses and feathers-in-the-hair what Glastonbury is to Hunter rain boots. It’s unclear how or why this got started—because what the Trail of Tears really destroyed was a longstanding indigenous tradition of branded party tents, which festival culture is just now doing the brave work of re-integrating into society?—but it’s been A Thing for ages now, so much so that there’s been a longstanding “hipster headdress” backlash.
None of this information seems to have made its way to model Alessandra Ambrosio, who yesterday posted the above photo to Instagram, with the caption, “Becoming more inspired for @coachella with this amazing Native American headpiece @jacquieaiche #feathers #festival #coachella #foreveronvacation #inspiration #cocar”. (The headdress seems to have been made by L.A.-based designer Jacquie Aiche.) It landed with a thud in part because people are very, very tired of explaining to white ladies why it isn’t a good idea to truss themselves up in signifiers of other races and cultures—just ask Michelle Williams—but also because of all people, you’d think Ambrosio might know better. Just two years ago, her longtime employer, Victoria’s Secret, was forced to publicly apologize after sending Karlie Kloss down the runway in a leopard-print bikini, turquoise jewelry, and an enormous headdress (Kloss apologized for the incident, as well).
It’s entirely possible that every single person attending Coachella 2014 is smarter and more culturally aware than Ambrosio, but you know what they say about what happens when you assume. So, again: if you’re on the way to L.A. (or anywhere, really) with a headdress stuffed in your weekender bag, do not wear it. Even at Coachella, we can all do better. And while we’re at it, if anyone out there invites you to a Guantanamo-themed party? Say no.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.