You’re going to see a lot of ethnically inspired fashion on both men and women in spring / summer 2012, but you’ll be forgiven if you aren’t able to immediately determine which ethnicity it is that you’re paying witness to. There are a lot of factors that cause that to be the case but none is so potent as this: this is not a trend that sets out to romanticise whole looks – that was how we wore it back in 2009. For spring 2012 it’s a trend that instead borrows patterns and ideas from cultures far-and-wide and subtly works them through very Western garments.

Read on after the break to find out how both men and women will be wearing the trend this season. And don’t forget that if you’d like to keep up to date with all of the latest fashion trends and inspiration on how to wear them, to subscribe to Fashionising.com’s RSS feed or give us the thumbs up on Facebook.

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Ethnic / tribal fashion in 2012

In 2012 ethnically inspired / tribal fashion is a funny thing. It’s a trend to be certain, but I feel that it’s almost disingenuous to describe it as such. And that’s because Fashionising.com prefers to only highlight trends which are a part of a wider movement – shifts in society’s tastes are real fashion trends, designs pushed by a few designers and marketers are hype.

Yet here’s a guide on how to wear tribal and ethnic inspired fashion in spring 2012. Why? Not just because people will wear the look (a lot of people won’t even realise that they’re doing it) but because it’s a look that, in its spring / summer 2012 format, neatly segues from the patterened trends that continued to inspire many a fashion statement for men and women in 2011.

So the stage is set: a fashion trend that is all about ethnic and tribal elements and not about whole looks, one where the origins of the look are downplayed, and one that is both for men and women. So what does that boil down to?

Men’s tribal / ethnic fashion

Guys have tribal / ethnic fashion dead easy this season. For them it’s effectively about two elements, prints and weaves, interpreted in a host of ways.

If you had to highlight a single catwalk that inspired the look for men, it’s the Burberry spring 2012 men’s one. Here you see the trend at its broadest, with American Indian motifs and Ikat prints worked through a collection that has a 60s and 70s lean. At its most basic the look is worked as prints through shorts and shirts, and at the most extreme is worked through outerwear. It’s always a statement, but it’s one that’s easy to feel instantly comfortable with.

men's ethnic fashion
Clockwise from left: Ethnic print shorts and woven jumper from Burberry Prorsum, cream Fair Isle knit from Topman, patched sweater from Topman, patterned shorts from Topman.

Much of the trend for men sticks to this interpretation. While Burberry Prorsum’s collection includes the odd embellishment, when you encounter it on the high street you’ll find that it’s largely a story of prints. Here it’s a story of prints, seldom of weaves beyond Fair Isles, and never (at least, not that I’ve seen while researching) about embellishments stitched atop garments. On the high street it’s easiest to find the ethnic / tribal look at retailer Topman where the look is dubbed ‘Aztec’ and worked as a print across just about every type of basic summer garment. Where it’s best is when it’s subtle, however and you can consider their visually-patched t-shirts and sweaters prime examples for easy ways to wear the trend.

The takeaways:

  • The easiest way to wear the look is as a print
  • It’s a casual look that works best with a bit of volume in a 60s / 70s way
  • If you’re looking to make a statement, look for patterned shorts.
  • If you’re looking for something less bold, look for a small patch / pattered detail on a plain item
  • Check out the men’s section of the ethnic / tribal trend inspiration gallery for more looks

Women’s ethnic / tribal fashion

For women the ethnic / tribal fashion theme was played to by a larger number of designers this season, but the trend remains one of prints and weaves applied across typical summer pieces.

If you’re not averse to a darker summer palette then both Donna Karan and Paul & Joe have told a story that might catch your eye. The latter offers bold takes on a South American feel. A typical summer story, it’s got the air of a collection intended to be worn in a city where relaxed fashion is summer’s aesthetic. Across this feel, Paul & Joe offer many a bold print, the odd texture, and a much needed swimwear option for the trend.

