Headdress and Cheongsam Cultural Appropriation

We are at a point where fashion world is at its peak, the relation we have with the industry is fierce. We love to take that fashion into our daily life, and show it off around on the streets. But do we realise what happens if we use or wear an item from people’s culture to boost our own outfits? It might even be considered cultural appropriation if we are ignorant.

Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 11.17.14 PM.png

“Cultural appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” (Cambridge Dictionary). It’s generally white people who are associated with appropriating another culture. The popular and common example is a white lady wearing a Native American feathered headdress also known as war bonnets to a festival from Coachella for aesthetic reasons or for this case at Victoria’s Secret Fashion show held in 2012. It was considered cultural appropriation because it’s a person wearing a culture that just isn’t theirs (Dorsey, 2016). People need to understand that Native American and their culture are still alive and well.

After the fashion show from Victoria’s Secret, it didn’t take long for the people to hit the internet, people went up to the Victoria’s Secrets Facebook Page to take out their anger over the runway look of Karlie Kloss.

Commenter posted:
“As a Native Women, I want to share how disappointed I am in your lack of Cultural respect of traditional sacred items and our women in general. Native women have the highest rate of sexual related murder on the continent. Thank you for further promotion of this violent act against our women!!” (Wachell, 2012)

“I think the difference is if you’re wearing it to be fun or fashionable. But if you’re wearing it by correct protocol, then of course it’s fine,” (Yellowtail,2016)

Outrage didn’t just stay at a Facebook page but it quickly spread through the Native American community.

After all the comments from Native Americans and Non-native alike, Victoria Secret went onto Facebook and Twitter to apologise.

“We are sorry that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset individuals. We sincerely apologise as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone. Out of respect, we will not be including the outfit in any broadcast, marketing materials nor in any other way.” (Victoria Secret, 2012)

Also Karlie Kloss came onto twitter to express her side:

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 12.09.24 PM.png

The ultimate question will definitely pop up. “Will it ever be right if a person who is not a Native American to wear a war bonnet/feather headdress? Maybe yes, but not for this case as it hyper-sexualised fashion, perpetuated narrow depictions and understanding of another culture. The outfit worn by the model was said to make a mockery of the Native American women and the culture as well.

3 years ago in 2015, wearing a headdress/ war bonnet has been banned at Montreal’s Osheaga’s Arts and Music festival to show respect for another culture. It’s excellent that festivals such as music festivals and Halloween celebrations have started to ban the feathered headdresses. To stop anyone from wearing the Native American’s headdress, people need education.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 10.38.06 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 10.38.33 PMThis is nowhere like the case of White American wearing a tunic fringe shirt with a headdress, mocking the native people their predecessor almost experienced genocide.

American teenager Keziah Daum who has no Chinese roots, was criticised a lot by her native US people on her image sharing. There is one absurd example of cultural appropriation that I know of, at least she didn’t try to do such, she didn’t walk around acting and tip toeing to mock the foot binding culture which Chinese women had to do in the old times to be considered beautiful and to be able to get married in a decent family.

She even explained herself that she only posted her photos from prom wearing a traditional Chinese qipao, or cheongsam for her friends to see and didn’t mean to offend anyone.

 “I posted photos for my friends to see. I never imagined it would go so far. I am sorry if anyone was offended. That was never my intention. I am grateful I was able to wear such a beautiful dress.” (Daum, 2018)

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 11.13.58 PM

When she posted the vintage prom dress photo if herself on her social media account like twitter and Instagram, she was targeted with thousands and thousands of tweets accusing her of appropriating the culture, but not because of its tight fit or thigh high slit. Asian Americans seized on Daum’s dress saying it’s cultural appropriation and its exploitation and disrespectful. Above is a tweet made by Jeremy Lam, there were more than 40k retweets, around 180k likes and around 60k of comments on this social media platform alone which said “My culture is not your goddamn prom dress”

After criticism of student Keziah Daum’s Twitter post showing her wearing the traditional qipao, Chinese commenters call it cultural appreciation, not appropriation. (South China Morning Post, 2018)

Many people in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong backed her up and totally thought that her choice of prom dress which was a traditional dress was a win win for Chinese culture. Following are some comments made by these people under her twitter prom image.

 “Very elegant and beautiful! Really don’t understand the people who are against her, they are wrong!”

“It is not cultural theft.”

“It is cultural appreciation and cultural respect.”

“Culture has no borders,”

Some more positive comments:

“I am very happy she has chosen to wear a qipao,” said one comment on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “It means that she thinks our culture is beautiful.”

and another person commented under an article saying “I suggest the Chinese government, state television or fashion company invite her to China to display her cheongsam!” on Wenxue City News.

To ensure you are not appropriating a culture, we all can follow the 3 S’s introduced by Susan Scafidi a law professor in a Fordham University: Source, Similarity and Significance. Has the ‘source” community directly asked you to share some bit of their culture and does it have a history of exploiting something before? You than need to see how similar is the original with the appropriated element, a straight rejection or just a nod to a silhouette. Finally, you need to find out the cultural significance of the item, is it an image or object, is it something related to the religion that needs respect? This still isn’t 100% guaranteed, you still need to be open minded, don’t be afraid of learning about another culture. All we need to be is respectful. I believe we all would be in a better and peaceful place if we all cared for one another genuinely and equally for who we are and not for what we can benefit from them.


ARTIE GALLINA, A. (n.d.). The Reality of Cultural Appropriation. [online] man of the hour. Available at: http://www.manofthehourmag.com/culture/the-reality-of-cultural-appropriation

Chen, A. (2018). An American woman wearing a Chinese dress is not cultural appropriation | Anna Chen. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/04/american-woman-qipao-china-cultural-appropriation-minorities-usa-dress

Lubitz, R. (2016). Is it ever OK for a white person to wear a feather headdress?. [online] Mic.com. Available at: https://mic.com/articles/151503/is-it-ever-ok-for-a-white-person-to-wear-a-feather-headdress#.8nGwt8YbH

SHARMA, J. (2017). When does cultural inspiration become appropriation in the fashion world?. [online] South China Morning Post. Available at: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/fashion-beauty/article/2118609/when-does-cultural-inspiration-become-appropriation

Vixen, V. (2012). Victoria’s Secret Apologizes, Pulls Offensive Native American Outfit from Fashion Show. [online] Vibe. Available at: https://www.vibe.com/2012/11/victorias-secret-apologizes-pulls-offensive-native-american-outfit-from-fashion-show/

Wischhover, C. (2012). Victoria’s Secret Apologizes for Karlie Kloss’s Racy Native American Runway Outfit. [online] Fashionista. Available at: https://fashionista.com/2012/11/victorias-secret-apologizes-for-karlie-klosss-racy-native-american-runway-outfit-pulls-it-from-the-broadcast




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s