Pictures from this year’s Coachella gathering in California have shown that the fashion on display stuck rigidly to a trusted festival formula. But one trend stood out above all: the celebrity bindi. Young actors Vanessa Hudgens, Sarah Hyland and Selena Gomez all sported the Hindu symbol of the chakra in dozens of nauseatingly self-satisfied Instagram pics.
The appropriation of the bindi by famous gig-goers seems to have been embraced as casually as big, hoop earrings and floppy hats, but when did it become acceptable for an ancient religious adornment to be treated as a disposable, shallow fad?
The bindi may have meshed with popular culture when the Beatles got spiritual in the 1960s, but its current trend can be traced back to the 90s, when Asian and dance culture peered at one another across a badly lit nightclub dancefloor. Talvin Singh’s Anokha night began in the mid-1990s in east London and was briefly the place to be. After collaborating with the likes of bindi-wearing Björk and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Singh founded the night as a celebration of Asian underground music. The music blended Bollywood samples and bhangra beats with drum and bass influences, and the fashions were just as fluid: Adidas hoodies mixed with kaftan tunics, Timberlands, trainers and, yes, bindis. Around the same time, No Doubt released their first big hit, Just A Girl, with Gwen Stefani sporting a look that remains influential to this day. Sean Griffiths, news editor of the dance music magazine Mixmag, says: “Bindis have been prevalent in clubs in London, Ibiza and beyond in the past few years, often paired with a midriff revealing crop top.”
Post-Stefani, popstars including Iggy Azalea, Katy Perry and Azealia Banks have used the bindi as a fashion accessory and indicator of spirituality or a quirky kind of otherness. The proliferation of visual social networks such as Tumblr and Instagram, on which people will do almost anything to make their selfies stand out from the crowd, plays a part too. For Hudgens, the need to be noticed was even stronger: she was allegedly paid $15,000 by McDonald’s to go to Coachella, and would have been expected to attract as much press attention as possible when she attended their pool party.
Still, perhaps the bindi has been decontextualised to such an extent that much of its meaning has been whitewashed away, available as it now is to buy in Topshop and Claire’s Accessories.
“I’d put the wearing of bindis by clubbers in the same pile as going to Goa on a yoga holiday or getting a Hebrew or Chinese symbol tattoo,” says Griffiths. “You think it gives you a sense of meaning, but taken out of its original context it means nothing at all.”