Chinese Fashion: Not A Case Of Cultural Appropriation But Cultural Understanding…I Saw It With my Own Eyes

Yue-Sai Kan, Miss China Universe 2011-2016 and me at the Plaza

I’m sure you’ve all read about the bruhaha about a Utah girl’s Chinese prom dress.  Keziah Daum wore a classic Cheongasm dress and got beaten up in social media by people accusing her of cultural appropriation.  In response to that shaming she received tons of encouraging messages directly from China.  And I’m not surprised at all the positive feedback.  Having just hosted the China Fashion Gala at the Plaza last weekend and seeing all the amazing mixing and matching of traditional and modern Chinese elements worn by Westerners and Chinese alike, I can tell you that Keziah’s choice of dress was a wonderful and future-forward one.  Not only was her dress beautiful but it was symbolic of the wonderful fusion of Chinese and Western fashion, and dare I say, the growing multi-cultural understanding we are all craving..

A little context for you all: you may recall that I’m collaborating with Unipx Media, a Chinese media channel that focuses primarily on fashion, lifestyle and tech.  The goal is to turn me into an “influencer” in the Chinese market.  To be honest, our early attempts weren’t making much progress.  Then we had an idea: host the China Fashion Gala!  It would be live-streamed into China, I would meet some movers and shakers, and be photographed with lots of China’s “beautiful people.”  It was all last minute and a bit crazy up until the end.  Not only did I have to attempt to learn a bit of Chinese, but I had to pronounce A LOT of Chinese names without butchering them too much, yikes!  I was also super fortunate enough to wear not just one but two amazing dresses by haute couture designer, Grace Chen.  

The event was gorgeous.  Men and women — old and young alike, — dressed in stunning gowns that expertly married modern with classic, and Western with Chinese styles.  Each and everybody looked regal with a bit of kick!  In fact, when I kicked off my hosting gig, I had to go off script and comment on how everyone looked so proud and beautiful.  And, just to name drop, I got to hob nob with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Vivienne Tam!!!

What struck me the most, however, is fashion’s unique ability to help people appreciate each other’s cultures.  Clothing is a language of it’s own.  For better or for worse, it “speaks” a culture’s definition of beauty, it’s values, rituals, and social norms.  Just as I convinced my 5th grade teacher when I chose to write my history term paper on the fashion of the Wild West (vs, oh, say, a defining war or key U.S. president), we learn about different cultures through our clothing.  Fashion is a way to see how we differ and how we are very much the same.   Grace Chen reinforced this when she treated us to a fashion show of her latest lines.  And thanks to Yue-Sai Kan‘s urging (Yue-Sai, by the way, has been named the “most famous woman in China.”) Chen explained to us how each piece resembles elements of ancient and modern China culture, as well as those of Western life.  It was fascinating and educational!

Even though I just scratched the surface of Chinese fashion in my short experience as a gala host, I will look at Chinese fashion with a deeper sense of appreciation.  And I will know that much more about a culture rich with heritage and nuance.  So instead of criticizing Miss Daum, we should thank her.  We should thank her for taking a risk and going against the grain and wearing a classic Chinese dress.  But more importantly, we should thank her for introducing a different culture to her community, to social media, and, now, to the entire U.S..

Feel free to check out our page hosted by Unipx!

Want to Understand our Cultural History? Take a look at Vintage Beauty Tutorials

I’m often asked, “why did we choose to write about beauty?” After all, we, from Beautyskew, are a group of strategic planners in the technology and brand worlds.   The reason? Through the lens of beauty, we can learn so much about the world around us and our place in it.
Whether we invest a ton of effort in beauty or barely wash our faces in the morning, beauty — and the discourse around it — surrounds us, drives us and transforms us.  As such, beauty affects us and will be affected by us — our norms, concerns and dreams  — as individuals and as a culture.
When I stumbled upon this story about beauty tutorials of yester-year, I had further evidence of this.  Fashionista curated a bunch of YouTube beauty videos from the past 100 years.  From a call to wash your hair more frequently — twice a week! — to a Coty commercial for perfume to be used before you “stalk,”  you feel these are definite messages from another era.
The article also references some truly scary stuff.  Imagine a how-to-video to remove radioactive waste from your face? Yep! Or a video that shows how to apply make-up given one’s physiognomy.  In case you don’t remember, physiognomy is the false “science” that allowed white people to further devalue people of color during the first half of the 20th century.
Wow, how things have changed, right?  I can’t help but look at these videos and wonder, are we mere subjects of all this beauty culture?  After all, at one time, we thought these messages were bang on! Do we have a role in all of it?  Can we change it for the better?
The first step is to be aware of it.  Be conscious of the messages — bad and good — that surround us.
Second, take a stand.  If you see beauty being used for the wrong reasons, e.g., if teenage girls make fun of someone’s appearance, stop it.
Third, appreciate beauty.  Don’t belittle it.  When we appreciate it, we will be more able to see it as a force of good.
Fourth, reveal the beauty we see around us to others.  Take pictures of it and share those pictures.  Blog about it.  Bring your kids to museums.
Finally, use beauty to help others, e.g., tutorials to prep people for job interviews.
Without us even realizing it, we use beauty to reflect who we are — the good, bad and ugly.  The good news is we can play an active role in applying  beauty to help us make the world a better, more beautiful place.

What Do Beauty Videos Really Show Us?

Glamour magazine shared the top most watched beauty YouTube videos  0f 2012.  While most people are watching them for beauty tips, I was more intrigued by WHY they were so popular and any themes that rose to the surface.
Here’s what struck me:
1. While most were in English and made by Americans, many were created by Eastern Europeans!  I guess it’s true what my old facialist told me years ago when she said “We Eastern European women know our beauty!”
2.The videos were made by everyday women without a lot of production value.  No fancy videos from celebrities-to-stars or brand stylists.  Nothing from high above.
3. Beauty is clearly taken seriously by the hosts and presumably the viewers, yet the tone of the videos is either light-hearted, cheeky or fanciful.  It seems that straight forward or overly glam videos would clash with the vibe and appeal of make-up for so many viewers.  Make up is serious stuff but shouldn’t feel like it.
4. No surprise, the looks were often for special occasions, even, no occasions!  In other words, some of the looks were just for fun and fantasy.  While cosmetics are very purposeful for so many of us; for so many others they are a portal to another world.
5. Every host was YOUNG.  I guess you could argue they have the time to create videos.  Yet, we old folks need beauty tips more than others!  I wonder if we’ll see a difference here when we show the top beauty videos of 2013.  For all of you older beauty mavens, you have an open door to YouTube celebrity-dom, start making some videos!
Have a look and share your thoughts @Beautyskew