In the 1960s and 1970s, ethnic style provided a rich field for fashion without designers: Palestinian scarves, Latin American skirts, Indonesian batik sarongs, Moroccan djellabas, Chinese jackets, rattan baskets, embroidered purses, leather sandals, and tribal jewelry, bought either in special third-world import stores or on long-distance travels, were worn in combination with ordinary clothes. Ethnic style thus became a highly personal as well as cosmopolitan way of dressing, sometimes associated with a political attitude.
Ethnic dress ranges from a single piece to a whole ensemble of items that identify an individual with a specific ethnic group. An ethnic group refers to people who share a cultural heritage or historical tradition, usually connected to a geographical location or a language background; it may sometimes overlap religious or occupational groups.
An important issue is the position of non-Western fashion designers. When Japanese avant-garde designers, including Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo (of Comme des Garçons), presented the most sought-after collections in Paris in the 1980s, the international fashion press wrote them off as a mere exotic- in the pejorative sense of passing-influence.
There was a tendency to interpret their designs in the light of traditional Japanese aesthetics, rather than acknowledge them as innovative designers working with a minimalism that self-consciously fused elements of East and West with very few overt ethnic references.
In this respect, the Western fashion world has pushed non-Western designers towards self-exoticization. While some Asian fashion designers find it stimulating to apply their creative skills to their cultural backgrounds, others experience the demand for exoticization as devaluation of their talents and skills in the highly globalized fashion business.
In some markets, especially in the United States, there has been considerable recognition of non-Western designers; however, they have tended to remain identified with a particular ethnic style as aesthetic exponents of multiculturalism. A key example is Vivienne Tam: born in China, educated in Hong Kong, resident of New York City in the early 2000s.
She incorporates Chinese motifs in her designs, but highly eclectically, so that her clothes have included both Buddhist and Maoist imagery. In contrast to Western designers, whose engagement with ethnic styles tends to be superficial, Tam's consistent work with Chinese aesthetics has led to a deep involvement with cultural tradition, including spiritualism, architecture, medicine, art, and performance.
There are also minority niche markets where diaspora women in the West find their salwar-kameez, the socalled Punjabi suit, or their Vietnamese ao dai. These markets are typically operated by women entrepreneurs without any formal training in fashion design. They tend to keep in touch with the styles current in the homeland; however, this does not stop them from influencing dynamics of fashion in the West, as was the case with the Punjabi suit in the late 1990s.
Ethnic Style in Fashion By Lise Skov
Chinese Dress in the Twentieth Century After the Nationalist Revolution of 1911, it was widely felt in China that, after a century of foreign intrusion and national decline, the country needed to rid itself of old customs in order to compete with the other nations of the modern world. Thus began a search for new styles of clothing that were both "modern" and "Chinese."
The simple adoption of Western clothing was not a popular choice; foreign menswear was associated with Chinese employees of foreign companies, who were derided for being unpatriotic; fashionable Western women's clothing struck many Chinese as both immodest and odd. Loose, baggy Western dresses introduced at some missionary schools in China were modest but unattractive.
The qipao (or cheongsam) continued to evolve to become more form fitting, and by the mid-twentieth century was widely accepted, both in China and the West, as China's "traditional" women's dress. For a few years after the Communist revolution of 1949, older forms of dress, including the man's long "scholar's robe" and the women's qipao, continued to be worn in China.
By the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the qipao had been denounced as "feudal," and the wearing of the blue Mao suit was nearly obligatory.
China: History of Dress By John S. Major
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