Is wearing hair sticks considered cultural appropriation?

Kathryn Burkhardt

Posted on October 07 2020

Is wearing hair sticks considered cultural appropriation?

Emma Roberts experienced a lot of backlash for wearing chopsticks in her hair at the 2015 Met Gala. The theme that year was "China: Through the Looking Glass".

She got so much flack for this look that she removed it from her hair before even entering the gala. 

So, when (if ever) is it okay to wear a Hair Stick?

To start, let's make sure we understand the origins of the single prong hairpin, aka Hair Stick.

Between 4000 and 3000 B.C.:


"The most ancient hairpins have been used both as an important decorative elements for female hairstyles and also as an reinforcing, functional elements. They are found in archaeological excavations and date back to the Bronze Age (between 4000 and 3000 B.C. ).

The Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Germanic women used hairpins. Those hairpins were made of bone and wood, but later also from precious metals, which were supplemented with gemstones, engraving, filigree and granulation techniques.

Hair clips made of wire or flexible metals are just as old. It's possible that the ancient hairdressers who used them, were the representatives of Etruscan civilization."

Ancient carving of hair pin

Ancient Egyptian painted limestone relief of a woman with a hairpin. Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, reign of Mentuhotep II ca. 2051–2030 B.C. Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Image: Public Domain

Around 1600 to 1050 B.C.:


"Hair sticks have been worn as early as the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1050 BC), carved of materials like bone. This form of adornment reached its height of popularity in the Tang (AD 618–907) and Song (AD 960–1279) dynasties. By then, they were made in luxurious materials like gold, silver, jade, and other gemstones.

Since most people in ancient times grew their hair long, hair accessories were not only needed to keep hairstyles in place, but developed into an elaborate culture. It was such a widely understood visual language that one could tell a woman’s rank and marital status by the way she wore her hair.

Strict rules surrounded who could and couldn’t wear hair sticks. Generally, a woman is allowed to wear hair sticks after she comes of age at 15–20. Royal concubines who commit grave errors had their rights to wearing hair sticks revoked. On the other hand, hair sticks were common gifts from the emperor to his officials."

After researching the origins, it is my opinion that (in most cases), hair sticks are not racist or cultural appropriation when used in good taste.

Emma Roberts wearing them as part of a costume is certainly verging on bad taste, however. As is this pic of Hilary Duff from the late 90's:


Not good.

I guess a good rule of thumb is that if you are wearing costume chopsticks in your hair, that is NOT okay. 

Hope this helps!

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