Controversial Post: Intercultural Repro Reviews

Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
You may have seen some of the drama relating to intercultural-vintage pieces available in reproduction shops lately (intercultural-vintage being my word for vintage-styled pieces that draw aesthetics from a usually non-Western culture).  The most notable seems to have surrounded the Dragon Print series from PUG, and it got some pretty strong responses.  I am not at all here to pick sides in any of these arguments; I just want us to take a pause and look at some other intercultural-vintage pieces and discuss them.

Some of you are afraid to wear some of your clothing for fear of being labeled an appropriating racist.  That is a healthy dilemma, but don't feed fear; inform it!  Learn more, research, ask others questions, formulate your own opinions of what you wear and why.  
Don't be subject to the internet mob to decide your outfits, for the internet mob can never be pleased.  Think and decide for yourself!           {tweet this}

I'm happy to say Nora Theong and I have had many a discussion on this type of thing, and since it isn't feasible for us to create our own clothing line at this time (truly a bummer for us), we decided to work together on this post and bring you guys into the discussions we have had by looking at specific garments available now.  Nora is WAY more succinct than I am, so if you want a TLDR on each piece... skip to the red Nora comments, haha!

Rating scale: 1=not offensive at all, 5=highly offensive



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
The Wanderer - Happy Yellow Dress
Em: This dress design is available in several colors, and the "intercultural" element is definitely the cheongsam style collar and details at the neckline.  It's also styled with a paper parasol on the website, but I think it's just for a vintage-summer vibe, not to make it more "Asian." (The blue version of this dress is styled with hair flowers and an old truck in the background.)   I actually rather like this dress.  It obviously draws from Chinese culture, and the description of the garment points out the "traditional cheongsam collar" and acknowledges that.  It has culturally neutral fabrics and a vintage Western skirt silhouette, so while it nods to Chinese aesthetics, it doesn't copy, sexualize, or "kitschify" it.  Rating: 1

Nora: I like the cheongsam style, it actually looks super cute with the fabric and makes me think of 1960s cheongsams with novelty fabrics.  Rating: 1



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
Geisha Fans line - Trashy Diva
Em:  My problem with this line is not so much the garment itself as much as it is with the title of the line and the description on the website. (In some places it's called "Red fans" or "blue fans" and others it's "Geisha fans.") One of the problems Asian cultures face in the West is the blending and mixing of all Asian cultures as if they were one indistinguishable one.  This collection's description as being "Asian-inspired" and using an often-fetishized aspect of Japanese culture--geishas--kind of feeds into that since there are no actual geishas anywhere in the print. (It does attribute Japan specifically on the collection page.) That being said, no one sees the site description when you wear it, so it's up to you guys.  The print itself is reminiscent of prints I've seen on other Japanese items like kimono fabrics and origami papers. I like it a lot, actually!  Rating: 3

Nora: While the print doesn’t offend me, I think it could’ve been named better. I like that the colours are quite fun and kitschy. Rating: 3 because of the name.



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
Chinese Opera Collection - Trashy Diva
Em: I actually really like this collection!  The print is named for exactly the culture it is drawing from, China, and the landing page for the collection includes lots of good background information on the performing art that shows someone did their research.  The print itself looks similar to how Chinese performers are depicted in Chinese art.  My only beef with the line is the inclusion of the "kimono robe" dress.  Kimonos are Japanese, so that kind of plays on the "all Asian stuff is the same" idea.  Otherwise I'm a fan.  Rating 1

Nora: I actually really like this collection. It’s appropriately named, I think it’s also very cute and respectful as it explains all the different aspects of the inspiration. I actually want one now.. Damn...  Rating: 1



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?

Tiki Print Collection - Pin Up Girl Clothing
Em: I'd put all of this in the "vaguely Polynesian/Pacific Islander" category.  This sort of thing was hugely popular in the 50s and 60s, but it's just not accurate at all.  The symbols aren't legit, and it's just made to resemble Pacific Islander aesthetics. I'm not well-informed on Pacific cultures, but Leimomi Oakes (who is!) recently talked about how these cultures are often sexualized in the vintage community and how the tie to alcohol is often made (tiki bars and such).  It seems to me that "Tiki" is often a replacement word to represent all of these Pacific island cultures, too.  I'm kind of "meh" on this one, personally.  Rating: 2

Nora: I don’t know enough about the significance of tiki statues in its original culture, but I know tiki was very popular back in the 50s/60s. I believe it’s not actually offensive as it’s rather a loose interpretation of a culture, but I might be totally wrong as this might actually be even more offensive as you should always respect a culture and try to be true to the culture.  Rating: 1



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
Mahjong Collection - Trashy Diva  (photo from the TD blog)
Em: This collection is quite nice!  The aesthetics draw from the game Mahjong, and the title of the collection itself gives proper attribution.  The descriptions do call it "Asian-inspired," but I'm okay with it here because Mahjong does originate from China. Rating: 1

Nora: Not offensive at all to me. It’s like a chess print, you can’t say that it’s offensive 'cos it’s originally Chinese/Indian.  Rating: 1



Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?

