"Is traveling to an Asian country and dressing in their traditional clothing ethically wrong?"

November 24, 2019
          As an Asian-American traveler, something I've been frequently asked is, "Is traveling​ to an Asian​​ country and dressing in their traditional clothing also cultural appropriation or ​ethically wrong?" Generally, I think there is a difference between traveling to a country, learning about their culture, and trying on their traditional clothing in a respectful manner VS wearing it elsewhere as a "fun​, exotic​ costume" or defacing it by creating "sexualized versions."

          BUT there are other aspects you ​should consider from country to country like colonization history​, the impact of western imperialist violence,​and the cultural meaning behind ​the clothing. True appreciation entails some level of understanding and respect. If you have the ability to travel to another country and try on the local clothing, you have access to google. It's so easy to do a simple search on the clothing or the impact of western imperialism in a country. If you can't dedicate such a small amount of time towards educating yourself on something you'd like to be involved in, are you truly respecting the culture?

          So some things to make sure:
  1. Do your research. Will the locals have an issue with you wearing their traditional clothing? Does the item have religious significance?
  2. Rent/purchase from local businesses
  3. Wear the clothing properly! Something as simple as draping one side over the other can be significant.

Example of something that is OK:
  • Traveling to Korea, learning about our traditional wear, renting a real hanbok from a local Korean business, and taking photos IN Korea WITHOUT racist posing (no 'slant eyes,' no weird praying pose, no chopsticks in hair, etc)



Examples that are NOT ok:
  • Wearing a hanbok and calling it a kimono - Asia is the biggest continent and made up of 48 different countries; it is ridiculous to lump us all in together and assume all Asian countries the same
  • Wearing a "sexualized" qipao/kimono/any other traditional clothing ANYWHERE - fetishizing and hypersexualizing Asian women/culture is already a gross, rampant issue; let's not perpetuate and participate in it
  • Wearing traditional clothing for parties, Halloween, raves, etc - our culture is not a toy; especially not something for someone to mock with cheap knockoffs, racist poses, and fake, inaccurate accessories
  • Dressing up as a geisha - Westerners glorifying geisha culture when many geishas were forced into prostitution due to Western occupation is weird




And PLEASE don't wear it back at home! POC immigrants around the world are mocked for how we dress, talk, eat, etc and often criticized for not "assimilating." But when a non-POC tries foreign clothing on, they're praised for being trendy, unique, and "cultured." You can see how insulting it may be to the immigrants who have to witness the double standard.

Well I hope this perspective from an Asian-American has enlightened some travelers! Never hesitate to ask me a question.

To.UnknownThings

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