I was given the okay to wear a Cheongsam (or Qipao) from my fiancé’s parents and himself, that should be enough, right? In a perfect world it would be. But the way that it is portrayed to other Asians might raise the question whether it is cultural appropriation because I am not Chinese. My fiancé took the view that if this was the case then we wouldn’t be able to wear a Cinderella dress, since the story originated from France. We aren’t French so we wouldn’t be able to wear it, right?
He feels that if I wear the right accessories with the Cheongsam that it is okay to wear it. He mentioned that his grandparents were from Hong Kong and Mainland China (yes, there is a cultural difference). Unfortunately, being a Western woman it is difficult to see a line between what is acceptable and what not. Wearing a Hanfu with chopsticks in your hair can be offensive to people who have learned about Chinese clothing and their culture. Another offensive thing would be wearing an Yi (knee-length tunic) with jeans, a big no-no. That is taking something that is cherished in their culture and perverting it to something else.
So, if your Chinese friends or family give you the okay to wear it, research the living hades out of it. Make sure you take utmost care picking out your outfit. My soon-to-be father-in-law told me that it needs to come from China or it won’t work. That’s because Chinese people know the difference. The best approach is to go an Asian Market near you and ask them where you can get one for Chinese New Year. Most of them will be very shocked but don’t be alarmed. Look around online and look for accessories to go with it. I found that flats are the best choice to go with a Cheongsam and they should match the dress. Red and gold is the most popular. Again, it is essential to do research. Your hair should be pulled back and made into a low bun or a side bun. You don’t need hair accessories because you want to keep it simple unless it’s suggested differently. Elaborate hairstyles are mostly for weddings.
If you do the research you will find the answer you seek. I am marrying into a Chinese family but you don’t need to have ties to wear a Cheongsam; just be respectful. Make some Chinese friends and learn from them. They will tell you their opinions and most of the time will be happy to help you find one.
When I was growing up I befriended an older Korean lady and she told me all about Korea. She owned an Oriental store on an Air Force base and would invite me to have tea with her every time I went there. I asked her what was acceptable to wear and she told me that as a Western woman you have to be careful with what you do and wear. A Kimono, a Cheongsam, a Hanbok, and an Aoi dai is sacred, you have to be respectful of each story it holds; because if you don’t, then the Gods will look down on you.
What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation? Have you had any experience wearing traditional Asian clothes?