Op-ed: On Qipaos, Proms, Twitter, and Clothing

This is an op-ed written on the fly and in a blaze of “I HAVE AN OPINION!!!” so don’t expect anything too great.

Apparently some kid attending her prom got roasted by someone else on Twitter for wearing a qipao. Here: have a link to a Chinese news article about the whole debacle.

A qipao is a Chinese dress with roots dating back to at least the early 1800s or the Qing Dynasty depending on who you ask. However, the modern qipao has its roots in the Republican era of China, specifically 1920s Shanghai. Social elites would wear it, and while the qipao would fall out of favor during the Mao-era after the Communist Party drove the Republic of China to the island of Tawian, it’s been making a comeback in recent years.
Some minor facts out of the way, time for an opinion.
Clothing is complicated. A lot of what we wear says a lot about us as a person. It’s a form of self-expression. Women around here wear these “Simply Southern” t-shirts as a form of identifying where they’re from and to express the pride they take in coming from the American South. The guys that run the local airsoft shop in town regularly wear red t-shirt emblazoned with dog tags reading “Until they all come home” to show support for American troops stationed around the world. Likewise, some men wear suits because it effects their confidence and how much people respect them. Women like to wear sundresses because they’re cute, and clothing like that makes them feel cute.

Personally, I wear cargo pants, army surplus boots, and a button-down shirt regularly because I find these clothes versatile, durable, and comfortable. My clothes are solid colors because I like the simplicity of grabbing what I need without having to worry about clashing patterns. However, every once in a great while, I’ll wear my Mandarin jacket because it’s a great conversation starter, it makes me feel a bit better about myself when I’m not feeling terribly confident, and it’s my favorite color; green. It’s got little dragons on it! It’s cool! Also, it has yellow on it which would get me executed in Imperial China because only the emperor and his family was allowed to wear yellow. When my Chinese manager Ava saw me wearing this, she said I looked “very handsome.”

Mandarin Jacket
Challenging Imperial rule, one terrifying grin and two golden dragons at a time.

Every time I put on my silk Mandarin jacket and clasp it closed, it’s like a little hug from the not too-distant past, reminding me of a year spent in China, learning what I am capable of, making friends, memories, and developing professional skills. And admittedly, I was afraid I would be accused to cultural appropriate because I’m whiter than the empty space on a Google-search page and blonder than anime characters with neon-yellow hair. Then I remembered I spent in China, living and working with Chinese people, the fact that I studied their modern history and read books about the country during the late Imperial Era to understand their culture a bit more, and the fears just melt away because I really do love China. I wear this beautiful jacket as an expression of appreciation for a country that proved what I was capable of. The great thing about culture is that culture is something we can learn about, learn from, and share across ethnicities and nationalities.

If I, a guy in my mid-20s can wear a Mandarin style jacket, a teenaged girl attending her prom can wear a qipao. It’s not like she was wearing a ceremonial piece of Native American regalia like a war bonnet or headdress, or religious wear such as a Jewish kippah to mock a minority or use it in a terribad marketing campaign. Additionally, it’s not like her or her boyfriends were wearing military uniforms to steal valor, which is a whole other problem that is associated to wearing clothing a person doesn’t earn. Cultural taboos are a thing, and they are a thing to be acknowledged and respected when you learn about them, and while I want to get into that, I need to return to the topic on hand. While prom was never a big deal to me, it’s a big deal to a lot of people in high school. It’s sometimes the only formal dance they may attend. It’s supposed to be a night of fun where kids get to look pretty, spend some time with their significant others if they got one, or just goof around with their friends and maybe dance with the friend they’ve always thought was pretty and nice and had a crush on but was too shy to ever confess it. Some of those kids have enough problems already, and they’re going to enter the adult world and face bigger and badder problems soon enough. The toxicity of Twitter isn’t helping them, or the world in general.

And that brings me to Twitter. While I use Twitter to auto-share my articles to the token account I made years ago and haven’t really ever touched since then because being a blogger with any social media presence somehow requires it, most of the stuff I see on and about Twitter usually pertains to something negative. Most of my exposure to Twitter comes from screen-caps I see on my Facebook feed so I’m not getting the whole picture, but a lot of it is garbage. I guess there’s some half-sane instinct in me that keeps me away from Twitter. I avoid Twitter like trailer parks avoid tornadoes: try as I might to keep it away, I’m still exposed to its destructive power.

I’m not entirely sure if this op-ed’s going to help anyone reach a better understanding of why some kid wearing a dress isn’t a big deal, and also why people griping on Twitter is arguably a bad thing because there are better things to do, like wearing clothes that make you feel confident and beautiful.







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