The beautiful qipao, or cheongsam, originates from 1920s China, and is still widely popular today, however, fashion retailers won’t call it by it’s name.
Rich in history, the qipao emerged in the 1920s after China’s New Culture Movement. Women were now allowed to education and adopted the qipao as an outfit. Gradually, the dress began to become hip-hugging and fitted to accentuate the female body and the image of the urban Chinese woman.
As a timeless piece, the dress is still worn and made today… but not by Chinese people.
The qipao has been the subject of many cultural appropriation allegations. Most recently, you may remember the prom dress fiasco, when a Caucasian teen wore a qipao to prom and the internet was torn.
— Keziah (@daumkeziah) April 22, 2018
Many felt that she had committed cultural appropriation while others thought it was harmless. Keziah, the women who wore the dress herself commented, “I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture.”
Shortly after, a video of her resurfaced saying, “Asians suck.”
It seems the qipao can’t stay out of the limelight for too long, because now shoppers are noticing the qipao appearing in Western retailers. Reformation, a sustainable fashion brand released the “May Dress” in their latest season drop. Clearly, it’s a qipao, but the name is missing in the product description.
“This is a tight fitting, mini length dress with a mock neck collar, frog closures and short sleeves. The May is slim fitting throughout,” the product description reads.
This isn’t a one time occurrence.
A similar dress is being sold at Urban Outfitters, again no mention of qipao in the description.
Here’s one at ASOS too, still no mention.
Here’s an interesting one from Fashion Nova.
None of these retailers called their blatantly qipao style dresses by its name. Why is that? It could be that they believe if they don’t call the dress a qipao, they might avoid cultural appropriation allegations altogether.
Sadly, they’re wrong. If it looks like cultural appropriation and sells like cultural appropriation, it’s probably cultural appropriation.
The fact of the matter is, hiding its name and origin is worse. At least when you acknowledge a name, you are acknowledging an identity, an origin, an existence. These retailers are not only ripping off Chinese culture, but are trying to hide the fact that they did it and are covering it up. Truth be told, these retailers may not even know the rich history of the qipao, and just find that the “exotic” design looks good. It wouldn’t be the fist time, nor will it be the last, that White designers take a cultural icon and blindly recreate it.
Mass producing these qipaos and ignoring their origin only exacerbates the problem of whiteness acting as a gatekeeper for other cultures. If an Asian person wears a qipao, they are mocked and called a foreigner. But if a White person wears a qipao, it’s cool and they’re so “cultured.”
Hey fashion retailers, just call the dress a qipao. Acknowledge the history and culture behind the designs you sell, mass produce, and slap onto blonde and blue-eyed models.
If you’re going to take from my culture, at least own up to it.