'It's just a dress': US teen sparks cultural appropriation debate after wearing cheongsam to prom

'It's just a dress': US teen sparks cultural appropriation debate after wearing cheongsam to prom

prom cultural appropriation
An 18-year-old teenager's prom dress sparked an online debate about cultural appropriation. (Photo: daumkeziah/Twitter)

UTAH: An 18-year-old high school student has come under fire online for her prom dress choice - a cheongsam.

Twitter user Keziah first posted a set of pictures of herself wearing the traditional Chinese dress last Monday (Apr 23) with the caption "PROM". 

However, the pictures quickly gained traction among online users with some accusing Keziah of cultural appropriation, a term used to describe adopting practices from minority cultures without fully understanding the significance behind it.

Twitter user Jeremy Lam pointed out that it was not appropriate for the Chinese culture to be worn as a prom dress. 

In a series of tweets, he went on to address his outrage and outlined the significance of the traditional garment, adding that it was historically used by Chinese women when performing chores. 

He said that the tight form of the cheongsam, or qipao, eventually became a "symbol of activism" that women wore during "times of extreme patriarchal oppression". 

"The qipao was originally a loose dress/garment without shape, made for Chinese women to clean the house and do other domestic chores with.

"It was then altered and embroidered as a beautiful form-fitting outfit to wear publically, which Chinese women were not allowed to do at during the times of extreme patriarchal oppression.

"In a time where Asian women were silenced they were able to create, not only a piece of art but a symbol of activism," said Lam.

Lam's tweet struck a chord with online readers, racking up about 178,000 likes and 42,000 retweets on Twitter.

Other users also chimed in saying that there was "a lot of history" behind traditional clothes.

Some Twitter users came to Keziah's defense, stating that calling out a non-Chinese person for wearing a cheongsam is "gatekeeping".

"Gatekeeping about it is actually harmful to Asians, because it limits who they can sell their clothing designs to and it limits their ability to share their culture with the world," said Twitter user Patrick Zaldy.

"As a Chinese, I do not feel any disrespect to the Chinese culture," added another Twitter user.

Despite the influx of criticism, Keziah addressed the incident stating that she meant "no harm" and that it was "just a dress".

"I don’t see the big deal of me wearing a gorgeous dress I found for my last prom. 

"If anything, I’m showing my appreciation to other cultures and I didn’t intend to make anyone think that I’m trying to be racist. It’s just a dress.

"To everyone who says I’m ignorant, I fully understand everyone’s concerns and views on my dress. I mean no harm," she said, adding that she would not be taking down the pictures.  

Source: CNA/aa