Sunday, 19 October 2014

Qipao Love: Part 18 ~ Cultural appropriation and the Qipao (Cheongsam)...a matter of opinion?

My beehive and a groovy Cheongsam.... [Caroline Opacic Photography]
Having received a reader's email voicing cocerns about cultural appropriation and the Qipao (Cheongsam) recently, it has made me consider some of the questions this issue brings to light. There has been an ongoing spin in the media on famous people wearing certain traditional garments of other cultures being offensive or even racially prejudice, with different arguments from different sources. Perhaps it is time to voice my two pennies worth of thoughts on the matter, and of course I cannot claim to represent all persons of Asian heritage at all, so thoughts are essentially mine alone and they are not meant to be offensive or political in any manner. As a Cheongsam enthusiast and advocate, I feel it is important to spread the beauty of this dress and prevent scaring those who love the Cheongsam into not being able to wear it just because they are ethnically different. Living in London I have come to appreciate diversity as well as freedom, there are not many cities around the world with such great appreciation for difference, culture and freedom. Where I can walk down the street of good ol' London town in a piled high beehive and Qipao without so much of a batted eyelid by passers by, I am probably unlikely to get away with it in other parts of the world....even in an Asian country. Nothing major of course; I will probably get passers by stopping to stare and guessing I am either crazy, dressing up for a fancy dress party, going to a formal event or wedding. Such is the circumstances that have restricted the use of the Qipao today (unless of course it could be Chinese New Year), and almost to the extent of a social phobia in being too different to fit to the norm of daily modern fashionable Western style dress in an Asian country. My question is...should this circumstance be normal even for those who have an ethnically Chinese background living in Asia? Why should the Cheongsam no longer be the norm? Does it have to be in Vogue in order to be fashionable?

Anna May Wong (Source: Pinterest)

Sceen from 'Flowers of War' (Source)

Chinese-born Japanese actress Yoshiko Otaka (Yamaguchi) [Pinterest]
Is it just body image or a deeper fear, and indeed why should women fear what they wear? I have been addressing this issue post by post through developing the Qipao Love series that I hope can become a useful reference point or even inspirational motivation for others, and have been calling forth women who love the Qipao or Cheongsam to embrace that love by celebrating it with others through the monthly Qipao LoveR feature. A garment that was still being worn as daily wear about more than 60 years ago being replaced by modern trend directed clothing in an effort to become more Westernised or fashionable is a fact. The art of making the Qipao through traditional means is dying and specialised tailors are disappearing, so one day it could become something only seen in museums. Therefore I see it important to encourage more ladies to get to know the Qipao, and for those who love collecting the Qipao like myself to be able to wear  it without the prejudice or fear of being seen as some sort of fun-only costume...if I should wear it let it be with love, so if others wear it then I hope it is with love and appreciation too. My close Japanese friend also fears the art of the Kimono might one day die out, and with her teachings I learned to dress in a Yukata (summer Kimono) the traditional way from how to tie the obi traditionally to how to behave when wearing the Yukata. Dressing can be an art. When one loves something one will carry it with respect and appreciate its beauty, which I hope is the message I have been able to spread.

Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor in Cheongsam (Divine Stitches

Clark Gable and actress Li Li-Hwa (Source: Pinterest)

Vintage Butterick sewing pattern....to make your own Cheongsam (Divine Stitches)

Love my Yukata even though I'm not Japanese..... [Yukata How-To]
Photo: Caroline Opacic Photography

Wearing my Yukata with a proper lightweight Obi.... [1920s Modan Garu]
Perhaps I have a different approach to others in seeing information as a means of helping others to understand some context of a culture, and actually encouraging others to appreciate traditional dress. Have a look at the photos (above) of Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor dressed in traditionally Chinese garments, but not looking any bit offensive...well to me anyway, in fact I think they look beautiful. I feel the difference between the offensive and non-offensive is crucially 'how one wears the traditional dress', so here's a few ideas to consider:
  • Research that dress! If you would like to wear a Qipao (Cheongsam) respectfully, then do a little research into what looks nice with it and know the name of what it is that you will be wearing. It is probably best not to mix a widely perceived Chinese dress with items from other Asian cultures, to avoid making broad statements about all Asian cultures, or indeed dig out the political through a historical war context that could simmer a stereotypical grudge of some sort. If in doubt, keep it simple.
  • Mere fun-filled costume or true loving appreciation? Your intention matters, and how you choose to wear a traditional garment will allow others to decipher information about you as well as how you feel about the garment. If you love something, then you will simply want to do it justice and appreciated it in the best way that you can.
If wearing a traditional Qipao (Cheongsam) is still daunting because of cultural sensitivities, then perhaps you can start with a modern Cheongsam instead. There are several newly emerging independent Cheongsam designers in Asia, who are selling rather modernly modified designs incorporating Western dress features with an element of creativity as well as play of fabric, to make the Cheongsam more accessible to younger working females of today. [For a reference of the different Modern Cheongsam designs I have tried, take a look at the Qipao Love series.] Have a fabulous start to the week darlings!



