My Culture Is Not Your Costume
In America today, assimilation and Westernization means the practice of wearing culturally significant clothing has largely disappeared from view. We save our qipaos, only for specific celebrations among our immediate communities. Meanwhile, clothing retailers steal and appropriate our designs, disrespecting and removing them from their intimate context. As a result, our traditional clothes are often seen as costumes, perpetuating the problem idea that ethnic heritage is both a sign of foreign “otherness” to be ashamed of for certain populations, yet also available for other people to take under the pretense of being “edgy”. This photo series seeks to reclaim the significance of traditional, cultural attire by incorporating such pieces with everyday streetwear. For those of us who often feel as though we are caught between cultural identities - that of our ancestors and that which we currently live in - doing so demonstrates embracing our roots, being proud of where we came from, and ultimately, the importance of hanging onto our family’s culture.
"So what I’m wearing is a qipao, which is a traditional Chinese dress from the 1920’s. It actually has a cool history with women’s liberation movements in China: the qipao echoes the style of a changshan, which was a robe only men were allowed to wear for centuries. So the qipao represented a promotion of gender equality, as women also called for the end of bound feet and began cutting their long hair off. At the same time, the qipao very much emphasizes the feminine figure with its form fitted-ness, which also led to its popularity among women. To me that’s really cool, because the dress both symbolizes gender equality and femininity as empowerment, to be enjoyed by and for powerful women.My JiaJia, or grandma on my moms side, gave me the qipao I’m wearing. I’ve never gotten to wear it before - though qipaos used to be an everyday item of clothing, I’ve only gotten to wear them and see them at special occasions like Chinese New Year or community dances. Which makes me sad, especially when I see Halloween stores sell cheap mimics of qipaos, or Urban Outfitters use some vaguely brocade-like material to make “Asian-inspired pinafores.”Like, why is isn’t cool for someone like me - who knows the significance, the intimacy, and treasures the value of this clothing in its traditional form - to wear a qipao, and all the sudden it’s so popular if some random white girl wears some cheap polyester knock off? Why does do other perceive my wearing of a qipao as “super Asian,” while others get to just be “cool and edgy?”
So getting to incorporate my moto jacket and docs was awesome for me, because i think it precisely showed how the qipao is both feminine and badass, not just delicate. It let me show how my wearing of the qipao doesn’t have to be merely traditional - styles of wearing it have come a long way and as a descendent I can continue that. And it let me feel like I could show off and be proud of such a culturally significant piece, and thus embrace and be proud of my own heritage as a daughter of Chinese Immigrants."