Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Korean-American Country Western Professor

Blazer: Esprit
Shirt: Old Navy (Swap)
Jeggings: Hue
Boots: Durango (via Beacon's Closet)

So I thought I'd try to wear all thrifted clothes today, as a way to appreciated my second hand gear, but the weather is wonky so I'll save that until tomorrow. I just threw on the jeggings, Western style shirt, and cowboy boots at home, and I put on the "Office blazer" so when I have to leave my office to go to the toilet (and possibly run into students). In this picture, I look like I've been riding my horses all day.

It's comfy, casual, but hopefully not to "Student" like (even if it is, I'm too old compared to them too care that much).
I am jumping on the cultural appropriation discussion bandwagon (see Academichic, Threadbared, Jesse.Anne.O, and jezebel, to name just a few). I have nothing to add to the discussion about Native/First American/Indigneous styles that have been prevalent in "hipster" styles. I think many great ideas have been circulated and I neither consume these styles nor claim to know much about the politics. However, because of my darker skin that tans easily (compared to like my mom and the Korean "ideal") and my mom's cheekbones, the few times I ever wore anything vaguely Native American style (and this was limited to a play in 2nd grade), everyone called me Pocahantas or raved about how "Indian" I looked. Including teachers.
I do want to talk about my own position as a "person of culture" (for reals) and my own types of cultural appropriations. First, as an "Asian-American" (a term that means nothing to any one living in Asia), I don't care if you wear Buddhist beads, get a Chinese character tattoo, or wear a cheongsam. I just think that most folks (including Madonna and NBA stars) look rather silly doing it. I do mind if a person fawn all over my "culture" and "exoticness", because I am ordinary middle class professional lady, and I think my class positionality is more relevant to my life experiences and tastes than anything else. I find it creepy and weird if someone starts telling me about their fascination for the East. I guess this is my long way of saying that I like who I am and I am proud of my heritage, but my different outwards looking appearance should not open to door to "other me."

I love the beautiful hanbok, worn by my beautiful mom here last weekend, but it is only ceremonial dress.

As for my own appropriations, I am neither white, living in the western United States, nor having family that is either of these, I love Western/cowboy styles. I also like prairie looks as well, and neo-Edwardian styles. I even want a bolo tie (How rad would this outfit look with one? OK, maybe that's just me). Part of this relates to my time in Minnesota, where I started to really like the prairie midwest (still do), and then coming to NYC, where I don't particularly like the uber-serious, all black high fashion looks that emphasize drama and thinness. I don't know if I were be drawn to western styles if I lived in the Southwest, but for some reason, I really wanted a prairie dress for my wedding. I guess I think it's fun. Perhaps this offends people, but there isn't a political movement or a community that claims significance over these looks that can articulate these concerns.
In addition, my sister-in-law (brother's wife) comes from another culture, and I have been invited to participate in it before. I have friends who say, "You shouldn't wear another culture's clothes," but I don't believe that cultures are natural or essential. I think that fashion choices should be more conscious and respectful, and I wouldn't wear South Asian dress if I wasn't invited to do so. Rather than strict rules, I think that "borrowing" dress from various communities should be a dialogue.

Me, my cousin-in-law, and my Jackson Heights shalwar kameez, at a party

What are your thoughts about this? I am thinking about it too much? Am I wrong not to believe that any cultural appropriations are offensive. I am not offended that easily, but I did spend much of my college years (at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) protesting the Chief Illiniwek mascot. I felt that the small Native American community had clearly articulated reasons for the getting rid of the Chief, which it did. I know my brother, roommate, and many others disagreed (but I must admit I used my Chief opinions as a litmus test for dating).


  1. I know this is a loaded comment (given feminism) but you look really pretty with makeup on (the shalwar kameez photos). You're pretty in any case, but a bit of makeup can highlight features and add color. Maybe I'm projecting, because I worry about my too-pale, olive-undertone skin.

  2. I always felt similar. I enjoy ethnic clothing but don't think I could pull it off. Especially because I am Korean and people don't expect me to wear Mexican or Indian clothing. I think it's too much culture to take in for Americans. I think that's why I held off on buying cowboy boots for a long time.

