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I wore a qipao to a holiday party earlier this year. I am an American with Vietnamese parents (They were born in Vietnam, escaped to America during the Vietnam War, and I was born in America) I do not know of the history/traditions/meaning/etc. behind the dress- I wore it because I thought it was beautiful and I wanted to feel beautiful during the formal occasion.

My new concern of having worn a qipao comes from a recent event of a fellow American girl wearing a one to her prom: https://twitter.com/i/moments/990988293939613698?t=1&cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjc18y

People are accusing an 18-year-old high school senior of cultural appropriation and racism because she wore a traditional Chinese dress.

Was it inappropriate or rude for me to wear a qipao as a formal dress?

Edits made: Revising to be a question about the etiquette of myself wearing a qipao as a formal dress instead of the general idea of a non-Chinese person wearing a qipao, removing the cultural-appropriation tag

closed as primarily opinion-based by David K, Violet Flare, The Wraith, Catija May 2 '18 at 14:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because, although it's a hot discussion right now, this isn't an interpersonal skill as defined in the Help Center. – baldPrussian May 1 '18 at 14:06
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because general questions about cultural appropriation are off-topic. – Em C May 1 '18 at 14:11
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    My mistake, I misunderstood because of the other topic under the cultural-appropriation + clothing tag: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/… – aaa May 1 '18 at 14:12
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    Well, that question (besides being early on in the site, so policies have evolved) is very specific about the cultural context and what event they're asking about, making it more of an etiquette situation. Asking if wearing a qipao at any time in the future would be insensitive is really broad though. – Em C May 1 '18 at 14:15
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    On top of what has already been said, even people who think cultural appropriation is a concern disagree on what is and is not appropriation. There's not going to be a correct answer as this is still largely a matter of opinion. Some, for example, feel that it's only an issue if you're doing financial damage to the group (an organization profiting from something outside their culture) while others consider any outsider's use of another culture's culturally identifiable items as appropriation. It's a broad debate that's pretty much beyond our scope. – Catija May 1 '18 at 14:28
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No, unless the dress was cut in a not-okay-for-family-gathering way. (e.g. shows too much leg/ cleavage/ contours/ whatever)

A bit of intrapersonal advice on the side.

There are no rules and there is no "ownership" of a culture. A culture is just that, a culture. All sorts of people around the whole world wear Parisian fashion, nobody bats an eye. Somebody wears something from a culture that can be seen as a minority in a western culture and suddenly it becomes a minefield. Make your own conclusions on that but if I want to wear a Chinese dress, I will wear it. If somebody else wants to get all bothered about that, that is their issue. As long as you are not wearing something highly offensive or inappropriate (e.g. 'Disregard the police' shirt at a ball for police and stuff like that) for the event you are at, everything is game as far as I am concerned.

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This is a question about etiquette, and as a firm believer that much communication is non-verbal I am happy to try and answer this, as our choice of dress does communicate a message to others which may or may not be well received.

By way of disclaimer, this answer deliberately avoids any discussion of "cultural misappropriation" or racism which are not topics for here.

If you asked most people in the western world what a man should wear to a job interview they would answer "a suit". This is because a suit is traditionally national dress for a man in countries such as the UK or the USA. What actually constitutes a "smart suit" of course changes over time with shifts in trends, for example different styles of shirt and tie coming and and going from fashion.

Most generations would agree that where a person has a different cultural heritage, their equivalent "national dress" is equally appropriate in a formal setting. For example in the UK many with Scottish ancestry like to wear kilts at weddings; likewise I would expect to see people with Indian heritage wearing Dhotis and Saris to such occasions in the UK. These forms of dress are considered smart within those cultures and so are perfectly acceptable.

As to people wearing the national dress of a culture to which they have no ancestral claim - well, using the examples above I can say that if the groom at a wedding was wearing a kilt then often the rest of the wedding party will do the same irregardless of their own heritage. I have also observed white British women wearing Saris when attending an Indian wedding. How this is perceived by others will surely vary but this is not a debate for IPS.

If you are considering wearing a dress that would normally represent another culture, you need to consider who will see it and how they might perceive it - will they see it as a respectful homage, a tasteful personal fashion choice, or an insult to their heritage? Only you can decide that.

A good benchmark may be the example I gave before - a job interview. When you attend a job interview you want to give a good impression, and in most cases you do not know the people that will be conducting your interview. Ask yourself - would I wear this to a job interview? If the answer is no, out of concern that you might give a bad impression or send a wrong message, or perhaps even insult someone's nationality or heritage, then perhaps you would be best not wearing it to a public function either. If on the other hand the event you are attending is more exclusive where you know most people and can perhaps anticipate their reactions, you may be able to express yourself more freely through your fashion choices.

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