Sunday, January 10, 2010

The More You Know

Ok so to be outright honest, I had thought that taking ASA 189b was going to be simple, look at Asian fashion and write a paper or two on influences and trends and whatnot. I mean sure we have to look at influences and trends but I had not expected to be made to think of them in any context that applied to me whatsoever, after all I’m an American citizen and I wear “American” clothing.

Oh how na├»ve I was; learning something meaningful and enlightening in a University?! Good lord! Joking aside, as I was reading through “Re-Orienting Fashion” ed. by Sandra Niessen, Ann Marie Leshkowich, and Carla Jones, I can’t help but feel reflective when I read through their idea of how the West has taken Asian traditional dress and uses it as something chic and stylish. Finally, the world is beginning to embrace each other in kumbaiyahs and sharing of ideas. Yay! Diversity!

But on the contrary, it made me raise an eyebrow that would make the Rock proud. Particularly one line, “Their discoveries were then celebrated in ways that suggested that the people to whom these traditions belonged were ignorant of their worth and hence in need of Western masters to teach them about themselves.” Whoa hold on a minute, my inner activist was burning with passion…ok more of tingling sensation from eating too much spicy foods but nonetheless stirred. No way was the beloved Ao Dai of the Vietnamese people used in such a way, has it?

For as long as I could remember the Ao Dai was the symbol of my homeland. Every year on Vietnamese/Chinese New Year’s I would go to festivals and see pretty girls walk around in Ao Dai and hit on them…um I mean admire them for their elegant mannerism and such, yeah that’s it. Naturally as the Ao Dai began to gain recognition as something more fashionable in the West, I felt a sense of pride. I was happy that something from my country was being seen as fashionable and elegant and most of all worthy of spending ridiculous amounts of money on.

Now this pride essentially lasted up until I began taking ASA classes and now it is best classified as confusion and loathing. The Ao Dai that I felt was representative of my beloved Vietnam was no longer a simple connection to home, but it is tied to the greater colonialism that has plague Vietnam for the better part of a millennium; first by the Chinese, then by the Western powers that be.

While as conflicted as I feel over whether my people’s embrace of the Ao Dai is due to the belief that it is a connection to a home we may never truly return or because it is something that is manufactured by Western ideology, I still think of it in fond terms. Only now it’s rather bittersweet to do so.

Tuan Nguyen



Niessen, Sandra, Ann Marie Leshkowich, and Carla Jones, eds. Re-Orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress. NY: Berg, 2003. Print.


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