• Featured Writer/Artist

Cultural Appropriation of Asian Clothing

By now, the term ‘cultural appropriation’ has become familiar to a broader audience. But there’s definitely still confusion about the difference between appropriation and appreciation. Let’s examine it.

The key difference lies in intent or personal gain. Appreciation of a culture is when one seeks to gain insight on a culture, or particular aspects of it; to widen their perspective, and understand it better. On the other hand, appropriating a culture is when one takes aspects from a culture that is not their own, and uses them to their own advantage– for personal gain.

While there is no definite line between appropriation and appreciation, the most important thing to do is to always listen to those to whom the culture belongs to. Never stop examining yourself, your intent, and your actions. Why are you integrating this culture into your life? How are you making sure that you’re staying respectful of it?

Throughout history, cultural appropriation of the Asian culture, especially in the visual arts (including textile) has been a constant. This has unfortunately carried through into present times. Think of Victoria Secret’s “The Road Ahead” and the shapewear line “Kimono”.

We are still seeing continued themes of mandarin collars, “oriental” prints, Chinese dragons, and “exotic” patterns being marketed in the global clothing industry. And more often than not, the clothing items (and the people wearing them, by extension) are sexualized and marketed for the fetishistic appeal. How often is the model wearing these garments Asian? Let’s ask ourselves again: who is profiting off of these aspects of Asian culture so brazenly branded onto streamlined clothing?

The discussion is not centered around people wearing such garments as long as the culture is being displayed correctly and respectfully. However, controversy arises when aspects of a culture are exploited for personal and largely monetary gain.

This is an issue with seemingly no simple solution– maybe no solution at all. Despite that, we can continue to do our part by spreading awareness. When having trouble differentiating between appropriation and appreciation, take a minute to ask yourself: who gains from this? And for what?

Written by Julia Hartlep. Edited by Geetanjali Roy.