It’s A Small World

It's really not that I'm some sort of anthopological, ethnographical nut that I need to know the true origin of EVERYTHING I wear.  But my stance with 'national costume', or to put it bluntly, attire you would see at an Olympics ceremony or in the "It's a Small World" ride in Disneyland, is avoidance.  Hell, I haven't quite grappled how to wear my own bloody national costume aka qi paos, Chinese prints/textiles or even the simple mandarin collar without falling down into a cesspit of feeling "I look like a waitress who is about to serve you up some dim sum…".  Let alone dabbling in other people's cultures and prompting ridicule.  It's a stance that is a personal one and to some would seem rather ridiculous since much of fashion is appropriated from something or another.  Somehow though, a period gone by, science, films, art or ficitional characters is all safe territory.  This stumbling "national costume" block though somehow sets of problematic alerts in my head.  

No good blaming the designers.  The Marc Jacobs/Jean Paul Gaultiers of this world probably had quite specific ideas about what tribe or what ethnicity they were referencing when designing their collections which is all fine and dandy but alas by the time it filters down to being a mere influence on a moodboard in some high street retailer, we're just left with the blanket word of "tribal" or "ethnic" which is then propelled to us en masse via the media.  That's when I start cringing in the same way I feel embarrassed for the sad boys in The Inbetweeners.   

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With the purchase of this Nigerian-made shirt that I found at The Shop on Cheshire Street, all the above pre-amble came spewing out which just goes to show how uncomfortable I feel.  It's not the kind of fabric I own at all in my wardrobe for reasons above and because of rare encounters.  However, the sleeves were intriguing me to no end with a strange sort of lattice effect that I couldn't resist.  I think I mentally dared myself to do it in the shop which sounds really silly especially when in the scheme of things it is "just a shirt". 



Of course styling wise, I have discovered I could take the shirt to many places and soon enough, it will pop up regularly in Susie Style posts and this bit of useless text will have no consequence whatsoever.  I might even go all out and find myself in a qi pao and probably pair them with a DMs and a jaunty hat.  Ok, take that back.  The dim sum waitress just flashed up again. 

Like I said, all this means nothing to those that are wearers of the world who mix necklaces from Peru with kimonos from Japan and embroidered shirts from Finland.  A lot of people have described me as "fearless" or "daring" in my dress sense but here I'm faced with a fear and the necessity to dare and keep daring as I shirk in my new shirt.  Perhaps I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Perhaps we can join forces, form an offshoot blog/forum and together overcome our fears and make…. our very own "It's a Small World" ride!!!!!!!!!

27 Replies to “It’s A Small World”

  1. Haha, Susie, you’re a hoot! The sleeves on your Nigerian shirt are wicked! 🙂 I’m sure you’d rock in a qi pao (is that a cheong sam? or is that a quilted jacket? Well, you’d rock in either, I’m sure!)

  2. hi susie
    you are on fashion nation being voted on in comparison with another girl. Luckily for you , you are being voted on as the winner

  3. I remember Taro Horiuchi’s collection was earmarked as ‘tribal’ & he went ballistic since there were so many variances in the form of tribal inspiration it could have been. Then they labeled it a dedication to ancient Egypt with modern references, when in actual fact it was the Inca’s. They weren’t far out then hah. But ye, i’m all for tearing down the boundaries & hybridity…in fact, there should be more of this kind of thing! But then it comes down to who has the balls to wear it…

  4. I was talking about this issue only other week with my native American breastplate.
    The way I see it, one (of many) problems with the world is that we are too insular and rarely invest any kind of interest in other cultures – if stopped that attitude and actually DID explore the cultures of other people and races we’d be a whole more understanding of the world and it’s inhabitants.
    The fact you bought it in london would suggest it’s there to be bought even by a Chinese girl!

  5. Hi Susie 🙂 It’s been a while… Winston here (remember that tall half-Chinese boy from Paris A/W 07?)
    I struggle with the same paradox that globalization has brought upon all of us: the so-called “exotic” dream of the Other has collided with the reality of our cross-cultural encounters… and more often than not the dream devolves into a stereotype as we desperately try to hold onto it (power! control! difference!)
    When it comes to myself, wearing a costume simply for its aesthetic value cannot be in ignorance of its origins (my pet peeve: when local craft artists use those funerary Chinese papers because they’re “pretty and gold”…)
    But at the same time, beautiful objects should celebrate their beauty without restraint; the object (the dress, the shirt, the accessory, etc) didn’t choose to be covered up in cultural values and history. If we can just see an object as it is — in the instant — we might be able to appreciate its forms, its colors, and its uniqueness before succumbing to our own tendency of categorical associations.

  6. Oooooh! It’s great! Know what you mean though… As an ex anthropology student, I find ethnographic study of textiles fascinating, but problematic if transferred to my wardrobe. However, those sleeves are just too too kwl! What’s the cage-esque top you’ve put over the top? Excellent choice 😀

  7. Hi Susie,
    I really know what you mean. I spent a year in Mexico a couple of years ago and while all my travelling companions rushed to buy woven skirts and embroidered shirts to increase their cultural experience I sat on the outside and discovered Zara (we don’t have it in Australia). I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea of wearing clothes that clearly belong to other cultures and it displeases me to then see the watering down of those beautiful, hand-worked time-consuming patterns rehashed into commercial boho/”ethnic” high street pieces. That said, a good designer will know how to work in an influence without distorting the context of the original.