If you prefer your summer clothes to be bright then you might turn to Ohne Titel’s offering. Theirs is a far more urban cut, with on-trend prints worked against a palette of whites, corals, and pale yellows.

Perhaps more abstract, but none-the-less on trend, Bottega Veneta’s spring 2012 collection plays to both brights and darks with its strength really to be found in just how crisp the collection feels. It’s not a structured take on the trend, but it is a clean one with patterns embellished upon darks, plated summer dresses with adorned prints, and a swimsuit no one is going to want to get wet.

And of course there is Burberry Prorsum – the most influential label for this trend for both men and women. Both collections tell a similar story, and the women’s spring 2012 collection is one of foreign motifs serving as accents. Even more embellished than the men’s offering, Burberry’s collection is what you’ll want to wear if you want to take the look to the 9th degree.

women's ethnic fashion
Clockwise from left: Donna Karan’s dark ethnic print, contrasting bright tribal prints from Ohne Titel, a washed out pattern with thigh high split from Paul & Joe, bikini bottoms from Paul & Joe.

The takeaways:

  • Women’s options are far broader then men’s, but it remains true that the easiest way to wear the look is as a print
  • The men’s look is about a relaxed fit first, the pattern second. It’s different for women: bold patterns are the dominant element, the fit should be about works for your body and your style
  • While ethnic / tribal prints are the easiest thing to get your hands on, don’t be afraid to look for less obvious details. Donna Karan worked in harness strapping brilliantly, and you can accessorise with an on-trend leather harness
  • If you’re wearing a washed out print, Paul & Joe offer up several of these, don’t be afraid to pair it with another spring 2012 fashion trend that makes a statement – high dress slits for instance
  • Check out the women’s section of the ethnic / tribal trend inspiration gallery for more looks

Ethnic / tribal accessories

If prints aren’t your thing, then you can still indulge in the ethnic / tribal fashion trend by way of accessories. All the fashion houses who have touched on the trend have suitable accessories on offer and while we’d overlook the obvious (Donna Karan’s feather necklace seems to be trying a bit too hard) there’s a good number of pieces, from bags to shoes, that replicate the motifs. Our personal pick goes to those using the weaving element, prevalent through many a collection to tell the story.

ethnic tribal accessories
Clockwise from top left: sling handbag from Paul & Joe, tribal clutch from Burberry Prorsum, men’s woven shoes from Burberry Prorsum, ethnic belt from Bottega Veneta.

Ethnic / tribal fashion styling inspiration

The tribal trend back in 2009

As with so many other spring / summer 2012 fashion statements, it was back in 2008 and 2009 that the tribal trend was truly last in fashion. It was a very different kind of look back then, with whole outfits having a ‘girl on world tour’ air to them. Here’s what we had to say about the look back then:

As it did with bohemian inspired looks as one of the first 2009 fashion trends, fashion has gone global for Spring/Summer 2009 with designers drawing inspiration from every corner of the globe. A look which started with Yves Saint Laurent’s legendary safari jump suits has been re-interpreted this season, and designers from Christopher Kane to Paul Smith have looked to Africa and the Orient for inspiration.

tribal fashion trend 2009

Tribal themes can be seen with the strong use of animal prints at Christopher Kane, in cheetah and leopard print tops, combined with geometric shaped skirts in earthy hues such as grass green. Turbans also crop up again and again, another simple way to update your wardrobe for this season’s fascination with global fashion.

An African feel is also apparent in the Egyptian style drapery and sheer neutral toned fabrics at Paul Smith and Max Azria, which give the ensemble a regal chic reminiscent of Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra. Further majesty can be seen in the flowing kaftans at Reem Arca and Gucci in dusty gold and sapphire blue respectively.
Sensuality is also prevalent in these globally-inspired collections. Look no further than the use of the sheer trend at Proenza Schouler for an example on this. Conversely, safari style practicality is another recurring theme for the season with the re-worked and practical jump suits in neutral tones seen at Ralph Lauren and Lacoste.

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