Last year, Pretty Little Thing was petitioned to remove the term ‘Oriental’ from its site as it was being used to describe clothing with an Eastern, primarily Chinese and Japanese, influence. The term oriental has been around since the 14th century, originally, Orient was a geographical term for the East, Occident was used to describe the West. During the 19th and 20th century, the term became more associated with anti-Asian narratives and xenophobic policies. While some people still use the term to describe themselves or the origins of their work, it is generally considered to be outdated and potentially offensive.

Pretty Little Thing x Little Mix ‘Oriental’ Collection

The Qipao is a product of the cultural/intellectual revolution and women’s liberation movement in China. Prior to this, women’s clothing was less practical and had multiple layers which some women found uncomfortable. The Qipao marks a time when women rejected the policing of their appearance. This Included the phasing out of footbinding, an ancient Chinese practice that women were put through to be considered suitable for a husband. By 1929, the modern Qipao was considered the dress of the nation.

The Evergreen Classic: Transformation of the Qipao at Hong Kong Museum of History

Discussion of the Qipao’s place in Western culture has been raised a few times, most notably when a girl without any Asian heritage wore a version of the dress to her prom. The consensus was mixed with the general decision being that the presence of Asian designs in Western culture must come with respect for Asian people. Cultural appropriation is a controversial topic but its core mission is that appreciation of style must also come with respect for the people it came from.

Keziah Daum, Prom 2018

An issue that has been spoken about in response to fast fashion brands using East Asian designs is the conditions under which the factory workers have to make the garments. These workers tend to be Chinese, poorly paid and working in questionable conditions at best. In addition to this, it is putting authentic Qipao tailors out of work.

East Asian women regularly fall victim to hyper sexualisation. The version of the Qipao sold by fast fashion tends to be very skimpy and intentionally sexualised. This only further fetishizes East Asian women as an exotic sex symbol. This does nothing to show respect for the culture or its people.

Qipao replicas in fast fashion: (left to right) Fashion Nova, Pretty Little Thing, Shein

May is AAPI heritage month. It is important to be mindful of the harm caused to certain cultures while happily replicating aspects of their style. This past year has seen a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. You simply can’t enjoy East Asian designs while sitting by idly as East Asians are suffering due to stereotypes in the West.

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