    Enter to win a professional flat iron!
    clothed much, a modest fashion blog

  3. I like how you phrased this point: "I guess this is my long way of saying that I like who I am and I am proud of my heritage, but my different outwards looking appearance should not open to door to "other me.""

    I think when you're invited to share in someone's culture, that's a different experience than buying objects that represent a culture without the relationship being present.

    Also this - "Perhaps this offends people, but there isn't a political movement or a community that claims significance over these looks that can articulate these concerns." -- I think is important. I wonder if it matters if the culture is seen as "exotic" or "mystical" vs part of white history makes a huge difference. I'm thinking it does. And since so many people feel white = universal, I don't know why they'd care who was using it? Whites typically feel that whites *are* the history (past/present/future), so of course everyone partakes?

    Is that assuming too much? I'm not sure - I wrote part of it seriously as part as devil's advocate.

  4. First, this is a great outfit. I am totally going to acquire the right skinnies for my Frye boots and take a page out of your style book here, including the all-important office blazer. And that shirt is adorable, with or without a bolo tie (which is kind of like jewellery).

    Second, I think your assessment of sartorial cultural appropriation is on point and considerate. I actually think of western/cowboy styles as particularly American (rightly or wrongly) and you are American. At what point does national dress become regional and off limits? If at all.

    When I was in the UK I belonged to a college that had formal dinners and events (the Queen came for a visit, which was annoying) and, because this college was home to mostly international students, we were always invited to wear our national dress to various events. Few people I knew had national dress, or even knew what it was we were being asked to wear. I think we were being asked to perform multi-culturalism for the trustees, the Queen, etc. etc. and I was tempted to wear a Canadian flag bikini and a parka to meet the Queen, but I did not. Then again, I don't think Canada has national dress with any kind of significant cachet and if it did I may be proud to wear it. I'm pretty sure I can still be effectively Canadian in cowboy boots too, even though I have never been out west. Although, I might be mistaken for an American.

  5. Minerrva: I think about make up but I like to use it for when I want to up my game. Also, make up is not very common at my workplace. It's more of what the students wear.
    Elaine: "Too much culture to take in for Americans": that's so funny. I think it's true too. Like our appearance is different enough.
    JAO: I think often when folks want to gush about exotic Asian things, they are really well meaning and seek to make a connection, so I shouldn't be too harsh but it does annoy me. You're right about how white cultural markers are understood as universal, but that's why I think we should recognize that cultural markers are not purely the "property" of self identified cultural groups. But the reality is that I do participate in white American culture, I grew up in white American communities (ah, middle class suburbs), I have an English first name (not a Korean one, a choice that my mom makes), so I am American. What I do think is interesting is how no one thinks that "hipster" appropriations of white working class cultural markers (trucker hats, hunting outifts, etc.) are inappropriate, as they also mark cultural difference.
    DM: I would have paid money to see you meet the Queen in either a Maple Leaf bikini or one of those sexy parkas and nude leggings that the pretty girls in the Vancouver opening ceremonies wore. "National dress" is such a loaded phrase, huh? My family in South Korea's national dress is a combo of polyester blends, a mindless array of layered tunics, and the cutsiest damn accessories known to man. I'm looking forward to your professorial cowboy outfit.

  6. hey! you know i go to the u of i?--shh don't tell :) and the bullshit over the chief drives me nuts! you notice you only see white kids wearing chief shirts...not a coincidence if you ask me.
    on less serious topics, i love those boots!

  7. Ack, don't even get me started on the opening ceremonies in Vancouver. First Nations dancers who are then surrounded by mostly white people in white winter wear? Even my usually apathetic students had something to say about that.

    Also, for the record, whenever I wear a sexy parka I also reach for my snow pants. Nude leggings are not winter appropriate but you can't really expect Vancouver to know that since it doesn't snow there.

    And, truth be told, I skipped the Queen's visit. There was a symposium in York that was far more interesting. I can't remember what I wore to it, but it wasn't a bikini.

    Hope the grading is dwindling!