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My Hindu friend invited me to a fancy New Years Eve bash that is being thrown by his (also Hindu) cousin. I saw some pics from last year’s party, and most of the crowd is in saris and other traditional, festive gear. I was excited to wear a sari for the first time, but my husband says that this might come off as offensive. I told him it’s appreciation, not appropriation. Care to weigh in?

You are quite right to be concerned and also a little confused by the current rules of conduct in this heavily contentious arena. With the possible exception of that dress that was maybe black-and-blue, but maybe gold-and-white, cultural appropriation was the fashion universe’s most divisive hot topic in 2015. There were obvious examples of ignorance—the Canadian fashion label Dsquared’s Native American-inspired collection, which they dubbed #DSquaw, comes to mind. There were also more debatable indiscretions, like Kylie Jenner’s dreadlocks. Some people accused the young lipstick entrepreneur of racism and insensitivity while others saw the outcry as yet another example of P.C.-ism run amok.

“Political correctness has gotten out of control,” these people might say, as if the inclination to be (perhaps, in some cases, overly) sensitive to marginalized cultures and individuals is the greatest threat to society as we know it. On the off chance I’m not being clear here—you do not want to be one of these people.

Which is not to say that things can’t sometimes veer towards the ridiculous (when I first came across the headline about the University of Ottawa’s decision to ban a yoga class because some people saw it as the co-opting of eastern culture by the west, I assumed it was from The Onion or some other parody website). Only that when issues are this inherently sticky, it’s wise to take a long view, worrying less about being right and more about being on the right side of history.

Speaking of history, take a moment and cast your memory back to the 2013 MTV Music Video Awards. It’s a night tmost people have filed under, “the time when Robin Thicke twerked up on Miley Cyrus, wearing hand-me-downs from the Hamburglar.” However, for the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to refer to it as the time Selena Gomez performed wearing a bindi. A bindi, as you probably know, is that dot that Hindu women sometimes wear on their foreheads. It is also, as you may or may not know, a sacred cultural artifact, which is why Gomez’ decision to wear one was met with protest from Hindu leaders, who were upset to see their religious symbol used as an accessory.

So what does Selena do? Apologize? Learn? Hire a more culturally sensitive costume designer? Oh, no. She waits a few months then posts a picture of herself on Instagram where she is sporting another bindi (as well as a sari), and caption the snap, “sari, not sari”.

I’m guessing S-Go though she was telling people that after giving the issue some thought, she has decided that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a bindi, and therefore she is not sorry for doing so, since—based on her judgment—there is no problem here. Note, this is also a woman who thought there was no problem with dating Justin Bieber, but I digress.

What Gomez is actually saying is that she is sorry she’s not sorry about failing to care about how her actions have offended a whole bunch of people. In which case she probably should have captioned the photo, “sorry, not sorry for being such a clueless, self-involved twit.”

Here I’m going to quote the brilliant Louis Ck who said that, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

In other words, the question here is not, Is it okay for a non-Hindu person to wear a sari?, but rather, How can I gauge whether this is something that could cause offence in the given circumstances?

The collective wisdom of the Internet is fairly useless. According to various posts, the distinction between appropriation and appreciation hinges on everything from the sacredness of the garment, to the level of authenticity in materials and craftsmanship, to the circumstances in which the garment is worn, to the culture of the appropriator. Maybe there’s a magic algorithm here, but more likely it comes down to the fact that often—though certainly not always —these situations are subjective.

Have you considered going straight to the source? A casual email explaining how you noticed that everyone at last year’s bash was dressed in saris and such and you were wondering whether or not you and your hubby should do the same. If the answer is of course, then I say go ahead, keeping in mind that your outfit is not a costume (read: no bindis, please). If the answer is no, then revert to the leather leggings and sparkly top that you would wear to any other #NYE2015 celebration. And if the answer is whatever you feel comfortable in, well, consider that perhaps your comfort is, in this case, not the most important factor. On January 1st 2016, the only thing you want to feel “sari” about is a pounding head.