Authentication is a process of assimilation in which an artifact, item,
or idea external to a culture is adopted and changed. With this change,
and over time, the artifact becomes a vital, valued part of the adopting
culture's dress. Cultural authentication is a concept that has been
found useful in interpreting the cultural diffusion of costume between
western and non-western cultures. During the semester we will examine
several examples of this process.
levels, or components, of cultural authentication have been defined.
These levels do not necessarily occur in a fixed order; the order may vary
by culture (Arthur, 1997).
of Cultural Authentication
Types of Cultural Authentication
- Adopting an object or idea intact
- Adopting an object or idea intact, but the new culture attached its own
symbolic meaning along with changing its use. May be named during
- Adopting an object or idea in its original physical or ideological form,
applying new symbolic meaning, and identifying the object or idea to a
specific social group
- Physically altering, or modifying, the object or idea. Allows for
cultural distinctiveness (Eicher ).
In the general process of cultural authentication, elements of dress from
one culture are incorporated into the dress of another. This varies
according to how elements of dress from the source culture and the receiving
culture merge. Cultural authentication allows us to account
for mixtures that occur due to global interactions of people with long-established
traditions of dress. At its simplest level, the adopted item is used in
the same way within the new (adopting) culture. However, dress is
seldom copied exactly from one culture to another. Instead, it is
transformed in form and meaning by the adopting group, so it is separated
from the old setting, and becomes a unique part of the new culture.
- involves movement of elements of dress across cultural lines. The
incorporation of new elements takes place within varying lengths of time.
Changes may range from extensive to barely noticeable.
(simplest level) - one
cultural group selects an item of dress from another culture and uses the
item in much the same manner. Involves only selection and possibly
- this distinguishes how a group of people reach back into their
own histories/cultural heritage's and borrow items of dress for contemporary
adaptation. Temporal authentication occurs when a change takes place
over time within a specific cultural group, while with cultural authentication,
elements of dress move across cultural lines and the incorporation of new
elements takes place at various times. Changes may be extensive or
barely perceptible in both types of authentication.
authentication - elements from both of the above are combined.
Temporo-cultural authentication occurs when an apparel designer reaches
across cultural lines and also back through time for ideas to incorporate
into contemporary fashions.
Authentication Refined: The case of the Hawaiian Holoku,
the author describes the cultural authentication of the holoku,
an integral part of Hawaiian women's dress since the early 1800's.
For the holoku, selection occurred first, followed almost immediately
by transformation, then incorporation, and finally characterization.
Hawaiian women, initially the royalty, called ali'i, were very receptive
to adopting western fashion and requested garments be made for them by
the missionary wives who came to Hawaii beginning in 1819. However,
the contemporary style, high waist, narrow skirt and long, tight sleeves
did not complement the figures of the typically plump Hawaiian royalty.
Therefore, the dress had to be immediately redesigned, or transformed.
A more appropriate style which took into account the Hawaiian figure type,
as well as the hot, humid climate, was developed for a loose comfortable
fit. The result was a full skirt, high neckline, an above-the-bust
yoke, and tight sleeves.
The holoku which was first worn by the ali'i as a novelty,
came to be associated with upper class status and also with new standards
of modesty introduced by the Christian missionaries. Prior to this
time, women wore the
pa'u, a lower body covering made of kapa cloth
which was wrapped several times around the body. Kapa cloth was produced
by felting fibers from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. The pa'u
was often decorated with geometric designs. The missionaries considered
this garment shockingly immodest and encouraged the adoption of the holoku.
Thus, the holoku was incorporated into Hawaiian women's dress.
It is difficult to determine exactly when characterization of the holoku
occurred due to the fact that the Hawaiian language was unwritten.
Although the dress is described in letters and diaries earlier, it was
not until 1865 that the word holoku appears.
Arthur, L.B., (1997).
Cultural authentication refined: The case of the Hawaiian holoku.
and Textiles Research Journal,
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August 3, 1999
Copyright Belinda T. Orzada, University of Delaware, 1998. All rights