  8. “iiiiit’s a small world aaaafffter all”<< um is that what you are talking about? sorry, not clicking on the vid- for fear that my internet bandwith will bust. 🙁 ahhh you are just too good with the funny fashion finds. and you wear it brilliantly too.

  9. Those sleeves are so amazingly done that one must love them only for that reason:). I really like your colours in this posting, maybe because they feel kind of fresh, haven’t seen those colours nowhere in a while.

  10. i think the only way to muster up enough courage to wear the qipao is to watch wong kar wai’s in the mood for love, oogle to no end at maggie cheung’s qi paos scene after scene after scene. i bet you’ll be inspired! or maybe you need to clip up your fringe for that too hehe.

  11. those sleeves susie are pretty damn cool i have to admit but its a shame you’re wearing a bordelle bodice over the top of it.
    that was designed by my sister but then she got screwed over by her partner! 🙁
    Dietrich is such a cool company, you should check it out…super new.

  12. those sleeves susie are pretty damn cool i have to admit but its a shame you’re wearing a bordelle bodice over the top of it.
    that was designed by my sister but then she got screwed over by her partner! 🙁
    Dietrich is such a cool company, you should check it out…super new.

  13. you’re right on about the mainstream fashion world’s inconsiderate appropriation of Other cultures…this month’s Vogue, for instance, predictable features an Indian model in a random ‘quaint/un-modern’ little village wearing all manner of ‘tribal’ clothes amidst background figures of locals dressed in ‘traditional’ garb.
    inspired by Maggie Cheung i got myself two qipaos custom made a few years ago in China, and have managed to wear them out without feeling like a restaurant hostess; but the fine line of wearing something with conviction and respecting cultural differences is something that i think we all need to be more attuned to.

  14. strange! i was just thinking about this issue yesterday at work, trying to come up with appropriate terms for the array of “ethnic” and “tribal” (those two words again) influences in front of me – and not wanting to do them injustice. and then, here you are, articulating this so well.
    i tip my hat.

  15. wow Nigerian made…being Nigerian myself i’ve never really seen anything with a sleeve like that made in Nigeria. But it it really cool taking material to the tailor and getting them to make whatever ‘modern design’ you want.

  16. hey…i’ve been reading your blog for a month or two now (but i think i’ve read all of it at this point) and let me say that this is the first time you’ve disappointed me. i dont always absolutely adore what you put together (as it should be!) but as a girl who grew up in china, singapore, japan and costa rica (originally from the states) mixing cultures (a la its a small world) is one of my favorite aesthetics. the qi pao is such a beautiful garment and an incredible shape. you may be timid, but you are certainly brave! it blows my mind that you’d shirk the asian influences… i can hardly think of a more beautiful, powerful aesthetic influence. In fact, I think one of the few sources of power many chinese and japanese women drew from stemmed from fashion.
    i had a pretty bizarre childhood- facing the things i’ve avoided has been one of my biggest life challenges.
    Maybe you weren’t brought up in a super chinese household (i obviously dont know) but your flavor of beauty IS chinese- it just seems to me that the best way to come to terms with your physicality is to come to terms with the clothes that developed along with it.
    what is more beautiful than an astonishing self confident asian woman in a qi pao or kimono? i want to get married in a wedding kimono!

  17. Normally I too try and avoid anything vaguely “ethnic” looking, but this shirt is actually quite cool, ethnic or not. I mean, that latticed sleeve is quite brilliant and reminds me of Issey Miyake. I also love that it kind of fits into the caged category you’re so obsessed with.

  18. With regard to the ethnic clothing of others: There’s such a fine line between valuing things for their aesthetic and beauty, and then trying to respect the culture they come from. I think in this case you worked it. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. Most of the times, Peter Jensen, Say, has been reverent enough, and normally played a little. But people still perform a fairly tricky balancing act; through their very nature, pieces of clothing attached to customs belong to a sensitive area.
    And then there’s your own; the cultural labelling enters in and you’re wondering why it feels like your back in your first days of school being labelled as something again.

  19. I know what you mean Susie. Wearing your “national costume” brings up a huge wave of uncomfortableness for me. If wearing clothes of another culture, I would feel as if I were wearing a costume and almost making fun of that culture. And if I wore my own ethnicity’s cultural costume, I would still feel uncomfortable, though I don’t know why… it’d be playing up a stereotype? And yet I also feel annoyed if I see someone else wearing a qi pao, or an Asian style collar or kimono. It seems so subjective how people feel about this, that it seems best to avoid it altogether.

  20. Fine points by all…
    Winston – LONG TIME NO SEE/SPEAK/HEAR – What are you up to by the by? True say that pieces should be appreciated by aesthetics alone but with that reasoning I can thus only admire from afar…. which is what I normally do anyway. I can of course APPRECIATE the beauty of say a qi pao…especially of the Maggie Cheung sort (Jo – of course In The Mood for Love comes to mind but alas I don’t have Maggie Cheung’s stance, figure or beauty…) but wearing it is another matter altogether…
    As MizzJ said, it’s a very subjective thing that is some sort of mind fuck….
    Ali – sorry for the disappointment…. not really intentional I can assure you but perhaps a slightly psychological block on my part…

  21. Thanks for the information! The way I see it, one (of many) problems with the world is that we are too insular and rarely invest any kind of interest in other cultures – if stopped that attitude and actually DID explore the cultures of other people and races we’d be a whole more understanding of the world and it’s inhabitants.

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