Until the next time,
May xx

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In my very first modern everyday Cheongsam....on a Singapore trip. [Qipao Love]

Saturday, 11 October 2014

'Qipao LoveR' No. 3: Talented Miss October....the sewing Weddiologist Isabel from Singapore!

There are certainly times when I wish I can sew properly and make myself a Qipao or two...so I really do take my hat off to ladies who can sew, especially those who can tailor a beautiful Qipao (Cheongsam) dress. Well, our Miss October of the 'Qipao LoveR' series is certainly one such talented lady....she not only made one Cheongsam, she actually made her own wedding Qipao as well as her mother's Qipao! Meet Isabel from Singapore, who is a Cheongsam aficionado, Japanese speaker and talented seamstress (just take a look at every single one of those Cheongsam dresses she made and you will know what I mean). Besides wanting to expand her interest in fashion designing creatively, her dream was to make all the crucial dresses in her own wedding, which included her bridal Qipao as well as her mother's and bridesmaids' dresses. Though making dresses is not her full time job, she would like to be able to teach others to sew one day and often take on sewing projects to do in her spare time. She has helped a few brides and bridesmaids along the way by making dresses for their special day; in fact she did such lovely work that her husband decided to help her on the quest of fulfilling a Weddiology dream! Want to know what it is all about? Yes, you might have guessed the theme, and if you are in need of some wedding decor or even to make your wedding Qipao, do head on over to the website her husband has setup to look at more of Isabel's work; Weddiology.

Isabel on her wedding day...in the stunning bridal Qipao she made herself!

Close-up:The intricate detail of lace, collar and bare back in her wedding Qipao....

Mother and daughter on the wedding day....Isabel made her mother's black lace Qipao too!
So what are Isabel's thoughts about the Cheongsam (Qipao)....I asked her a few questions to find out:

1. What do you love about the Qipao or Cheongsam?
"I love it that it carries so much history and stories with it, especially the passed down ones. It's as if each piece of cheongsam carries with it its own story of creation. I believe no one really tailors a cheongsam for no specific purpose (a sad fact that no one really wears cheongsam as a daily wear now and you can't buy it off the shelf easily nowadays!), could be for an occasion or a reason...no one but only the wearer knows. I often get glances and questions when I wore my cheongsams on normal days (other than Chinese New Year),  it's quite an interesting sight to see raised eyebrows whenever I wore it, especially those with a quirky print!"

2. Whys did you start collecting or wearing the Cheongsam (Qipao)?
"I started collecting them ever since I started dressmaking. I've always wanted one but couldn't find one that doesn't look chinese-restaurant-waitress looking, and the right fit (as I have a shorter torso). It's after I started dressmaking that I realized I actually can use so many different kinds of fabric and design for a cheongsam. I like to mix fabrics or find unique prints for my cheongsams so it looks totally ME and tells others something about me. Since then, I've been sewing at least 1 every year for Chinese New Year or weddings.  The proudest moment for me would be when I sewed my own cheongsam for my wedding day, it took me a month to sew and many months of researching to find the perfect fabric and drafting, but I've never felt prouder when I finally got to display it on my wedding day!"

3. What would you like to tell others about wearing the Qipao (Cheongsam)?
"In modern days where no one really wears it, I believe just the decision to wear it already makes a statement and tells something about the wearer. Many people actually fears its body hugging nature and so rejected the idea of wearing it, but frankly speaking; I've never seen anyone looking disastrous wearing it. I sewed one for my mum for my wedding day and she look really elegant in it even though she did not have a slim silhouette. My dressmaking teacher also used to tell me that a good cheongsam complements your body shape instead of making you look worse and I believe so. Yes it may reveal that we do not possess a perfect figure, but it shows that we embrace our imperfection, elegantly! If you're someone who would love to look elegant and glamorous on some days and wearing a gown is just too overdressed in your daily environment, a cheongsam will fit the bill!"


One that represents Isabel's passion...its all about sewing!

Mixing the modern waist and shoulder ruching with conventional wiggle Cheongsam style....plus pretty patter detaiils! 

Another favourite...according to Isabel the crane print on the shoulder and waist is absolutely magical for your figure! (Tip)
We simply cannot say it enough, the right Qipao or Cheongsam dress really does complement your figure! Isabel was actually nominated by the first 'Qipao LoveR' of the series Tiffany, if you darlings know a fabulous Cheongsam loving lady that should be celebrated do drop me a line! Of course for all you Qipao (Cheongsam) admirers and enthusiasts there is the 'Qipao Love' Community, so do join us there. On a personal note, it is getting rather exciting planning my Zen Yoga lessons and starting to create the website. Lots more exciting posts to come, from travel to books, hold on tight and have a fabulous weekend darlings!


Until the next time,
May xx

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