BY FRANNIE SHEN

Throughout high school, I was always one of the only Asian people in my friend group. This meant that I was usually the person all my friends went to when they had any questions about Asian culture and that my opinion represented the opinion of most Asian people. While I never minded this because I love my heritage (and especially love sharing it), one topic arose last year where I didn’t know what to think.

While my friends and I were chatting in a circle and sharing anecdotes, one of them pulled out her phone and exclaimed “Oh my gosh Frannie, did you see this?” to a picture of a visibly non-Asian girl wearing a traditional qipao (a Chinese dress) to her prom. I personally thought she looked beautiful, but at the same time, I understood the controversy behind it which brings us to today’s discussion on the fine line of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is the idea of using components of different minorities’ cultures and incorporating them into fashion. Even though it is (usually) never the intention to offend a group, several designers have still gotten backlash for drawing inspiration from historical roots. While some may say that this is completely okay as they are appreciating the beauty, others believe that it is completely inappropriate (especially if it carries historical significance) to combine these pieces with mainstream fashion. 

The problem with the idea of cultural appropriation in fashion is that on one hand, those who claim others are overly sensitive usually do not have extensive knowledge nor have done research on the roots of its cultural significance and why it may be considered offensive. Contrarily, those who have been offended may just never want to see their culture used as inspiration in conventional fashion.

While I personally think drawing inspiration from other cultures is great, and love seeing that people appreciate my own culture, I can also see the other side where marginalized groups feel that others have not taken the time to understand the significance behind an item of clothing. 

The truth is, the fashion world has always been based on culture or inspired by a piece that came before it. The problem is that when something is made into a trend, it’s insulting because it just becomes something that is passing. At the end of the day, all the controversy can be mitigated by one thing: research. As social media becomes more prevalent, it will become increasingly important for retailers, designers, and society alike to ensure that they are not indirectly offending traditions due to the lack of cultural research.