Cranes Collection - Trashy Diva
Em: I think this collection is gorgeous, personally.  The design is beautiful!  The description on the pieces just attributes "flying cranes" as the inspiration and doesn't mention any Asian culture, but that's okay with me.  Cranes are a part of many Asian cultures' art and this print looks a twinge inspired by those.  I really love this line; SO pretty!  Rating: 1

Nora: I actually think the cranes collection is completely fine because cranes aren’t exclusively Asian, and they contribute some of the profit towards crane protection effort. It doesn’t try to be Asian at all.  Rating: 1  (She totally rocks the dress from this collection, too!)

Flashback Summer - Intercultural Vintage Reproduction Reviews - Cultural appropriation?
Scenic Mountain Collection - Collectif
Em: This scenic border print shows an Asian landscape that looks similar to places you could find in Japan and Indonesia (as well as other places).  The similarity to several places isn't because they've watered down or mixed cultures' aesthetics to make something more vaguely Asian (which I've seen in many true vintage pieces); it's due to the architecture in these places actually being similar.  The site doesn't specifically say "Asia" or anything in the description, but that doesn't bother me.  Thumbs up from me! Rating: 1

Nora: Again, not offensive to me. Exactly like having a London print or a Bali print with some statues.  Rating: 1  (In fact, she's so not offended that she owns it!)


What are your thoughts on these pieces?  What aspects of the garment or marketing influence your decision?  Are there any other intercultural-vintage garments you'd like to highlight?  (Give us your own rating and review below!)

16 comments

  1. I really like those dresses. I am aware that some Polynesian people find 'tiki' offensive, so I'd probably steer clear of that.

    It's a tricky topic for me - I'm part Asian but don't look it, and would love to have a vintage-style dress made from sari fabric. I feel that to wear a full sari outside the Indian subcontinent or in a Desi environment would definitely cross the line, but hate to think people would be offended by me wearing a dress made from the cloth. So I've never done that.

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    1. Yeah, I'd like to learn more as far as tiki prints go. Hopefully an islander will be able to weigh in and give us some insight!

      And that's really respectful of you to take a sari seriously. The Indians I've been friends with haven't cared what was done with sari fabric, just that I wasn't butchering how an actually sari was worn and embarrassing myself, haha! (A dear friend helped me wear a sari correctly for a past post here on the blog!)

      I know Beccie L. made a GORGEOUS vintage-Indian dress for a wedding, and she seemed to be received well. And it was a killer dress! (Here's a picture from her IG: https://instagram.com/p/BQeXM2qg7uS/). I don't have any answers; it might have to be one of those things where you research to a place you feel comfortable, then go for it and see what happens. You can always change your mind and reevaluate as you learn more!

      Good questions! I love your contemplative approach to this!

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  2. I'm surprised no one was more offended by the "happy yellow" title of the first dress and the styling. Yellow face is akin to black face. So calling an asian-inspired dress happy yellow seems ... questionable. Also the styling looks sort of like they tried to make a non-asian model look more asian with the makeup and parasol.

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    1. Hey Alice, "Happy Yellow Dress" is the name of the company, and a bright yellow dress is their logo. "The Wanderer" is the name of the garment. It definitely has a 60s vibe, and I think the makeup is just a cat eye which was popular at that time. They have a blue version of this dress as well, and it's styled with an old car. I think the parasol is just for a summery vibe.

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  3. Great post! I am of Polynesian descent (Tongan/Maori) and I'm not fond of tiki fabrics, but they don't offend me. They make me think more of midcentury Western Tiki culture and I would put that at a 1. What offends me more is that every print with a Pacific floral flair is labeled "Hawaiian", when those prints are used across the Pacific. I just feel that fabric designers and clothing manufacturers should do research before vaguely labeling things. For instance, calling something "Hawaiian print" when it's a tapa cloth print. Just my two cents. :)

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    1. THANK YOU for your input, Tanya!! What you're saying makes sense. It isn't right to label all South American things as "Mexican" or all Asian things as "Chinese," so why does everything Pacific get called "Hawaiian"? Good point.

