Love Qipaos asks:
I have been taught Mandarin by a Chinese girl living abroad for a year now and sometimes she gives me some comments, that let me think. Mostly, this applies for clothes. I must say, my taste in clothes is not the average kind, and I especially like Asian style clothes, but the traditional kind. I own a qipao and also fisherman pants from Thailand, and when I wear those kind of clothes she asks me stuff like: “Why are you wearing this? You’re not Asian!” or she says “Nobody in China even wears this anymore!” I then ask her why she’s wearing blue jeans and western style clothes, when she is not from the west, but t seems like this doesn’t matter at all. I kinda get the feeling that when a western girl wears eastern clothes it gives off the impresion, that she’s trying to be Asian, but if it’s the other way around, no one seems to really care, even though all the Chinese girls that I know wear western clothes and some even dye their hair blond and such. So is this just the impression that I get or a general trend? Or is it just because there are so few western girls who are even interested in wearing traditional eastern clothes, that makes us stand out so much?
Ever since China opened up in 1978, blue jeans and T-shirts slowly crept into closets all over the Middle Kingdom, and, now, have pretty much become the standard on the street. (Of course, this isn’t the first time Western fashion has come to China — even in the 19th century, Chinese started wearing Western suits and dresses.)
Why? Some might chalk it up to 崇洋媚外 (chóngyángmèiwài), or, essentially, worshiping all things foreign (as an example, read this article about the importing of foreign models). Some might say it’s simply the effect of globalization, where the world is getting smaller and becoming more homogeneous in fashion trends. In the case of dyeing hair blonde, some might argue it’s just about wanting to look different.
Whatever the reason, you only have to look at the windows of Metersbonwe, Giordano and Baleno (three popular fashion retailers in China) — and the bleached ‘dos all over China — to know these trends are here to stay.
That doesn’t mean Chinese have forsaken all of their traditional clothing. For example, Qipaos have enjoyed a resurgence in China ever since opening up. You see them on the hosts for the CCTV Chinese New Year special. At almost every wedding I’ve attended in China, the bride usually wears a qipao as one of her three wedding dresses. There’s even a Qipao club in Shanghai, and I’ve seen Chinese women dolled up in them on the streets from time to time. But the qipao is, for many Chinese, not something you’d pull out for just another ordinary day — and for some, even too much for the holidays:
Modern girls don’t find that many occasions to wear a qipao anymore; the outfit is usually reserved for weddings or major festival dinners, and even then, sometimes it comes across as too much. Liu Qiuyan decided to not wear qipao while visiting her family since she “got too much attention, since fewer people here wear Chinese style clothing, even during Chunjie, than before. I don’t want to stand out or look like I’m showing off, so no qipao for Chinese New Year’s Eve.” Zhang Xue, a student who studies in Tokyo, commented that wearing a qipao seems like something the older generation would do, and “as elegant and hot as a qipao is, not all women can pull the look off. It makes it less seen than the kimono in Japan.”
All that said, that’s too bad your friend thinks Western women can’t wear qipaos or other Asian clothing. Sure, I’ve read arguments about this before:
One Chinese person who does have a critical eye is Chu Hongsheng, 93, the number one qipao tailor in Shanghai. According to the entertainment section of 163.com, when Paris Hilton requested a qipao from Chu during her Shanghai visit, the tailor gave her the once-over and judged: “The girl has big bones, a slim waist but a small bottom. Hm, she’s not ready for a qipao yet.”
But who says Western women can’t rock a qipao — or something else Asian? For example, my Chinese husband and friends all love it when I wear Chinese dress such as as qipao, and I’m not alone:
In fact, most Chinese people seem to have a positive attitude to foreigners wearing Chinese-style clothing. “Seeing them wearing qipao or embroidered shirts makes us feel warm about them, since they must feel warm about Chinese culture. On that level, there’s no hot or not, always hot,” says Jian Dan, a student who studies cultural comparison.
If the clothing fits you, just wear it. Even if you’ve got on a qipao and it’s “just another ordinary day” (I say, the qipao makes any day extraordinary…;-))
Anyhow, the argument your friend makes — “You can’t wear this! You’re not Asian!” — is pretty ridiculous in the era of Shanghai Tang and Vivienne Tam, where Chinese clothing has become tres, tres chic in the international fashion world. That means plenty of women, Eastern and Western, go Asian when they get dressed up.
Maybe that will make your Chinese friend think twice about leaving that qipao behind.
What do you think?
UPDATE P.S.: Are you a Western woman with some great photos of yourself in a qipao? Show the world Western women can wear a qipao by uploading your photo at the Speaking of China facebook page — where you can also see mine. 😉
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.