Where do you stand of the issue of cultural appropriation? You might remember the recent story of a white high school girl who was shamed for wearing a Chinese style quipao dress to her prom. Some Asian Americans complained that “My culture is not your goddamn prom dress.”
Clearly the woman on the left, Mrs. Shelton A. McHenry, had no such qualms. The photo, published in the Southern Californian Valley Times, was taken at a party she hosted before she and her husband set off on a round-the-world tour in 1960. To my eye, what’s offensive is that she seems to be creating an imaginary “Orient” by combining her Chinese style dress with a Japanese hair ornament. However, I have no objection to the dress itself, which melds a Chinese inspiration with a sixties style sheath.
I think cultural appropriation is inevitable. The history of fashion silhouettes and textile patterns is so complex and intertwined that it is difficult to trace the origins of things. After all, the quipao itself was a Chinese response to Western fashion. While I would never don that style because of its tight fit, my favorite summer garment is my own home-made version of an Indian kurta. I am happy to give credit for the inspiration—a tunic style that made its own long historical journey through Central and South Asia–but I why should I give it up?