      Also I'm going to go read up on tapa cloth because I haven't heard that term before. 😀

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    2. Thank you for pointing that out! I do that myself and I will make a better effort to not generalize "Hawaiian" for all things "Pacific floral". Thank you. <3

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    3. ^^^ This is what it's about right here!! ❤️❤️❤️

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  4. These are some of my favorite posts and very important discussions that I don't see happening often enough in the vintage community. I'm a white woman who grew up in communities with large populations of Asian immigrants and Asian-American people (SF suburbs, NY suburbs and similar places) so I grew up with and still have a lot of Asian-American friends. I ultimately majored in Asian Studies and studied in China and speak Chinese (mostly) fluently, with enough Japanese to get by, and I have a job that has me working with people in Asia and traveling to Asia. And I love vintage clothing and sewing. So your posts like this, and Nora's, are right up there with issues I think about a lot regarding my relationship with Asian people, objects from Asia, Asian languages, and how it all interacts with my other interests and choices. (White) people started giving me generic "Asian" stuff from a young age because of my interests, even gifting me a qipao. Although I never felt comfortable with any of it, I didn't have the words or consciousness of reasoning behind that discomfort until the last few years. I never wore the qipao. As I got older, I would struggle with how to answer when someone gave me things like a gift box with mixed-up, backwards Chinese characters in different fonts. All of this is my roundabout way of saying, I have a long history and a close relationship with East Asia, particularly China, Japan, and to some extent South Korea. And my interest in vintage things can really grate against that knowledge and relationship, especially when looking at authentic vintage. But it's even more upsetting when modern, repro brands seem to perpetuate old issues.
    Overall, I think Trashy Diva does a pretty good job with their prints at avoiding problematic names (Geisha Fans being an exception...) and actual prints. They often don't reproduce images of people, which I appreciate, because that can really bring in trouble. I bought a Cranes print dress because I thought it was a beautifully done print with a clearly well-researched Asian inspiration. I generally feel the same way about Chinese Opera and Mahjong, as you noted. I appreciate that they do seek out diverse models and do posts like the "ABC for Everybody" showing the print on different people, but I'd still love to see even more diversity in their models.
    On the other hand, I still run into thoughts about the colonial history of white people, especially white women, wearing prints like this or Asian-style clothing (kimono- or qipao-inspired robes or dresses). I see more problematic examples coming from other repro brands. That first dress, with the mandarin collar, actually draws a line for me because my mind immediately goes to the thought of a white woman as a colonist. It's just the fabric combination with the parasol, the make-up... if it were an Asian woman modeling, I would probably feel entirely differently. Western modes of dress were combined with Asian traditional textiles and construction techniques in fascinating ways in Asia. But, I don't feel comfortable drawing too much from those traditions because I feel that they have left the West to belong to Asia - they do not belong to me. I partially haven't bought anything in the Chinese Opera line for this reason: too many "inspired" silhouettes or frog closures and I question what territory I'm entering into by wearing it. I know my friends in China would love it. My Asian-American friends, however, may feel differently. Since I live in the US, their feelings are those I need to consider. It's possible I'm being extra-sensitive, but I'd rather be extra-sensitive than be thought careless with someone else's heritage.

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    1. You obviously have a very well thought out response, thank you! You have a lot of good experience and insights!

      I think you're right, place has a lot to do with how garments are perceived. Nora that also commented here is Chinese-Indonesian-Australian and lives in the U.K., so she may see things differently than Asian Americans. I haven't seen a lot of agreement and everyone seems to have their own line of "okay" they draw.

      Another blogger you may like interacting with is May Loh of walkinginmay.com! She has good stuff to say about qipao and was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email.

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  5. Totally agree with tanyamaile- I'm a native Hawaiian and too often I see anything vaguely floral or geometric labeled as Hawaiian. Sometimes those floral prints are of flowers you can't even find in Hawaii!
    I do collect vintage 1950's Hawaiian dresses, but I tend to choose those that depict things that remind me of home- prints depicting the right native flowers, a proper voyaging canoe, a traditional Hawaiian drum, etc.
    And kapa (as we say in Hawaiian) prints- they're so different all across the Polynesian Triangle- not all tapa prints are Hawaiian! It's so different all across Polynesia. We Polynesians share common roots, but we each have a unique culture.

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    1. I'm glad you've commented! I feel the same way about Middle Eastern prints. I collect them, but just the ones that are more accurate and actually depict things well. The other ones just feel... wrong and off!

      I'm learning so much about tapa prints today! I'm loving it!

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  6. I'm becoming more and more aware of this issue with the growth of American culture here in the UK - it's only in recent years that I've even heard of terms like "tiki". I definitely don't know enough about this issue, and appreciate a post like this very much with both yours and Nora's input, very helpful thank you. In the past I've generally just steered clear of anything that isn't sold by a culture itself for tourists i.e. has some very specific religious/cultural meaning and is meant for particular people on certain occasions. Much more to learn! x

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  7. This was such an interesting read, and I loved reading your and Nora's thoughts on the matter. I wish that I was better informed on these issues, so it's great that you're bringing it up.

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    1. That's great to hear Jessica! I think i'll be keeping this series going with future repro stuff. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the future too!

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  8. Another great post, Emileigh!
    I do like prints and pieces that are inspired by different cultures, but I think that they need to be well researched and respectful (like the cranes print). And, it's even better when they are created by the people of that culture, like so many fair trade items, rather than just a company playing on a trend and trying to cash in on it.

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